Justin Rose: 'In his heart of hearts Justin knows that he has the ability'
Justin Rose has the talent, now he's working with his coach Nick Bradley on the other two parts of what it takes to be among the best, starting with a more steely 'game face'
Tuesday 08 April 2008
As a close friend of Ian Poulter, Justin Rose is only too aware of the pitfalls of making the grand statement. But while the former continues to be pilloried for declaring that it is only a matter of time before he is world No 2, the latter continues to plot a far more subtle course to that startling height. While Poulter is saying it, Rose is actually believing it.
That much is clear when talking to his coach, Nick Bradley. Yesterday he and Rose – the combination Bradley unashamedly describes as "a great student and a great coach" – were reacquainting themselves with Augusta and the unique scene where, 12 months ago, they so almost pulled off Britain's first Masters victory in over a decade. As they counted the pines, measured the second cut – "rough" to you me and everyone else but the green-jackets – and worked out their pathway through the azaleas, it seemed fair to assume that the teacher was reminding his pupil of just where they intend to get to this year.
"I have to say that No 1 is pretty unattainable," Bradley told The Independent. "In the rankings there is a bigger difference between Tiger Woods and [world No 2] Phil Mickelson than there is between Mickelson and the person ranked 1,000th in the world. But I don't see any reason why Justin can't shoot as high as No 2 in the world this year. That is feasible."
Rose is ninth and by simply referring to the numbers it is forgivable to interpret him as being on the slide. After winning the Volvo Masters at Valderrama in November, and with it the Order of Merit title, Rose leapt as high as sixth and so continued the giddying rise from being down in 124th place just 18 months before. Has there been a slow-down since, a step backwards even? Not in the least, claims Bradley. Indeed, listening to the tutor who can be credited with resurrecting one of British sport's most obvious talents since persuading him to leave David Leadbetter in May 2006, it is possible to believe that the progression is only just beginning.
The reason for Rose's recent ranking recession, maintains Bradley, can be put down to the fact that he did not begin his season until mid-February. That gave his rivals a headstart, ground that the English pair were only too happy to concede in the belief that it will help in preparing for the campaign's first major. Bradley spent most of January working with Rose, not only tweaking the swing but gearing him up mentally to build on last year's impressive resurgence. Consolidation is not on their minds.
"Staying still?" said Bradley with utter disdain. "That sounds like the England football team when they're 2-0 up and they sit back and defend. That's bullshit. If you look at Tiger, he has this amazing philosophy of wanting to get better every day. The moment when Butch Harmon said 'I can't teach this guy anymore' was the moment Tiger switched off from Butch Harmon. Tiger's all about organically growing as a golfer and we have to do that, too. If you're not putting layer after layer on, then some other guys will be. The great thing about working with Justin is that he really enjoys thinking what the next level is. And so do I."
The next level may sound rather complex to the old school. "The next level for Justin is what I call 'The Introspective Plan'," he explains. "The better you get at your progression whether you are a pilot or a sportsman, introspection is where the next level comes from. Look at Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Nick Faldo. There is no question they spoke to themselves and had a strong image of themselves that resonated through their golf. And it's the same with Tiger now.
"To get to the top you have to be a bit of a hard-nosed bastard. It would be certainly one of my goals to get Justin to pay rather less attention to his peers and to become a little more introverted. I think he will become more insular but he is still a lovely guy and is never going to lose his open and honest character. But his 'game-face' is going to get that bit more steely."
The majority on the Augusta range would confirm that it already is. Rose is almost unrecognisable from the 23-year-old who led here at halfway in 2004; both between the shoulders and the ears. A rigorous spell in the gym over Christmas added that much-needed muscle to the bone, while the challenge goes on to introduce a bit of nastiness to golf's Mr Nice. On the course there has been a change in equipment after the disposal of a misfiring putter. Interestingly, he has returned to the same style that worked to such staggering effect last year when he took just 20 putts in the first round. Despite a so-so start to the season, the confidence in Team Rose is all too clear.
"In his heart of hearts he has always known he's had the ability," said Bradley. "Last year was really confirmation that there is indeed a blueprint to maximise talent. It's not just stars lining up as some would have it. I've looked at [Harry] Varden, to [Ben] Hogan to [Jack] Nicklaus to Woods. Each one of these guys has something to offer either physically or mentality. It's an absolute honour to watch Tiger. If you can't learn from this guy then who the hell can you learn off?
"I believe everything can be learnt. The great British attitude is that you've either got it or you haven't . In Britain we believe too much in 'naturals', either in football, or in golf. You're only dealing with one third of the iceberg there. That's why British sport is in such a shit state."
It is no secret that the former professional is no great lover of his home country's approach to sport. Two years ago he was largely ridiculed for saying that, under him, Rose would become the British No 1 by the end of 2007. Rose was, in fact, European No 1 by the end of 2008. Apart from the "world No 2" what are the predictions this year?
"By next year I would hope that he would have won a PGA Tour event and that in all four majors he will have had a chance to win," said Bradley. "I'd want him to be spiritually a better golfer than he was in April 08. If he's not, I'm not doing my job. He's a great student and I think I'm a great coach. If you get that combination I think anything's achievable. If someone said to me Justin's going to win this Masters and I said 'No I don't think so', my P45 would be in the post. But then if someone said do you think he's got a chance in the majors then I'd say 'hell, yeah'. What am I doing otherwise? Preparing him to fail?"
In certain respects, Bradley feels Britain is all too ready for Rose to fail and is so glad, that like himself, Rose has chosen to base himself permanently on Stateside. At Augusta 12 months ago, Rose received plenty of criticism for slicing his drive on the 17th when just one behind Zach Johnson. In some quarters the response to Rose's fifth-place finish was negative instead of positive.
"Sometimes I get disappointed with all that 'Justin's blown yet another tournament,' stuff," he said. "Last year he plainly displayed Faldo-like potential. But I don't think that was recognised. We are far more interested in golfers who blow their own trumpet than people who go quietly about their own business. I do think the history books will show that Justin Rose will be a great ambassador for British sport. I think that will be his legacy."
Rose's growth at the Majors
* 1998 Open 4=
* 1999 Open missed cut
* 2001 Open 30=
* 2002 Open 22=; USPGA 23=
* 2003 Masters 39=; US Open 5=; Open missed cut; USPGA missed cut
* 2004 Masters 22=; US Open missed cut; USPGA Missed cut
* 2006 USPGA 41=
* 2007 Masters 5=; US Open 10=; Open 12=; USPGA 12=
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