Sir Michael Bonallack has been a fixture in British golf since
1961, when he won the first of his five Amateur Championships.
For the last 15 years he has served as secretary of the Royal
and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, overseeing the biggest
show in the game, the British Open. On Sunday evening he was
standing behind Royal Birkdale's 18th green wearing the
contented look of a man who had gazed into the future and liked
what he had seen--and heard. "That," he said, "was the loudest
noise I have ever heard on a golf course."
This is an article from the July 27, 1998 issue
If you don't know what Bonallack was talking about, then you
weren't paying attention to last week's British Open. When
Justin Rose, a grinning 17-year-old from England, holed an
impossible wedge shot for birdie on the 72nd hole, the roar
shook Birkdale and all of golf. The shot put an exclamation
point on a preposterous week in which Rose tied for fourth,
melted the heart of a nation and added more luster to what has
been a golden year for amateurs.
"At the beginning of my week all I wanted was to be a part of it
all," Rose said following his final-round 69, which left him two
shots out of the Mark O'Meara-Brian Watts playoff. "I didn't
realize I would be such a big part of it, almost getting the
feel of being the winning player coming up the 18th. That's how
I felt today."
Rose's finish was the best by an amateur in the British Open
since Frank Stranahan tied for second in 1953 at Carnoustie.
Though Rose has compiled an impressive resume on the amateur
circuit, there was nothing to hint at the mastery he would have
over such a ferocious course. Unlike the two other celebrated
youngsters in the field, U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar and
British Am winner Sergio Garcia, Rose wasn't exempt into the
156-man field (though having made Britain's last Walker Cup team
did earn him a free pass through one round of qualifying).
Rose opened with a solid two-over 72, but that was lost among the
low scores of the day. It was last Friday that Rose roused the
memory of Bobby Jones, the last amateur to win the Open, in 1930.
In conditions that were poor even by the standards of this
championship, Rose shot a 66, the low round of the day by two
strokes and miles from the average score of 74.78. That left him
only a stroke behind the leader, Watts.
Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods's coach, put the collective awe into
words, saying, "That's an incredible score. An impossible score.
If you had told me that Tiger or Nick Price had shot a 66 today,
I wouldn't have believed it."
Upon hearing the news, Price said mischievously, "How old is he,
17? They're getting younger." In fact, Rose was 11 months old
the first time a club--an oversized plastic one--was placed in
his hand. At five he got his first real set and ever since has
been terrorizing the North Hants Golf Club near Hook, a town of
6,000 about 40 miles southwest of London. In 1995, when he was
14, Rose made it through the first stage of qualifying for the
Open. That summer he also won his most prestigious amateur
title, the England Boys Championship (for players under 18).
Like so many top European prospects, Rose dropped out of school
at 16 and has been playing for various national teams for the
last year and a half.
Last August, at Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, N.Y., Rose became the
youngest player ever to tee it up in the Walker Cup, performing
admirably while splitting four matches for Great Britain-Ireland
during an 18-6 drubbing by the U.S. "He really showed himself
well," says Kuchar, who had gotten friendly with Rose the week
before the British when they played a practice round together at
the Loch Lomond invitational. "He was one of the few guys from
the British team who gave his [opponents] a match." Kuchar was
so taken with his new buddy that he followed him around the
course last Saturday, putting to good use the leisure time that
came with his first missed cut in three major-championship
appearances this year.
Rose's keenest attribute is the happy-go-lucky attitude he takes
to the course. Following his historic 66--it matched the lowest
score by an amateur in Open history--Rose pronounced it "one of my
best rounds." One of his best?
When he began the windblown third round with back-to-back bogeys
and then missed the green with his second shot on the par-4 3rd,
it looked as though Rose was going to get his comeuppance. But he
made a clutch up-and-down for par and fought gamely from there on
in. He got a break at the par-3 12th when his errant tee shot
took one big bounce and smacked a young girl on the forehead,
which prevented the ball from straying into the heather. The girl
was fine, as was Rose's chip, and his subsequent par, combined
with playing partner Watts's bogey, gave Rose the outright lead.
Understandably spooked, he bogeyed the next two holes, but in the
end he had ground out a 75 on a day when no one broke par.
Impossibly, he was in fifth place, only three strokes behind the
The fans gave Rose a thunderous reception. In two days he had
become the rage of Great Britain. (JUSTIN TIME, too, as one
newspaper put it, because the rest of Britain's headliners--Nick
Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood--had played like
amateurs.) Countless fans placed roses in their caps, following
the lead of Rose's parents, Ken, a management consultant, and
Annie. On every hole people shouted out Rose's name as he passed
by, and Rose was such a rube he invariably searched the gallery
to return the greetings. Between green and tee he
enthusiastically exchanged high fives, and before and after his
rounds he tirelessly indulged well-wishers and autograph
seekers, a crowd that skewed noticeably toward preteen girls
with dreamy looks. "I don't know what to make of it," Rose said
charmingly. "I almost sort of saw myself as Jack Nicklaus for
some silly reason."
On the eve of the final round, Birkdale was buzzing with two
questions: Could Rose pull off a miracle, and would Sunday be his
final round as an amateur? Rose had begun the week saying the
Open would be a barometer to see if he was ready to join the pro
ranks. "Looking at the way I've played and my comfort level, I
guess I'm getting pretty close to making that decision," he said
on Saturday night. All of this heavy breathing was evidence of
the status that's now accorded the top amateurs.
With his three straight U.S. Amateur titles, from 1994 to '96,
Woods made amateur golf matter again, but this season its
visibility has gone to another level. Kuchar, a huggable junior
at Georgia Tech, nearly stole the show at the Masters and the
U.S. Open. Earlier this month at the U.S. Women's Open, Duke
senior Jenny Chuasiriporn extended South Korea's Se Ri Pak to a
playoff and, despite losing, offered a winning alternative to
Pak's cold professionalism. Though Garcia, a Spaniard, hasn't
broken through yet in a major, the 18-year-old's style of play
and personality are flamboyant, and he, too, has become a fan
favorite. When Rose was asked why the crowds warmed to him, he
said, "It comes from the heart," and that's probably the best
explanation of the amateurs' appeal. In a sport where the
yardstick of success is the money list, the unsullied smile of a
teenager buys a lot of love from the gallery.
Unfortunately, pars don't come that cheap, not on Sunday at the
British Open. Rose began his final round with a bogey and
followed with two more on the front nine, turning in 36, five
back of Watts. With no chance at victory, he had to settle for
glory. Rose was flawless on the back nine, making no bogeys
against three birdies, the last that dazzling wedge on 18, from
the rough 45 yards out to a pin tucked against a gaping bunker.
"To finish on that note was in context with the whole week," Rose
said. In the next breath he confirmed that he was going to play
this week's Dutch Open as a pro, saying, "What a way to finish."
Rose's professional future is uncertain, but even if he does go
on to make a fortune, his finest hour will always be his magical
week at Royal Birkdale, when he earned nothing but the cheers of