Rose can win a Major, even as a minor

As rising English star seeks to tame the 'beast' of his schooldays, there is a growing belief that youth may have its day
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The Independent Online

Henry Cotton had every cause to acclaim the merits of Royal St George's, having won the first of his three Open Championships at the Kent links course in 1934. Not all players, however, would concur completely with his description that "with larks singing and the sun shining on the waters of Pegwell, it is a golfer's heaven". Certainly not Justin Rose, who, as a gifted teenager was introduced to the less welcoming face - a pockmarked one at that, given the creased, crumpled appearance of the fairways - of the course at Sandwich. No, the young Englishman, now 22, has rather different memories.

"I am getting to the stage where I like a really severe test of golf, and if the weather is bad at St George's, we will certainly get that," the Hampshire-based player reflects wryly as he speaks on Friday before a placid backdrop of boats bobbing gently on Loch Lomond, scene of this week's Barclays Scottish Open, where the climate can be damp but at least relatively benign compared to what may lay in wait on the south coast.

"I played there in the Brabazon Trophy as a 15-year-old and the course was an absolute beast. It was more of a test of survival than a test of golf. I played in a howling gale with the best amateurs in the country, and I did OK for a kid.

"I made the top 20, but don't ask me what my scores were - I don't want to remember!" However, he adds: "I'm really looking forward to going back, because Majors are the ultimate test, and I feel I'm getting the knack of playing them. Ernie Els won the US Open at 24, so great players of the modern era are winning Majors early. I've come to realise in the last year that I'm not too young to win a Major."

Confidence steels him these days, where once intense frustration was an invasive disease. The last year and a half has been a period of significant progress on the course; his only regret being that it has coincided with an enormously emotional loss off it: the death of Ken, his father and coach and inspiration, from leukaemia. However, you suspect Rose Snr would have heartily approved of the positive direction his son's game has taken.

The very mention of his name will always evoke memories of that Friday of the 1998 Open at Birkdale, when a then 17-year-old made the cut with a 66 - two shots lower than Tiger Woods, or anyone else in the field for that matter. Ultimately, he tied for fourth after succeeding with a 50-yarder at the last. It was the best performance by an amateur at The Open for nearly 50 years, and he turned professional the following day. The Southport Sensation had put himself on the map. The trouble was that he was there without a compass.

Instead of rising to the top, to establish himself as the cream of young British talent, he found it all swiftly turned sour. The Johannesburg-born player became known as "Justin-vite", because he relied on sponsors' invitations during a period when he missed 21 successive cuts. A vexatious spirit set in. He was never the Rose without a thorn; he would always be liable to prick those who attempted to handle him. He would yell at his brother Brandon, who caddied for him at one time; and demanded angrily of his father: "Come on, dad. What am I doing wrong?"

Then, slowly, came the revival. The golf guru David Leadbetter identified some problems with his swing. Perhaps just as importantly, he forged a friendship on the Tour which has proved beneficial, with the four-years-older Ian Poulter, whom Rose defeated to win the British Masters at Woburn - one of four victories last year. As it transpired, that was the only triumph witnessed by his father, who died three months later.

This year, Rose has boasted no fewer than six top-10 finishes, most notably when progressing through the field in the final round, with a one-under-par 69, to finish fifth in the US Open at Olympia Fields. It won him the accolade of equal top European, together with the Swede Fredrik Jacobson.

Rose concedes an admiration for the winner, the American Jim Furyk, claiming: "No disrespect to Jim, but I found it encouraging that he proved you do not have to hit flash shots like Tiger [Woods] all the time to get your name on a Major trophy." He adds: "Sometimes it just comes down to producing sensible, solid golf when the pressure is really on, and I think that's the direction my game is heading in. The biggest thing I've learnt is not to panic. It would have been easy to do that when my game looked hopeless at the start of the US Open. But after all I've been through, all the missed cuts at the start of my career and my dad dying last September, I never fear the worst. I know, even when my game is a bit off, that it doesn't take much to turn it round."

The transformation has coincided with the utilisation of Leadbetter's expertise and the employment of what is rather unkindly referred to by some as a "mind coach", the Belgian sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout, who also works with Retief Goosen, among other players.

"I've been working hard on all aspects of my game and you've got to explore every avenue, and it seemed like the obvious option, really," says Rose, who admits he still lacks concentration at times.

"It's good simple stuff. It's all about staying patient, really, staying in the present, and about not letting one shot affect you. Otherwise you can get ahead of yourself. You look at Retief round the golf course and he's the model player. He's got this calm, relaxed, 'doesn't allow anything to get to him' attitude. That's the ultimate, really."

With Leadbetter and Vanstiphout to counsel him, the future appears auspicious. "It was pleasing to realise that my game was so well suited to the US Open," says Rose. "It's given me even more confidence that I will win a Major in the not-too-distant future. In practice before the US, I was hitting the ball all over the place. My concentration just wasn't there. I needed a rocket behind me, and I got it from my coach, David. He told me, 'I can't believe you're not up for a Major championship. Maybe I'm talking to you in place of your father, but you need to get your focus back quick'."

He did, with remarkable results. As he returns to the event which introduced him so spectacularly to the world, there is every evidence that this is once more a climbing Rose.

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