Maybe Justin Rose should give 10 percent of his winnings to a cabbie, not a caddie. Rose was in a Florida taxi a few years ago, feeling frustrated about his game (he'd fallen as low as 126th in the world), when the driver started moaning about the sweet life pro golfers live. "He says, 'Some dude gets a whole bag of cash for finishing 11th!'" the 27-year-old Brit recalls in his best American accent. " 'What the hell's that about?'" The quip reminded Rose to be grateful for his plum job and to start having more fun on the course.
"It was time to listen up, lighten up, and let it happen," he says. He listened.
Golf Magazine: You snuck up on the golf world over the last year, jumping from a low of 126th to No. 8 in the world rankings, and finishing ahead of guys like Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington on the European Tour's money list. How'd you do it?
Rose: Consistency. I had a lot of Top 10s and three seconds. All that was missing was a win, which I got at the Volvo Masters. It's the pinnacle of my career. It means you're top dog in Europe. Players fight hard to win the Order of Merit: Monty guarded his title for eight years. Lee Westwood and Harrington have won it. Now me. It's a huge honor.
GM: It's been 10 years since you became golf's sweetheart by holing out your last shot at the British Open at Royal Birkdale to finish fourth. The British returns to Birkdale this year. What memories do you have of 1998?
Rose: Birkdale was really a fairytale. It was like, "Wow! Where did that come from?" I played well, and it was fun. Everyone loves the underdog, so there was no pressure for me. I haven't been back there since, but there's no better place for me to break through and win a major. To go there with a legitimate chance to win, rather than as a skinny 17-year-old kid nobody knew about, will be a dream come true.
GM: What was the downside to your big splash at Birkdale?
Rose: The whole thing feels like a lifetime ago. It feels like another me. The (1998) Open was a distracting factor for me before I turned pro. Lots of people wondered if I was just a flash in the pan. I remember making a conscious decision to just forget about the Open. Those amateur days were all about talent, flair, luck and no pressure.
But professional golf is different it's cutthroat, pressure-packed and demanding. The Open was a distraction. I missed 21 cuts after that, and I am obviously better than that.
But my expectations changed, as did those of people around me. There was pressure from endorsements, sponsorship and media. Stuff I just wasn't ready for.
I wish that after the Open I had tried to take things slower and not gotten caught up with earning my Tour card, with being the Next Big Thing. I got stuck on the roller coaster. It was really very hard not to. It was crazy.
GM: Did you feel overwhelmed by how much your life changed in 1998?
Rose: My family tried to guide me, but the experience was all new for them, too, and I don't think I was managed well by people who should have known better. It was a disaster. There were (endorsement) deals in place where I had to play well enough by the end of that year and get a European Tour card.
There was all this money on the table, and I couldn't function under that pressure. With every shot I hit, I felt I was influencing my off-course value.
GM: You mentioned the 21 straight missed cuts after the Open. You must have endured some dark days.
Rose: I honestly never believed it would keep going after the fourth or fifth one. Then I would get near making a cut, and the media and photographers would suddenly appear out of nowhere, and that just made it worse. They were tough days, but I really never doubted myself. And I feel I'm a better player now for coming through that experience. I've become a much stronger golfer mentally.
GM: You seem to like it when things are a little tough.
Rose: I like a mental challenge. Doing things the easy was is sooo overrated (laughs). That ability to fight and battle is ingrained in me now. I play my best when I've got to dig myself out of a hole. "Comfortable" and "complacent" are very close to each other. Being comfortable can be dangerous.
GM: You shot up the world rankings in the past two years. What was the turning point for your comeback?
Rose: I was seventh alternate at the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. I was just kind of hanging around like a spare part all dressed up and nowhere to go. It was a nightmare: seeing your mates playing, with all you media guys hanging around, and I wasn't a part of it. I thought, What am I doing here?
That was a kick in the backside for me, and I really switched on and worked hard after that. I was missing out, and it hurt. But that hurt just made me more determined.
GM: You finished in the top 12 in all four majors last year, including a T5 at the Masters. Do you feel that you're getting close to your first major win?
Rose: I think I can win a major at any time. I proved in 2007 that my game stacks up. Still, I let some chances slip. At Augusta I was one shot behind with two holes to play. I should have finished second.
I made a little charge on the back nine, and it was awesome. I was gutted to make bogey at 17, but there you go. And I should have had a top 3 or 4 at the U.S. Open. But I was in the hunt in two majors, and I was comfortable in the moment. That was a big learning curve.
GM:What do you need to improve to win a major?
Rose: I need to get fitter. That means hard work in the gym, but I hate it. And that's part of the problem. Tiger loves it he can't get enough of it. I've got to get like that. I need to get fitter and stronger to cope with a tough playing schedule.
GM: What drives you?
Rose: It's not the money. It's winning. When I win, I feel happy. There is no greater feeling than the elation of that 18th green ceremony when you get your hands on the silverware. As an amateur, I had that feeling a lot. But I didn't win for four years after turning pro. When I won in 2002, I couldn't believe how good it felt. I had forgotten! And then, I had freakin' forgotten about it again until the Volvo Masters in November.
GM:You were only 21 when your father and coach, Ken, died in 2002, of leukemia. You must think about that every time you play.
Rose: We had 21 years of quality rather than 50 years of quantity. I do have regrets that he hasn't seen the fruits of all the hard work he put in with me. It would have been nice for him to share the success I am beginning to have. I wouldn't be where I am today without the grounding and emotional support he and my family always gave me. That's one reason I was able to come through such a tough start to my career.
GM: What would you say was the key to his teaching?
Rose: He kept the game simple and allowed my talent to come through. He was criticized when I turned pro; people said he needed to back off, but I needed him around. I was 18, and the next youngest guy was 23, so that's a big gap. I didn't have anybody out there who could relate to me.
It was important to have my dad and family. I regret that when I turned pro we didn't play much golf together. The game became a little serious.
GM: Your coach Nick Bradley was serious when he predicted that you'll win more majors than Nick Faldo, who has six. Does that put any kind of pressure on you?
Rose: No. Nick (Bradley) said that I was going to be the best player in England, and we proved him right. Majors certainly aren't easy to come by, but I think six is a great target. You have to dream big.
GM: Can you catch Tiger? Do you aspire to be No.1?
Rose: You mean the other No. 1? (Laughs) I don't really think it's a realistic short-term goal. Tiger is so far ahead in the world rankings. No. 2 is a good goal for us normal guys, in the short term. But No. 1 is doable (long-term).
GM: Back to Tiger. Would it be fair to say that there's clearly an intimidation factor on Sundays with many players?
Rose: I'm not going to say that there isn't one. But there shouldn't be. I respect Tiger, but you need to respect the golf course more because that's what you're playing against. Nobody else can control your golf ball, or your head. Fear (of Tiger) really shouldn't be an issue. He can't run over and punch you in the ribs.
I'm not denying that there isn't a (mental) difference, but I just try not to believe it. If you believe it, and accept it, you're dead. Now, I'm not going to tell you that guys don't melt when they play with Tiger. But he can't touch my golf ball, so there is no reason I shouldn't perform. We are in control of our own destiny.
GM: Rory Sabbatini seems to be the only guy who tries to flip it and needle Tiger.
Rose: Hey, if you needled Tiger and he went out and shot 73, I'd start a "Put Down Tiger" campaign. But the problem is you needle Tiger and he shoots 63. (Laughs) So I say, "Shut up."