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English Rose the Merion Master

It has been a long time coming but Rose is a fine champion, writes Dermot Gilleece

Posted Jun 18, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

justin rose

When Justin Rose announced he was turning professional within 24 hours of finishing fourth in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, his decision received a ringing endorsement from an unlikely source.

"He's been playing top-class amateur golf for two years and what is he going to learn from staying amateur any longer?", was how Sir Michael Bonallack, secretary of the Royal and Ancient, viewed the gifted 17-year-old.

There was also the interesting disclosure from Ladbrokes that Rose was on offer at odds of 14-1 to win the Open Championship by 2003.  There was even expansive talk about him having the earning power of Tiger Woods, whose contracts at that time were valued in excess of $100 million.

Things, of course, didn’t happen quite that quickly for Rose.  Yet his splendid performance in capturing the 113th US Open Championship at fabled Merion here on Sunday, confirmed the rich potential that we all witnessed on the sodden Lancashire coast 15 years ago.  And on the matter of timing, it is interesting to note that he was a toddler of barely 11 months old when the US Open had its previous staging at Merion in 1981.

After his Birkdale performance, I remember writing that the popularity of Rose with the British public and beyond, hinged largely on a bright, cheery disposition which had him smiling and behaving courteously to the galleries at every opportunity.  I suggested that people liked to see their sporting heroes smile, and Rose offered quite a contrast to the glum images projected by fellow Britons such as Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo at that time.

Golf has not always been kind to him since those heady days.  Yet we saw much of that teenage warmth in some charming moments after he had holed out his final, tap-in putt on Merion’s 72nd green.  Ready smiles were punctuated by tears for the departed dad, with whom he would dearly love to have shared those Father’s Day moments.  

Meanwhile, in purely statistical terms, Rose did some wondrous things. While making the big breakthrough in his 37th Major championship appearance and his eighth in the US Open, he became the first Englishman to win the blue riband of American golf since Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970. In the process, he also followed in the footsteps of Horace Rawlins (1895), Joe Lloyd (1897), Harry Vardon (1900), George Sargent (1909), Ted Ray (1920), Jim Barnes (1921), Cyril Walker (1924).  And he secured the 46th Major championship triumph by a member of the European Tour since 1979, when Seve Ballesteros captured the Open at Royal Lytham.

Rose also became only the second Englishman to win a Major since that year, following  Faldo, whose last of six triumphs was in the 1996 Masters Tournament.  Interestingly, he was also the fifth successive player to make the US Open his Major breakthrough, following  Lucas Glover (2009), Graeme McDowell (2010), Rory McIlroy (2011) and Webb  Simpson (2012).  And he became the fifth graduate of the European Challenge Tour to win a Major, following  Michael Campbell (2005 US Open ), Trevor Immelman (2008 Masters), Louis Oosthuizen (2010 Open Championship) and Martin Kaymer (2010 US PGA Championship).

Returning to Bonallack back in the aftermath of Birkdale: he went on to say expansively of Rose: “I think the reaction he got from the Open crowd was almost one of relief that we have a young player to hopefully match Tiger Woods in the United States. We’ve had nobody quite as good as this at such an age since Young Tom Morris over a century ago.”  Praise indeed.

Of course it was to have been Phil Mickelson’s day.  Instead, he was made to endure what he described as the heartache of being runner-up in his national championship for a sixth time.  And he’s not alone as a great player to have found the US Open such an elusive crown.  It happened to no less a figure than Sam Snead, who seemed capable of winning most other events almost at will.

Finally, there was Merion.  Prior to the championship, Padraig Harrington expressed the hope that the USGA would allow the players to savour the true delights of a grand old venue.  But they didn’t.  Merion was seriously tricked up with re-routed fairways and decidedly quirky pin placements.  

The only saving grace in this context was that it delivered a truly fine champion.

- Dermot Gilleece

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