Martin Dempster: Justin Rose’s rise to top generates genuine warmth

Justin Rose is only the fourth Englishman to become world No 1 since the rankings began 22 years ago. Picture: Getty.
Justin Rose is only the fourth Englishman to become world No 1 since the rankings began 22 years ago. Picture: Getty.
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W hile I definitely felt a tad embarrassed admitting it at the time, especially out in the open to the home captain, Paul McGinley, at a press conference during the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, I’m clearly not alone in having a man crush on Justin Rose. Rarely, in fact, can so much genuine warmth have been expressed from one male to another in the golfing world after Rose became the new world No 1.

He is only the fourth Englishman to hold that mantle after Nick Faldo, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. Only Ian Woosnam and Rory McIlroy are the other Great Britain and Ireland golfers to have achieved the feat. With all due respect to all of them, Rose conquering the planet seems to have warmed the cockles of way more hearts.

Perhaps that is because of the way he has overcome adversity, having missed 21 successive cuts at the start of his professional career after being tipped for greatness on the back of finishing fourth in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur.

That horrendous run would have broken many people but not Rose. After securing a foothold, he has gone from strength to strength over the past 20 years, his 22 victories in the paid ranks including a US Open as well as an Olympic 
gold medal.

To have now become only the 22nd player to sit at the top of the rankings since they were introduced in 1996 was summed up by Rose in a post on social media. “We did it, Dad,” he tweeted, in a touching tribute to his father, Ken, who introduced him to golf and mentored him before dying from cancer at the age of 57 in 2002.

Rose has done his dad proud, particularly so since landing his major breakthrough at Merion in 2013. Since March 2012, he has not been ranked lower than 16th while for the past ten months he has been inside the top ten. A couple of opportunities to go to No 1 were not taken earlier this year, but it was mission accomplished after two second-place finishes in a row in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Play-Offs.

It was a pity that Rose’s putt at the 72nd hole to claim victory in the BMW Championship at Aronimink in Philadelphia cruelly lipped out. He then lost in a play-off to American Keegan Bradley at the first extra hole, leaving Rose to admit that “there’s an edge to my happiness” when discussing his elevation to the No 1 spot.

However, that was just the winner in him coming out. It didn’t take long for the achievement that sparked that show of so many people – in golf in particular, but also over a much wider spectrum – having a man crush on Rose to start 
sinking in.

“It is the stuff of boyhood dreams,” he said. “When you talk about my career, this will be in the first three sentences. Up there with winning the 2013 US Open and Olympic gold two years ago. I have another string to the bow. I always envisaged myself getting to world No 1 and to join that company of players is special. It’s scary company, actually. It’s something I can say, I’ve been the best player in the world – I’ve been to the top of the game.”

Rose was a colossus for McGinley in that Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, picking up four points out of five, including three in the company of Henrik Stenson. Two years earlier, Rose had also played his part in pulling off the “Miracle at Medinah”, holing a monster putt across the green at the 17th en route to beating Phil Mickelson as he delivered one of five crucial points for Jose Maria Olazabal at the top of the singles order.

From four appearances in the biennial event, Rose boasts an impressive record of 11 wins, six losses and two halves. For me, he was already going to be the key man for Thomas Bjorn in this month’s Ryder Cup in France and now his status in the team at Le Golf National has been elevated even more as Europe bid to win back the trophy.

Bjorn will surely have Rose and Stenson as one of his strongest possible pairings but, at the same time, Rose will also have an important role in trying to impart his experience of the event to compatriots such as Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, two of the five rookies in the European team.

“The quest to get better is why I wake up in the morning and it gets me out of bed,” said the new world No 1 in a statement that epitomised why both Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson praised him as a perfect role model – and made me actually feel proud of myself for saying exactly what I was thinking that day just under four years ago in the media centre at Gleneagles.