He needs no introduction of course, but heh…“And on the tee, US Open champion, Justin Rose.” How sweet the sound, and what a way to start your day at Muirfield on Thursday. If not worth the two shots a round Tony Jacklin claimed, you get the idea. Rose is no ordinary golfer any more. He is enhanced within, and without. He knows, as do his rivals, that he has that immeasurable quality, the right stuff required to win a major championship.
Rose was reminded of this as he sat in the Royal Box at Wimbledon eight days ago watching Andy Murray demonstrate the very same attributes. Murray had already crossed the grand slam threshold in New York nine months before. He knew how to respond when Novak Djokovic saved those three match points. When he served for the match Murray might have been stood on the 18th tee at Merion, the hardest drive in golf inviting him to show what he was made of. Rose sent down an ace, of course. The Hogan plaque shivered in tribute.
The meaning of Murray’s achievement was readily absorbed. “It was really, really good to witness that. It was a special moment obviously. It just struck me that at the highest level of any sport really, the margins are so small. He won three sets to love but even that final game, when he was advantage down, having been 40-0, I think if he loses that game, the match was still at a knife-edge at that point. So even though he wins by three sets there’s always one moment that all sports people have to take and he took his chance and it was fantastic. That’s what I had to do at Merion. It’s just fantastic to see him come through under pressure.”
Elevation to the Royal Box comes with certain conditions, like dining with the Rooneys and Prime Ministers. Try keeping that conversation going. Luckily, Rose had an hors d’oeuvres to feed off. “David Cameron tweeted me after the US Open and to be honest I didn’t get to see all of my tweets. I scrolled through them pretty quickly. So I was sitting at Wimbledon having lunch and I think it was the sports minister on the table with his wife, Colleen and Wayne Rooney and myself and Kate. Just as the lunch started, David Cameron and his mum joined us. The first thing I said to him was: “I apologise for not replying to your tweet.” He was obviosuly very complimentary. He said it provided him with his first line to Barack Obama at the G8 summit at Lough Erne. It was a fun day.”
Rose went straight from Merion, via the obligatory Manhattan media tour, to the Travelers Championship, where he contended until fatigue claimed him on the final day. Thereafter he withdrew from the AT&T to reconnect with life, if not as we know it. “Being at home, being around the family and being with the kids in Orlando was a great way to get my feet back on the ground. I then travelled back to the UK, spent the last week with my sister in Bristol, who obviously has just had a baby. I basically wanted to get back into the mode of really wanting to practise, wanting to prepare hard, back in the gym, just really feel like my motivation is back.”
Since winning his first PGA Tour title three years ago, Rose has acquired an impressive consistency. His run at Rory McIlroy at the finale of the Race to Dubai last November was a thrilling example of his ability to rip through the gears. McIlroy held him off with a flourish of genius we have not seen since. Rose merely continued the upward swing of a trajectory that might yet claim another bauble this week.
“It’s been a long process. I talked about the fact that you hope you’re good enough, you think you’re good enough, but not until you win one do you know you’re good enough. What I took out of Merion is that I’m ready to relish the opportunity, I’m really ready to put myself in that position to compete at the highest level. That’s what I need to do now, to continue to move forward and get better as a player. I need to put myself in the positions that test you the most at the very high end of the game. Obviously that is majors, Ryder cups and all the best competitions. I must continue to press myself into areas that force you to continue to learn and get better.”
The day after his US Open victory rose announced a split with his management company. The move had been months in the planning and brings him to Muirfield in the same promotional camp as Tiger Woods. The pair already shared a coach in Sean Foley, homes in Florida, so the lifestyle shift has a persuasive logic, and is another measure of the distance Rose has travelled since his pairing with Woods the last time the Open came to Muirfield in 2002. “It was the first time I played with Tiger. He was at the peak of his powers, guys crumbling around him. I had just had my first bit of success, won the British Masters in June. I remember it being a big deal for me. I worried about it. Dad gave me the pep talk that settled me down. The family had dealt with much harder things, that settled me and allowed me to play my game, not get caught up in it all. I was four under after nine, shot 68, felt very proud. It is a nice memory with my dad.”
In a poignant address after his Merion win Rose paid a heartfelt tribute to his late father Ken, who died of cancer ten years ago just as his son was beginning to deliver on the potential that saw him chip in at the last for fourth place as a 17-year-old at Royal Birkdale. “I have a special relationship with it (the Open), goes back to when I was 14, leading the regional qualifier. People know what happened in 1998. It has been at the forefront of my goals for a long time. I have probably had the talent to win a major since Birkdale, but only in the last two years do I feel I have been capable of winning one. I feel like I got that monkey off my back pretty quickly from that point of view.”
Muirfield is cut from the same traditional cloth as Merion. It values precision over length and as Rose points out, historically it has taken a special player to win here; Els, Faldo twice, Watson, Nicklaus, Player, Cotton, Hagen, Varden . “It is a very fair, tough golf course, similar characteristics to Merion, with a roll of honour that does seek out the best player. They have all been phenomenal winners.”