Defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose opens up about his late father, Ryder Cup highs and lows and beating Phil Mickelson

June 5, 2014

After you won the U.S. Open at Merion, what did you donate to the USGA museum?

A smelly old pair of shoes [laughs].

Why old shoes, rather than the 4-iron you used for your appoach on the 72nd hole, which helped seal your victory?

The shoes have my kids' names — Leo and Lottie — on them. And it being Father's Day, it was a symbol of the week for me. I'd love to give them the 4-iron, but I want that club.

In terms of when your career turned a corner, do you go back to the long putt you made at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, which flipped your singles match against Phil Mickelson?

That was part of the puzzle of winning a major, but it actually hurt me at the Barclays [in 2013]. I had a putt to win from 25 feet, and I thought about the Ryder Cup and draining it, and I knocked it five feet by and missed it coming back.

As a 17-year-old amateur, you holed a pitch shot on No. 18 to tie for fourth at the 1998 British Open at Birkdale. Did you get the impression that winning majors would be almost easy?

Well, 21 missed cuts later, I did a good job of proving to myself that it wasn't going to be easy. I had a three-year plan, which came true; by the time I turned 20, I was established on the European Tour. But it was a rocky road to get there, and that halted my development. It took me until 2010 to feel like I was past it.

Your most emotional moment at Merion was when you looked skyward after winning, in a tribute to your late father, Ken. How old were you when he started battling cancer?

It was in 2001 — I'd just turned 21. He battled it for a year or so. I look back at 2002 as the best year of my career because I somehow managed to win four times knowing that my dad was on the way out at age 57.

How did you manage to stay focused on golf when your father was dying?

I have no idea. But he was able to be at one of my wins, the 2002 British Masters, the biggest win of my career up to that time. It got me to something like 30th in the world. And he gave me an amazing pep talk at the Open that year. I was playing with Tiger, who was at the peak of his powers, and I was just a young kid. My dad said, "We've faced much more difficult things than this." I went out and shot 68. I'll always remember that. He passed away two months later.

What did your father do for a living?

Pharmaceuticals. When he came to England from South Africa, he had a chemical trading business with another guy. That didn't go well, and he got caught up in the recession in the UK — as a fortyish man from South Africa, he had a hard time finding jobs. In the late '80s my parents tried to set up a swim and dance shop, but swimwear? Not the greatest idea in England. That went under. It got to the point where it was down to pennies for meals at night.

Have you bought your mom, Annie, a house back in England?

Yeah. My parents sacrificed so much, and it's nice to pay her back. My mom trolled the motorways of the country, selling swimwear door to door — hard work. But that's the majority of the world.

Switching gears, what's your take on the major venues in 2014?

I've not played Pinehurst, but really, because of the changes, no one has. [British Open host] Hoylake I don't know anything about because I missed the '06 Open Championship, and I didn't play it as an amateur. And [PGA Championship site] Valhalla, I played the Ryder Cup there in 2008, so I know it fairly well.

Is Valhalla a bad memory for you? Europe took a Ryder Cup loss there.

Not really. On a personal level, I took a lot of good things out of that one. I won three out of four points and won my singles match. And I beat Phil. Poor Phil.

Good grief. How many times have you beaten him?

I'm three for three. I also beat him at the WGC–Match Play [in 2007].

You've been building a house in the Bahamas. Will it be your full-time residence?

We're going to try it. Our kids are young enough to where we feel we can just come back to Orlando if we want. We'll keep our house here. The Bahamas is an awesome place for kids.

Is your new house going to have a man cave for you and your son, Leo?

The garage on one side of the house has the fake grass and couches, a hitting bay, and a TrackMan.

How big will the house be?

Eleven thousand square feet.

Wow. Are you going to have more kids?

No — but we'll have a lot of guests. Ernie Els and Ian Poulter spend time in the Bahamas. That's the problem: You build a house there, and the phone starts ringing. "We met when? Oh, you want to come to the Bahamas? [Sighs.] Okaaaaaay."