Justin Rose first captured worldwide attention as a 17-year-old amateur at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he chipped in on the final hole to claim a tie for fourth. Pretty good finish. But there have been better, as Rose himself readily concedes. Now 36, with enough seasoning to have historical perspective, Rose recently served on a panel, assembled by whisky-maker Glenmorangie and composed of golf journalists, photographers, Tour players and other experts. Their task: to select the greatest Open championship finishes of all time.
The work kicked off a busy stretch for Rose, who has battled injury this season but is rounding into form in time to join the fray next week at Royal Troon. Shortly after, he’ll wing off to Baltustrol for the PGA Championship, then down to Brazil to represent Great Britain in the Olympics, before making his way to Hazeltine this fall to join his European mates in the Ryder Cup. In the midst of all the madness, Rose got on the horn with Golf.com to share his thoughts on Rio; his hopes for Hazeltine; and his sense of where his Royal Birkdale showing stands on the all-time list.
What could possibly top a 17-year-old amateur—a son of Great Britain no less— chipping in on the final hole of the British Open?
The one that burns into my mind was Seve Ballesteros on the 18th green at St. Andrews, when he holed that putt. He’s in that crisp white shirt and the navy blue sweater and he’s pumping his fist and it’s just pure emotion on his face. He was one of my favorite players growing up.
You must have been just out of diapers for that win. Do you have any memories of watching it live?
That was, what, 1984? I was four years old, so I’d be lying if I said I was sitting on the couch, taking in every moment. But it’s just such an iconic image of Seve. I think he even used it as a logo for his brand for a while. That moment lived on well past its years, and it still does because he was Seve. To see how much it mattered to him, that makes it pretty special to me.
So, was that your all-time number one?
I actually gave a few suggestions. Another one, which I’ve watched a couple of times on film, was the Duel in the Sun between Watson and Nicklaus at Turnberry. With the back and forth between them, and the weather being what it was, it was just incredible.
Did your run at Royal Birkdale even make your top five?
It’s probably in my top five but I doubt it is for many others. When you’re a player, you’re so focused on what you’re doing I don’t know that you appreciate all the goings on down the stretch, whereas if you’re a photographer, say, trying to capture every moment, you probably come at it with a different perspective.
You were doing this for Glenmorangie, a Scottish whisky-maker, and the subject is the British Open. Given that you won the U.S. Open, shouldn’t you be picking the best U.S. Open finishes for an American bourbon maker instead?
When it comes to major championships, beggars can’t be choosers. You take any one of them. Having won the U.S. Open, I’m very proud of that. But being a British player, the homegrown championship is the one you would dearly love to win, above all else, really, I suppose.
And now that championship is almost here. You’ve been battling injuries. How are you feeling coming to Royal Troon?
It’s been a funny year, very stop and start in terms of playing healthy, which is rare for me. I haven’t had a season like this in quite some time. But I’m hoping the little break I’ve been forced into over the summer is going to start paying dividends. This is a condensed time of year where a lot of guys are going to be fatiguing. Some of them have had their run of great golf, or might be burning out, and I’m hoping that I can run into some form of my own. At the same time, I’m being realistic. Coming in with low expectations and the sense of not putting any added pressure on myself.
Has that been a particular problem for you in this event?
I do tend to put more pressure on myself. The home crowd can work for you but it can also work against you because you sense their frustration when things aren’t going well. I’ve had to learn to combat that. At the same time, once you get things going, you can kind of ride the crowd. So if I can get my name on the leaderboard on Sunday, that will certainly become a positive.
You mention burnout. After the Open, you go the PGA Championship, and you’re also one of the guys who has committed to playing in the Olympics. Any hesitation about that?
I’m excited about Rio. I’m treating it very much as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Olympics is about the best of the best, whether it’s amateur or pro, going toe-to-toe. I was hoping it would be supported by all of the top players. It’s a bit of a shame that it hasn’t happened in golf this year, but I’m choosing to look at it that it’s not because of the Olympics, and that maybe there are some health concerns. I’m choosing to see that maybe there are guys in a phase of their lives when they’re thinking about young families. I’m hoping those are the issues and it’s not that the Olympics are not important to golf, because I truly believe it is. And I’m excited about representing team Great Britain and going for a medal.
Given those feelings, have you tried to lobby any of the other top players to get on board?
No. No lobbying. You’ve got to respect others’ decisions and opinions. It’s definitely at a point where you get a little concerned about the image it’s giving off but all I can do is treat the Olympics as I see fit and that’s to support it 100 percent. And there are still more players supporting it than not. I think seven of the top 10 players in the world are going, and that’s an incredibly strong field and it’s still going to have a lot of impact. That’s how I’m choosing to see it.
How about that other international competition, the one that no one wants to miss. We’ve got the Ryder Cup this fall. Predictions?
As always, we’ll have our work cut out. No European team goes into the Ryder Cup thinking anything else. The U.S. will be a tough team to beat.
There’s a lot of talk these days about young American stars. But the Europeans have something of a youth movement, too.
From an American point of view, what’s interesting is that the younger players are almost becoming leaders already with Jordan and Ricky. Then you’ve got Dustin Johnson. Maybe you can’t exactly call him young but the way he’s playing you’ve got to expect him to become a leader going forward. But the youngsters that we’re going to have on our team, or the rookies, are great players in their own right.
You’re thinking Chris Wood, Danny Willett …
Yeah, and let’s add Matthew Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan to that list, among others. Andy Sullivan is incredibly motivated about playing in the Ryder Cup, and he’s the type of player who has a lot of confidence and a bit of strut in his step. He’ll relish the occasion, as will Danny Willett. Danny has obviously elevated himself to being a major champion, but Andy and Danny remind me of one another in their games and in their ability to rise to the occasion. Chris Wood is another great player who won on the big stage recently at the BMW PGA Championship. He’s very solid. And then you’ve got Matthew Fitzpatrick, who I can see playing a kind of Luke Donald role, in the sense that he is very accurate and a great putter. He will likely be a great alternate shot partner for any player on the team. They all bring some great attributes.
Let’s get back to the Open and Royal Troon. You don’t have much history there.
Actually, I have no history at all. This very morning was the first time I’d ever played the course. It’s exciting for me because this completes the Open rota for me. This was the last venue that I hadn’t played an Open on. From what I saw today, it’s a very fair links course. It rewards accuracy. The fairways and the approaches are relatively flat, and the greens are very small. It’s also a classic links in that it’s nine out, nine in. With the prevailing wind, you try to make your score on the first nine, and then just hold on coming in.
Given all the wind, you’ll be nipping at a flask of whisky the whole time, right?
I’ll try to keep a clear head during the competition. But let’s see how it goes. I’d like to make a few birdies and maybe earn myself a bit of whisky after the round.