The Interview: Ken Rose - Son on the level with Pa

In the search for the Open secret, family values are a positive help to a troubled talent.

THERE WERE people at The Oxfordshire golf club last week who, prior to the start of the Benson and Hedges International Open, rang up bookmakers to enquire about the odds of Justin Rose making the half-way cut. It has become a cause celebre. By the law of averages, young Rose should have broken the sequence by now.

Nobody has ever endured such a cruel run. To miss any cut is hard; expenditure high, income nil, pack the bags, pay the hotel bill and leave the others to play for the pounds 1m prize money. To miss 19 out of 19 is worrying. Something for the weekend sir? How about a razor blade?

The effect of missing so many cuts can only be guessed at. But at the very least it is a public form of torture. "Justin had the worst possible draw," his father, Ken Rose, explained during the second round of the Benson and Hedges. Following a level-par 72 in the first round, Justin needed something slightly better in the second on Friday to survive. Instead, going out last, he shot a 74, finishing bogey, bogey.

Earlier, the Roses had not been talking about making the cut but about what Justin needed to shoot to be in contention. On the surface their faith in the cause is unshakeable, but with every failure the volume of pressure inevitably increases. "When he makes a cut," Rose Snr said, "he'll burst from the vortex and never look back. I see positive signs all the time. It's important to learn from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He's mentally learning how to develop confidence from the setbacks."

When Seve Ballesteros bumped into Justin at an airport last month, the great Spaniard assured him: "I know there are big things ahead for you. Don't get low."

Ballesteros is probably right, but what has made these the unkindest cuts of all is the great expectation with which Rose embarked on his professional career. Last July, playing in his first and last Open Championship as an amateur, he almost brought the clubhouse down at Royal Birkdale by chipping in for a sensational birdie at the 18th in a final round of 69. He finished joint fourth, a position that would have earned him pounds 70,000 had he not been an amateur. And he was just 17.

The boy wonder turned pro immediately, flew to Amsterdam and shot 69 at the Hilversumsche club to win the pro-am and pounds 625, his first cheque. And his last. And that was 10 months ago, although it might seem to the Rose family like a decade.

At the time Justin said: "It's a nice feeling that I've earned some money by going to work. My objective is to establish myself on the European tour. At Birkdale I was surprisingly relaxed but here I'm stepping into the unknown. The Open was fantastic, a week I'll never forget but the slate is wiped clean. The key thing is to make cuts."

Ostensibly his first event was the Dutch Open but for the teams from the BBC, ITN and Sky, not to mention Fleet Street, it was the Rose show. In the first round proper he shot 77. Under the circumstances it was a wonder he got round at all. In the second round he scored 65 and had to wait six hours before discovering he had missed the cut by one stroke.

Nobody had a clue that this was the first ripple of the whirlpool. Agents and management companies had been queueing up to sign him. Ken opted for a firm called Carnegie who have subsequently been taken over by Parallel Media. The Roses signed two three-year contracts with Taylor Made and Maxfli. The bad news is that the deals are performance related.

After Birkdale, the Roses were besieged with sponsors' invitations to play on the European Tour, the aim being to win sufficient money to gain his card and avoid the dreaded end-of-season qualifying school. Justin failed to get his card by either means and thus far this season has been playing courtesy of the sponsors.

"Hindsight doesn't apply," Ken said. "We had a three-year game-plan and the decision to turn professional was taken long before the Open. We allowed for three years for Justin to get on the main tour and then the Open happened and the game-plan went out the window. Suddenly everything was on the hoof. We just had to react to events as they were unfolding.

"Ideally he shouldn't have played for about three months, but we had been begging for invitations to tournaments and we couldn't turn round at the last minute and say that because of the Open we were a big cheese now, we're not playing. In a public relations sense what has happened has made it a compelling story. People want to know more and more about Justin Rose, even in failure. He has fantastic manners and is a role model. They are interested in Justin as a person, not necessarily as a golfer."

It is not just Justin, nurtured for this role as a seedling in South Africa before enjoying a fabulous amateur career in Britain, who is under pressure. On the tour virtually everybody has an opinion on the Rose case: he was too young to turn pro at 17; he should have learned the ropes on the Challenge tour; he should have gone to college in America; he should have a professional coach; he hasn't earned the invitations; his father should take a back seat, et cetera, et cetera.

"What the hell," Ken said, "he's still an asset to promoters. He's only 18 and our view is to get as many invites as we can, take advantage of them and play in the A Division. You can only gain from that. If it doesn't work out we'll start another plan next year. It doesn't matter."

It's been said that in the locker room his son is now known as "Just-invite" (the Open is the only event he has actually qualified for). "It's a figment," Ken said. "There is no ill-feeling, only incredible support from the rank and file. They know he has the talent to play successful golf. This is just a temporary phase.

"I'm not his sole adviser, but he enjoys having me involved. We don't go into long sessions of soul searching and it's absolute bunkum that I keep him closeted away. He's entitled to do what he likes and I welcome it when he goes out with his friends or with other players."

Having turned 18, Justin, then, is no single rose and is old enough to appear in the local pub, the Old White Hart, near Hook in Hampshire, and has also discovered Pantiles night club in Bagshot. "He is far from being a piss-artist," Ken is compelled to add. No teenager would blame Justin for taking every night on the Pantiles.

Carrying the burden of being a national hero, with the shrewdest judges predicting that Rose would be England's answer to Tiger Woods (for Rose read Sergio Garcia, the brilliant young Spaniard), Justin's game has unravelled. "After playing terribly in Dubai we spent eight hours on the range because we realised we had to do something about his technique," Ken said. "That was the beginning of the rebuilding. We had to correct amateur flaws. It took Nick Faldo 18 months to rebuild."

Technically Justin, who has been doing some fine-tuning with David Leadbetter in Florida, has been confused. And mentally? According to his father he's whacked some tee boxes with a club or two out of frustration but Taylor Made have not had to rebuild his clubs. Anne Rose, the wife and mother, is "very concerned about mental scarring".

"Of course she's worried about what this could do to him," Ken added, "and about the possibility of it destroying him, but there are no signs of that at all. What kills me is that people think we are not aware of the dangers."

Caddies receive a percentage of a player's winnings. Justin is now on his third bag-carrier, an experienced Cockney, an old-hand who has the nickname "Laugher" because of his sunny disposition. What is happening to the Roses, however, is no laughing matter.

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