“Five years ago I couldn’t have done what I did in the Ryder Cup at Medinah,” says Justin Rose. It’s a frank admission from the Englishman, but also an indicator of how he has taken his game to the next level and truly become one of the world’s best players.
Only he’s not resting on his laurels. Not by a long shot. When we meet to shoot TG’s 25th Anniversary 3D cover back in February, he’s busily immersed in a three-hour practice session. “I’ve got to get better,” he explains as he moves from the putting green to range.
How has he done it? How has he fixed his flaws and ripped up the evaluation threatening to engulf him: a quiet, nice guy capable of winning here and there, leading the odd Major, but lacking the final ruthless edge to close out the big events?
“It’s been a gradual process over time, not overnight. I’ve had to be patient and work hard. It’s only taken 14 years,” he joked. “But I always knew I had the talent and ability.
“Looking back, it’s been a rollercoaster. I got criticised for turning pro straight after the Open at Birkdale, but that was always my intention and my dad was right; the professional tour is the best place for learning about being a professional. Of course it was tough, missing all those 21 cuts, but it made me stronger and more resilient. It feels like such a long time ago now and it is, but it was all part of what’s made me the player I am.”
Yes, at 32, Rose is ready. To achieve. To confirm his credentials. To make critics eat their words. What’s more, he knows he is ready, too, more than ever before – after a superb 2012 where an inaugural WGC win in Florida, FedEx Cup runner-up, Ryder Cup heroics and World Golf Final win in Turkey completed a sensational season.
He’s added to that progress this year by reaching a career best world Number three. Now, there is genuine world-class stature to Rose’s presence, to the conviction in his eyes when he says he believes the best years and titles of his career are firmly within his grasp.
The seminal moments in Medinah have given him the final pieces of armour and weapons of his arsenal, as he told TG’s Graeme Hamlett…
GH: I’ve watched a lot of your career live and when it’s tough, you are gutsy, but even so, your performance at Medinah in the singles was something else. Especially that last hole and the way you played it, so accurately and superbly. How did you handle that pressure?
JR: “I believe that’s where you rely upon hours and hours of practice. You need to get into an automated state and a lot of positive self-talk. There’s no doubt I couldn’t have done that four or five years ago. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in this game and learnt the hard way most of the time. But I’ve had enough success over the past couple of years to begin to really believe in myself and my golf under pressure. That was the culmination of a lot of hard work. And also being in the right place at the right time; there’s an element of fortune the cosmos sometimes bestows.
“Take Abu Dhabi at the start of the year. Both putts were identical putts, both were 12-foot putts, just outside the right edge as the way I read them; for all the will in the world, identical. On 18 at Medinah I hit it and it goes exactly in the middle, at Abu Dhabi it misses on the high edge.
“No, I wouldn’t change them! But that’s the vagary of the game. That’s what you have to try and mentally accept. But also to realise that fortune was with me that day, on other days it isn’t. That’s why you cannot beat yourself up too much in this game as well.”
GH: On Sky, Butch Harmon said he didn’t think you had it in you. Not that he was being unkind, but there’s still a sense you’re proving people wrong and how good you are. Do you think that was the last piece of the jigsaw to take you on again?
JR: “Yes, absolutely. I feel very comfortable under pressure and around the lead. The big events I’ve won prove it. Hopefully I showed that at Abu Dhabi, too. Some people will look at it and say you should’ve finished it off, but I had four great rounds under par, I led from front and felt comfortable inside doing that. Only you know that; what’s inside you. I made lots of very mature decisions coming down the stretch at Medinah.
“All I know is that I’m making a lot of very, very good steps in the right direction and preparing for the biggest moments in the game, because they’re coming.
“There are lots of good things happening in my game. It’s an exciting year for golf and I am very excited and keyed up for the rest of the year. When I look back at 2012, that was fantastic, but I think I can improve my game so much more. Obviously, that will hopefully translate into results as the year goes by.”
GH: Your dad always believed that when your putting clicked, it was the key to sustained success and titles, and that area more than any other is where you’ve really come on. Do you feel that too?
JR: “It’s about to! I’ve worked incredibly hard on it the past six months and I’ve seen some results. I’ve changed a lot of technique. I’ve seen my putting guy David Orr three times; hopefully he’s not a jinx, but each time I’ve finished second the next week. However, I’ve gone from putting poorly to finishing second. We work on some great things.
“I won in Turkey after working with him, so I feel there’s been a huge turnaround in my putting. It’s just a freer stroke and a better roll. Still, the improvement is yet to be seen properly. I was frustrated at the Masters with it, third round especially. But yes, I do feel that when I become a truly great putter that’s when I’m going to win a lot of tournaments. This is going to be the year. I’m raring to go!”
So, England’s rose has been in full bloom, and there is certain symmetry between Rose’s career and that of Nick Faldo’s: precocious talent announced at the Open as a teenager, wins worldwide, struggles and swing revamps. And perhaps the best is yet to come. A Major breakthrough at 32?
“Of course, it’s the question you always get asked,” he smiled. “I think it’s important for me not to attach too much focus, or build too much pressure into winning a Major. There have been plenty of great players who have never got over that hump. It isn’t easy.
“I’ve led the Masters a few times and but for one bad tee shot on 17 in 2007 had the chance to win it, so I know I have the game. But I think, as I said before, I need to just keep doing what I am doing and try to become a more prolific winner. Hopefully Majors will get in the way of that.”