Rise & Shine

Rise & Shine

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Justin Rose won the European Order of Merit in 2007.
James Cheadle

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.

February 2008 Golf Magazine Cover
February 2008

Rose is coming off his best
year yet, with one win, top 12s in all four majors, and $4.2 million in winnings to claim the top spot on the
European Tour’s Order of Merit. Still, wearing a gray hoodie, jeans and a brown bomber jacket, even golf fans might
not recognize the World No. 8 as he unfurls his gangly, 6’3” frame in a London cafe overlooking the Thames. Which
is fine with Rose. “Having a superstar’s ego doesn’t appeal to me at all,” he says, spooning a mini mountain of sugar
into his latte. If his game continues to improve at its current pace, he’ll soon have a major winner’s ego to worry about.

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.”