Some lucky suit got to play with the US Open champion on Monday. Justin Rose was back at work half an hour from the dreamscape that was Merion, fulfilling his obligations to sponsors. Then on Monday night he carried on up the east coast to New York for the obligatory audience with David Letterman on the Late Show. Though he tees it up at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut this week, he is no longer your everyday tour pro. Rose said goodbye to the old life with the tap-in at 18 that made him a major champion.
The £1m winner’s cheque he banked is by the by. He can name his price for appearances now, half a mill here, half a mill there. But he is long past the point when money gets him out of bed in a morning. At dinner on Sunday night he ate with the US Open trophy in the middle of the table, accompanied by the people that matter, his wife Kate, caddie Mark ‘Fooch’ Fulcher and manager Marcus Day. The talk was not about pound notes. This was the fulfillment of a career-long yearning, simmering since he chipped in at the Open for fourth place as a 17-year-old boy.
Day could fill the diary every day of the week. But that won’t happen. It’s all about the golf with Rose. “This puts him in the superstar league in golf, the final piece of the jigsaw,” Day said. “He’s the perfect age, right up there with the best players. Financially everyone knows it can increase their wealth and they can do very well out of it, but it comes down to how much they want to do that. They can chase it or not. He’s in it to win majors, so for him the money is just a bonus.”
Rose has it all worked out. The win, he claims, resulted from his commitment to a process began four years ago when Sean Foley entered his life. Guru Sean is much more than a coach, he is a lifestyle preacher who furnishes his clients not only with golfing method but a coping strategy for keeping emotions in check.
Caddie Fooch tells of a communique he received from Rose before the event. “He sent me a photograph of a picture in his house. I thought it was a wonderful idea. It meant simply staying in the middle of the tunnel. If you move out of it only bad things can happen because you are thinking about other things. I said I’d follow him and walk behind him.”
There was a sense, believes Fooch, that Rose was building towards something significant last week. His rise to the world’s top-five began three years ago when he won twice on the PGA Tour. The curve has been upward since, and during their three-day prep at Merion a fortnight ago both recognised the potential in Merion’s historic planes and hollows.
“I’m not religious at all but from a golfing perspective it felt like a religious experience just to walk round it. We learned all our lines, guessed a few pins and got lucky with those. I think it held us in good stead. The four iron he hit at the last was wonderful. We were five paces behind the Hogan plaque. He missed 18 with a four iron on Saturday which was a bit quick and edgy. We learned from that and it proved to be a bonus.
“He has prepared for this moment and it didn’t feel abnormal. It felt like it was his place to be there. I’m very, very proud of him. I didn’t have to keep him calm at all. We’ve had a game plan all week, a tunnel vision. We had this vision we were going to walk down the first tee, swipe a 3-wood and just keep going. The prospect of a play-off wasn’t a problem because we were prepared for it.”
After the headlines generated by the Sergio Garcia-Tiger Woods spat golf has a champion without blemish. Parents out there looking for a role model for their sons might want to download his victory speech, during which he gave a powerful demonstration of common decency absent in so many of his ilk.
Recent British champions have struggled with the rapid shift in step that comes with being a major winner. Graeme McDowell, who won this championship in 2010, and Rory McIlroy, who followed him through the door a year later, endured indifferent spells in the immediate aftermath. Ultimately both were surprised by what they had done. Rose was ready to take the step.
And where better to take your place in history, at the course where Bobby Jones sealed his grand slam in 1930 and where Ben Hogan hit his 1-iron in 1950? Perhaps Fooch was right. Maybe there was some unknowable scheme unfolding when Rose was called to write his named in fable just five paces from the Hogan plaque.
“It's hard to play Merion and not envision yourself hitting the shot that Hogan did,” Rose said. “And even in the moment, that was not lost on me. When I walked over the hill and saw my drive sitting perfectly in the middle of the fairway, with the sun coming out, it was kind of almost fitting. I just felt like at that point it was a good iron shot on to the green, two putts, like Hogan did, and possibly win this championship. So I felt like I did myself justice.”