The Open was where it all began in our relationship with Justin Rose, a teenage tyro taking it to Birkdale like Zorro with his blade. Chipping in at the last to finish in fourth place 17 years ago bottled a ton of romance that has survived the ups and downs of a professional career which has both fried his brains and given him everything.
So it is not hard to picture himself on the 18th green come Sunday, puckered up to the Claret Jug with his wife at his side and the kids tugging at his sleeves. “It would mean the world. It would be a realisation of a lot of childhood dreams and hard work,” he said at St Andrews yesterday. “Growing up, this is the one tournament that I dreamed of winning. Obviously major championships, you’ll take any of them. You don’t get picky. They’re hard to win. But if you were to get picky, this would be the one for me.”
Rose is speaking from a position of strength having crossed the major threshold two years ago at the US Open at Merion. He will always have that four-iron into the last that made victory possible and crushed any hope that Phil Mickelson had of a maiden victory at his own national championship.
Once is never enough, of course, and having seen Rory McIlroy last year and Jordan Spieth this year gallop on with back-to-back plunder, Rose is minded to flesh out his own legend at a place steeped in myth and wonder. “I was lucky enough to play golf from a very early age, probably been on the golf course since I was five years of age, and sort of in a structured way probably from the age of five.
“My dad used to encourage me to get out there and play and set high targets and goals and keep me interested, whether it be a Mars bar on the way home or a train set at the end of the year or whatever, but just kept it fun for me. I felt like I picked up the game quickly, and as a kid, everything is easy when you’re a kid, or the perception of it is, anyway. I had a lot of confidence in myself and belief that I was going to go on and be a professional golfer.
“I used to pose my follow-through in the garden in the reflection of the window and pretend it was the front cover of a magazine. So I kind of had that in my mind always about where I wanted to go with it, Ryder Cups and major championships, and in the quiet moments where you’d spend hour after hour on the putting green at your home club, this one for the Open, this one to win the Ryder Cup, this one for that.
“So yeah, always had the dream in my head. And it’s nice to be here as the top-ranked British player and someone with a legitimate chance to go on and win it. It’s nice to have sort of made the most of those dreams.”
In the absence of McIlroy, Rose is indeed the player at the vanguard of the British challenge. The heavy hitters with whom he has shared the journey, the likes of Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey, are struggling to resist time’s tightening grip. And the next generation, led by Tommy Fleetwood, Andy Sullivan, Tyrell Hatton, Danny Willett and Eddie Pepperell, have yet to sprout a beard in golfing terms.
At 34, Rose will never swing it better. His opening 66s at the Scottish Open last week were delivered at 50 per cent of capacity, according to his own estimation. The weekend in a rising wind did not go to plan but he knows he is only one good week with the putter from closing the circle he entered with his last shot as an amateur on the Lancashire coast.
“I believe I can win any week that I play. My game is good. It’s just a matter of accessing it, really. It’s a matter of momentum and confidence. I’ve got a bit of hard work to do on the chipping and putting the next couple of days, but again, that’s the spark of confidence I’m looking for.”
In Rose’s wake
How Brit pack have fallen off pace
On his way to world No 1 when Open was last at St Andrews five years ago. Now at 36 and sliding.
Battling back after following Westwood to No 1 then falling off a cliff. Encouraging top-10 finish at Scottish Open last week.
The year’s highest climber, up more than 50 places since start of year to 24. Not here to make up numbers, he claims.
Searching for the keys to his game after falling from 15th to 55 in rankings. Opened with a pair of 66s in Scotland.
Had it going earlier this year, tying third at Honda Classic and sixth at Masters. Hovering at 31 in rankings.Reuse content