Rose's reinvention ends the pain of the nowhere man
A dedicated team has helped Britain's former boy wonder rise from 127th in the world to European No 1 in the space of 15 months
Tuesday 06 November 2007
Nothing ever happens very quickly in golf, even when it seems it surely has to (re the eradication of racism, sexism, elitism, etc) so perhaps it should be no surprise that it took 10 seasons for Justin Rose to fulfil the prophecy. The stage was Royal Birkdale 1998, the starlet was a 17-year-old and when the Open crowd exhaled in disbelief as the skinny amateur chipped in on the 18th to finish fourth the experts turned to each other and said, with utter certainty, "a top 10 player in the making".
Well, the making is blessedly over as the publication of yesterday's world rankings confirmed. In fact, Rose did more than merely barge through that statistical barrier guarding the game's elite – he announced himself as the No 1 in the process. The "European No 1", granted, but nevertheless that is some claim to boast for a player who just 15 months ago was adjudged to be the 127th best golfer on earth. There are now deemed to be just six better. And Rose has his sights on at least five of them.
It was with his recently installed maturity that he was able to hold back from the I'm-coming-to-get-you-Tigers and declare that world No 2 was as much as he could immediately hope for. Don't believe a word of it. When he sat in the Valderrama clubhouse with the Order of Merit title on one side, the Volvo Masters trophy on the other and with "Team Rose" all around, he must have felt like he could take on the whole planet and yes, that includes the sportsman who bestrides it like no other. So what stopped him from announcing it? Good sense (it is never advisable to rattle Mr Woods) and it is that simple phrase which probably best sums up the entire approach behind Rose's startling reinvention.
It would have all been so different, though, if his first victory of 2007 had not been claimed in the mercilessly intense environs of the Costa del Sol on Sunday evening. If he had not prevailed in the three-man play-off, after being four ahead with just eight remaining, the money-list he won would have had a contender in the headlines in the tournament he blew. Indeed, the ignominy of the latter would have resonated far louder across the game than the glory of the former. As Rose put it: "The W was necessary." Without it, the occasional coughing sound already coming from an accusatory throat might well have become infectious.
A few jibes will still daftly ring out, right enough, although to anyone within those white posts of reality, Rose's appearance alongside the big boys is no day-trip to wonderland. His elevation may appear mesmeric but this has, in fact, been a steady march up the order, with its basis in consistency and not opportunism. Much has been made of his record in this year's majors – after Woods he was the lowest aggregate scorer – but Rose has, almost without fail, been a contender in every tournament in which he has teed it up. That the number of events has been far lower than he and his entourage intended at season's start is an important factor. Perhaps, it has been the important factor.
Rose has suggested so himself. "The back injury I suffered made me limit my appearances and I found that going in fresh to a few of the more prestigious weeks really suited me," he said in August. "Obviously, that 'less-can-be-more' lesson came about largely because of circumstance, chance, but it's definitely something I'll be factoring into my future schedules." Others might follow suit, having noticed the benefits reaped by the 27-year-old and his smash-and-grab forays into the great stampede for the greenback.
In yesterday's Independent, Paul Casey revealed he has been impressed by "Justin's smartness scheduling-wise" and said he would be carrying a similarly slender diary next season. Casey should be warned, however, that what works for his friend and countryman might not work for everyone – if anyone – as there does seem something rather unique about Rose.
Certainly, his playing history is a one-off (it began with 22 missed cuts, soared with four titles in 2002 and went the wrong way again thereafter) as, in terms of professional golf, has been his personal life. If the early experiences left their mark, then the loss of his father and mentor, Ken, to leukaemia five years ago, was inevitably indelible on his psyche. Rose took a few seasons to get over it, but when he had, when he knew he had, he could not understand why, when everything else appeared to be in order, the little numbers on his scorecard weren't. "It was then that I decided I needed the personal touch," he said. And so he ditched his other mentor.
David Leadbetter was a guru to others as well and what Rose craved was the one-on-one attention lacking since Ken's death. This is where Nick Bradley came in, a confident, some might suggest "brash" disciple of Leadbetter's, who wanted a passport to the top and saw it with a ready-made visa in Rose. Friends anyway, Rose finally succumbed to Bradley's courtings and is mighty glad he did. "What Nick did for me was simplify everything," he says. "Lead gave me a pretty solid swing, but there was too much going on in my head. Nick gave me a structure to work from, a belief system that I could put my faith in and not to worry any more. I can really trust myself out there, now."
Technically, Bradley has changed little between the shoulder blades – a tweak on the release of his right arm on the downswing, here; a softened transition from the backswing to the downswing, there – but between the ears his only professional client is unrecognisable from the stuttering figure who last year qualified for just the one major. The mental strength he exhibited in hauling himself away from meltdown in Valderrama is a credit to Bradley's influence. Eyes have rolled whenever he has spoken of Buddhist teachings, of meditation, of spiritual cleansings, but they can roll all they like because whatever he has preached has worked.
Rose is unashamedly indebted and asked Bradley to stand with him when the photographers were capturing the champion with his silverware. They were others in that picture, too, for this has been a total overhaul and not just a respray. Mick Doran, the caddie he hired this season, is constantly referred to in press conferences for summoning the right option at the right time, while his manager, Marcus Day, provides that "personal touch" Rose counts on after releasing himself from the management giants, IMG. And then there is Kate, the wife whom he lives with in Florida.
Of course, she was not there at the start of the story, on that Southport coast nine years ago, but is now as intrinsic to his success as the rest of his camp. Yesterday, they were all a bit bleary after a night of old-fashioned celebration, but still Rose – the new Rose, that is – was able to put it all into perspective.
"This seems a lot more real," he said. "Birkdale was just a fairy tale. I didn't really know much about it, whereas this situation right now, I've known what's been required. And in that way, this is easier to enjoy because you feel you can go on to do it again. Birkdale was like, 'wow, where did that come from?' But you know, I've won the Open a thousand times on the putting green back home and that's what still drives me."
The Open returns to Birkdale in July. Now, that really would be prophetic.
World rankings: The Top 10
1 Tiger Woods (US)
2 Phil Mickelson (US)
3 Jim Furyk (US)
4 Ernie Els (SA)
5 Steve Stricker (US)
6 Adam Scott (Aus)
7 Justin Rose (GB)
8 Padraig Harrington (Irl)
9 Rory Sabbatini (SA)
10 Vijay Singh (Fiji)
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