The date is a little hazy, around 11 or 12 years ago, but the rest of the memory is clear of an afternoon at the Army club in Aldershot. "We were playing a Junior Open type event," Paul Casey recalled. "Justin almost hit the clubhouse with his second shot, but then chipped in from around 40 yards. I think he won by a couple." Justin Rose admitted: "That was my trademark back then."
Casey and Rose have taken very different paths to the top of the game but are currently involved in a fascinating duel to be considered England's No 1 player. Rose's career has been well documented, from the time he chipped in on the last hole at Royal Birkdale to finish fourth in the 1998 Open as a 17-year-old amateur. There were the fallow years of his early professional career, but then a string of victories around the world last year.
This week at the Forest of Arden he will be defending his British Masters title. It is sometimes hard to believe that Rose is still only 22, such has been the ever-present interest in his career over the last five years and the incredibly mature way in which he has handled everything that has come along, both the good and the bad.
Casey, 25, is another of a fine crop of amateur players to emerge on to the European Tour in recent years. His rise did not attract so much attention, indeed as an amateur he was never offered an invitation to a professional event, a snub that he used as a motivating factor after turning professional. He twice won the English Amateur and was one of the stars of the American college circuit. He attended Arizona State University, broke a host of records previously set by Phil Mickelson and still has a home in Scottsdale, as well as an American coach, Peter Kostis, also known as a commentator on US television. Casey won the Scottish PGA at Gleneagles in his rookie season two years ago, had a steady second season in 2002, but won the ANZ Championship in Sydney earlier this year and then the Benson and Hedges International at The Belfry three weeks ago.
Getting a late call-up to play with Rose at the World Cup in Mexico last December was exactly the boost Casey needed. "I did a lot of hard work on my game last year and this year I knew I just had to go out and trust it," Casey said. "Playing with Justin at the World Cup helped a lot. I felt I contributed fully and that gave me a lot of confidence." The pair finished third but thought they could have done better."
After his B&H win Casey jumped into the top 50 on the world rankings, so earning a debut along with Rose at the US Open at Olympia Fields that starts on 12 June. He also passed Rose. "Sometimes you don't really appreciate what something means until you lose it," Rose said. "Paul and I have a friendly rivalry. That's the key word. I think it is very healthy on the golf course."
Casey said: "We are good friends and I think we feel we are pushing each other. I know I looked at Justin's results last year and it made me work harder. I'm sure Justin has looked at the two wins I've had this year and I'm sure it is going to make him work harder." Indeed, Rose's best two finishes this year, both top-fives, have come the week after Casey's two victories.
Casey added: "At no time are we jealous of each other. He called me up after the B and H and congratulated me. We are both trying to push each other and we are both trying to be as good as we can. I feel we both believe we can be inside the top 10 in the world, and pretty soon."
If this evokes memories of Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle driving each other on then the analogy goes further. Five golfers who were born within a year of each other powered the European Tour in the 1980s and '90s. As well as Faldo and Lyle, they included Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam. The "Big Five" collected 16 major titles and turned the Ryder Cup into a competitive and thrilling match.
As well as Casey and Rose, there are others who will drive European golf forward in the early stages of the new century. Sergio Garcia is already established and, until his recent swing changes, a member of the world's top 10, but is still only 23. Luke Donald, in his second year as a pro, has so far only played in the States, where he won last November, but that may change when the qualifying for the next Ryder Cup team starts in September.
Graeme McDowell is a Northern Irishman from Portrush who won his fourth start as a professional last summer at the Scandinavian Masters. "The European Tour is a fun place to be right now," he said. "There is so much young blood. I love being in contention. It is so much better than making up the numbers at the back of the bus."
McDowell was only beaten for rookie of the year honours in 2002 by Nick Dougherty. A prodigy of Faldo, Dougherty has been having a leaner time of it recently, but has been suffering from suspected glandular fever. Having only just turned 21, he is the baby of the crop.
"It's good that the tour is breeding some good names and good characters," Faldo said. "We need to find the next 'Big Five' to carry the tour on for the next 20 years. The important thing is there is a crop of them rather than just one or two. These are the guys who are going to be competing for majors in the next five to 10 years."
Casey has already stated that he would like to end up with the full set of majors, and as for taking on Tiger Woods down the stretch, it cannot come quick enough in his eyes. This is the first year that Rose will get to play in all four majors. Asked whether it must be hard to follow up a great season like last year, the reply was to the point. "Oh, this year will be better," he said. It seems you cannot be too young, or too talented, to have ambition and determination. Faldo would approve.Reuse content