Justin Rose is in the “do-it-now phase” of his career as the Englishman bids to improve on his astonishing first effort in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur.
Even allowing for the fact that it took him some time to back up finishing joint-fourth behind Mark O’Meara in 1998, missing 21 cuts in a row at the start of his professional career, it is astonishing that Rose hasn’t been able to beat that performance, which was capped, of course, by him chipping in at the last, in 14 subsequent appearances. His best attempt came two years ago, when he tied for sixth at St Andrews.
“It’s disappointing, but there’s no real reason for it other than maybe the expectation for a number of years afterwards took its toll as I tried to live up to it,” said the 36-year-old. “I feel now, though, at this stage of my career I’ve sort of somewhat proved that that wasn’t a flash in the pan, so I can come back to The Open a little freer than I could for a number of years. My record suggests it hasn’t been very good since 1998, but I feel that I’m at a stage now where I can put all those past performances behind me and refocus on a good week.”
Does he feel it’s a case of unfinished business, perhaps, in this event? “Yeah, for sure,” added the 2013 US Open champion and current Olympic champion. “I don’t want to say that if I don’t win this it’s going to be a huge sort of hole in my career, but it was the one tournament that even before I finished fourth here as an amateur, I got to final qualifying at the age of 14 and created a bit of a story then.
“It’s definitely been a championship that I’ve had great moments in. And to win it would kind of close the book in a way on my Open story. It’s the one tournament that I’ve dreamed about since I was a young boy, and for me to do it here at Royal Birkdale would be obviously a full-circle moment based upon what I did in 1998. I’ve got plenty of years to try to tick things off. There’s no rush, but certainly I’m into the do-it-now phase of my career.” Instead of playing in last week’s Scottish Open at Dundonald, Rose put in some hard work on the practice range before heading to Wimbledon to watch the men’s final on Sunday, when he was inspired watching Roger Federer claim an eighth all-England Club title and 19th Grand Slam title overall at the age of 35.
“Roger is the sporting athlete I look up to and try and model myself on,” he admitted. “Everything he does is pretty much spot on. The way he handles himself, the grace in which he plays the sport I think is incredible. Mentally, how he doesn’t give much away I think is a style that’s well suited to golf, too, I think. And that’s one of the reasons I really wanted to go to Wimbledon.
“Yes, I’m watching the tennis, but I’m watching him more than anything, and seeing what I can pick up. There are a few tricks here and there that you can apply to golf. I’ve always found it a bit easier to learn from other sportsmen than I have from golfers. You’re trying to beat your competition here, whereas I can be completely and impressed and awe by him because I never have to face him.
“It’s a much easier environment to learn, I think, when you don’t have to compete against that person.” Since losing out to Sergio Garcia at the first extra hole in a play-off for The Masters earlier in the year, Rose’s best performance came in his most recent outing, finishing joint-fourth behind Spaniard Jon Rahm in the Irish Open at Portstewart. “There was definitely a lull after Augusta,” he said. “But, when I flew back from a recent holiday in Italy, it really struck me this that the hunger was back. And sometimes you just have to wait. Sometimes you can’t force it.
“There’s a natural ebb and flow to things. You can’t have a peak without a valley, really. And you’ve got to enjoy the momentum of both. When things aren’t going well you have to accept it, keep working hard.
“And when things start to trend, you have to make the most of them. Hopefully a couple of weeks ago in Ireland was the start of things turning around.”
The aforementioned chip-in over a bunker 19 years ago is an iconic Open moment, one that has even become a Lego scene.
“That’s how you know it was a cool achievement,” he recalled, revealing that both his own two children and his three-year-old nephew had seen it and been suitably impressed.