Having narrowly missed out on this year's Masters, Justin Rose returns to the course that launched his career on a precarious path
Justin Rose And The Open: Unfinished Business
Looking at the same tall and wiry figure now, it is hard to believe almost two decades have passed since Justin Rose kick- started his career as an amateur in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1998.
By holing his approach to the final green to finish in a tie for fourth, he offered a glimpse of the talent and sense of occasion that British golf fans were hoping would take him to the very top.
“I’ve had very little time to sit back and reflect,” he told Golf Monthly in an interview just a couple of weeks after the 1998 Open.
“What I do remember is the fantastic support I got. That is the overriding memory I have of The Open. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
“It’s been great. I’ve been chased all over the place by reporters. I’ve been asked to appear on The Big Breakfast. I’ve been asked to press the button on The National Lottery and various other things.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed it, but there comes a time when it starts to get in the way of your golf… But I don’t regret it. It’s nice to have attention and I hope I’m still getting it in a few years because it will mean I must have been successful.”
Tough road to the top
Fast-forward to the present day and Rose has gone on to become the most successful English golfer since Nick Faldo.
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In April, he was a whisker away from his second Major title and he will return to Southport as one of the favourites for the Claret Jug.
But while Rose has gone on to fulfil that early potential, his journey to the top has been truly extraordinary. It all started with his decision to turn professional immediately after the 1998 Open.
“I figured it was an ideal chance to make the move,” he told Golf Monthly at the time.
“I knew I’d get some sponsors’ invitations after what happened at Birkdale, so I thought I’d give it a go.
“I knew that I would get six or seven chances to win enough money to get a tour card.
“Even if that doesn’t work out, I will still be able to get used to being a professional and will have six months of experience under my belt, which has got to be an advantage if I end up going to European Tour Qualifying School.”
No downside, right?
What happened next was a sporting catastrophe.
With the golfing world at his feet, Rose missed his first 21 consecutive cuts as a professional.
With the media scrutinising his every move, the teenager received a long and harsh lesson in the reality of playing such a fickle game for a living.
As time marches on, it is easy to forget just how cruel it was.
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The truth is few sportsmen would have emerged unscathed.
After three consecutive visits to Qualifying School, Rose finally established himself on tour, bruised but battle-hardened.
The Justin Rose we see today is the product of that formative experience.
A true gentleman
At this year’s US Masters, he found himself going head to head with the best golfer never to have won a Major.
The groundswell of crowd support for Sergio Garcia was palpable.
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The scriptwriters had their sights set on Sergio’s fairytale story and somehow it felt as if Rose, one of the true gentlemen of the modern game, was the villain of the piece.
So it is perhaps fitting that Rose should be returning so soon to the scene of his earliest triumph.
And as he steps out onto the first tee for this year’s Open Championship, one thing is for sure – there will be no shortage of home support.