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Rough Times A year after an unforgettable finish, Justin Rose came to Carnoustie trying to rediscover his magic

July 26, 1999
July 26, 1999

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July 26, 1999

Baseball

Rough Times A year after an unforgettable finish, Justin Rose came to Carnoustie trying to rediscover his magic

When he ran in a 10-foot par putt on Carnoustie's home hole
before a few scattered spectators in the gloaming last Friday,
18-year-old Englishman Justin Rose knew he had missed his 23rd
cut in 25 events as a professional. But as he acknowledged the
sympathetic applause he has grown accustomed to, Rose didn't
feel the empty sense of failure that so often accompanies it.
Instead, he realized that a year that had turned from ecstasy to
agony was finally over.

This is an article from the July 26, 1999 issue Original Layout

"There's no point in talking about an event that happened two
years ago, is there?" Rose joked ruefully after his round. "I
wasn't sure before, but now I know it's the end of something,
and I can go forward."

Ever since he holed a 45-yard pitch for birdie on the 72nd hole
at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, Rose has been the
hostage of one of the most electrifying moments in the history
of the world's oldest championship. The shot capped a wondrous
fourth-place finish by the then 17-year-old amateur, and when
the ball disappeared, the explosion from the overflowing
grandstand unofficially produced the loudest roar ever heard at
a major championship. Clearly, the hero-starved British crowd
had taken the finishing flourish as a sign that Rose was the
long-awaited successor to Nick Faldo, and the youngster's
exuberant reaction--looking heavenward with arms
outstretched--added to the sense of destiny. When Rose
surrendered to the euphoria the following day by turning
professional, he became, in the words of normally restrained R&A
secretary Sir Michael Bonallack, "a young player who hopefully
can match Tiger Woods." Rose indeed left the amateur game with
an exit as perfect in its way as Woods's after his third
straight U.S. Amateur triumph, and like Woods, he set up
enormous expectations.

Rose hasn't even come close to meeting them. In the week after
his miraculous finish at Royal Birkdale, at the European tour's
Dutch Open, Rose followed a bleary-eyed 77 with a brilliant 65,
only to miss the cut by one. The next week he went to the Volvo
Scandinavian Masters, where on the 36th hole he three-putted to
miss by one again. Those who closely followed Rose's subsequent
ordeal wonder if one shot saved could have set him on a
different track, but from that point the young man from the
small town of Hook, 30 miles southwest of London, was exposed as
callow and fragile. An outbreak of sprayed drives and erratic
putting led to a runaway train of missed cuts, which only picked
up steam as Rose kept taking the sponsors' exemptions available
to him from the fame he had won at the Open. Even in the only
European tour event in which he qualified for the final two
rounds--the Compaq European Grand Prix in June--he shot 82 and
73 on the weekend and finished last. It wasn't until Rose
demoted himself to the minor league Challenge tour that he came
anywhere near to recapturing the magic he had displayed at last
year's British, placing fourth at the Diners Club Austrian Open
in June. Rose has never emerged from the bottom of the European
tour in driving accuracy and greens hit in regulation and is
last (173rd) in scoring, with an average of 76.23. Players and
caddies call him Justin Vite, because his only way into European
tour events has been through those sponsors' exemptions. His
official winnings are $10,419.

By the time Rose came to Carnoustie, most observers had come to
regard him as a sadly mishandled prodigy who would have been
better off playing in the U.S. college ranks or focusing his
early pro career on the Challenge tour. They blame his father,
Ken, who put a club in his son's hand when he was a toddler
and--despite not having taken up the game himself until his son
was born--has remained his primary swing coach. Heads shook when
Justin signed with Carnegie International, an Edinburgh-based
management company that also gave his father a position as
full-time consultant. Says Ken, "It's natural that people are
judging us, but no one is really in a position to judge." Adds
Justin, "My father has only been a help to my golf."

At Carnoustie, Rose became an even more topical cautionary tale
because 16-year-old Zane Scotland of the host country had
qualified. "I hope he [Scotland] doesn't finish fourth and want
to turn pro," wisecracked Payne Stewart, before turning serious
on the subject of Rose. "Justin has to take baby steps. You
can't start running with the big dogs if you're not quite ready."

Considering the microscope Rose has been under, it's easy to
imagine him transformed into a sullen, distrustful adolescent
plagued with facial tics, rashes and regrets. But while Rose
admits to a lot of sleepless nights, he is no haunted head case.
On the contrary, he is clearly an extraordinarily composed,
articulate and courteous young man who still lives with his
parents, has plenty of friends in and out of golf and has never
been known to let his poor play infringe on his playing partners.

"I admire Justin so much for how he has dealt with all this,"
says his 14-year-old sister, Margie, who joined her parents,
maternal grandparents and "Rose" T-shirt-wearing junior golfers
from the North Hants Golf Club, the course that Justin grew up
on, at Carnoustie. "He's under a lot of pressure, but he always
considers other people first. Sometimes he says that he needs to
get meaner, and once he said, 'Nice guys finish last,' but I
hope he never changes."

Justin thinks he already has. "I feel a lot tougher," he says.
"I can take anything that anybody throws at me, hopefully. I
hope I didn't go through all this for nothing."

Still, even those who know him best wonder why his road has been
so difficult. "I know Justin is very strong, but I worry that he
is trying too hard to please his father and me," says his
mother, Anne. "We talk a lot, but when I asked him if he didn't
want us to come watch him, he said, 'Please don't ever ask me
that again. I always want you there.'

"I look for scars from this experience, but I don't think he is
scarred. Even when things were at the lowest point, he told me
he is still living his dream."

Carnoustie, of course, could have been Rose's worst nightmare,
and not just because of the harrowing combination of narrow
fairways, deep rough and strong winds. Journalists wanted Rose
to reflect on his year, and true to his nature he met the
request head-on in a large press conference, admitting to a loss
of confidence, a counterproductive preoccupation with making the
cut and playing far too many tournaments. Asked if he regretted
turning professional, he was succinct. "To me, it was a simple
thing: How am I going to be a great player quickest, how am I
going to learn fastest? To me, that was by turning professional."

To deal with the more fragile state of his golf game, Rose had a
confidence-building session with David Leadbetter, whom he had
worked with on three other occasions, including last year at
Birkdale. Mechanically, Leadbetter focused on Rose's biggest
technical flaw, overactive long legs that cause him to get his
club out of position on the downswing. It's a common problem
with young and particularly tall players, and Rose has the added
variable of having grown two inches--to 6'2"--in the last year.

"Justin has a bloody good swing," says Leadbetter. "At last
year's Open his rhythm was good, and he drove it beautifully on
a not very severe course. He had nothing to lose, and it gave
him a false sense of security. He's had to learn about his flaws
the hard way. He's actually technically better now because his
lower body is more stable, but his confidence has been shaken."

So Leadbetter spent most of his time with Rose on the mental
game. Walking with Rose during practice rounds, he soothed him
with positive reinforcement. To keep the analytical Rose from
getting too technique-conscience on the course, Leadbetter
suggested that he concentrate on exhaling on his downswing.

"I honestly don't believe Justin has been damaged or ruined,"
says Leadbetter. "This is not an Ian Baker-Finch syndrome but a
resilient young player with real talent and the time to develop
it. He has a great work ethic, and I like the way his father
works with him because he follows our recipe. In retrospect, the
worst thing that happened to Justin was the shot he holed at
Birkdale, because it got him rushing to be something he wasn't
ready for. All I told him was to slow down, keep his wits about
him and learn his craft, preferably on the Challenge tour. If he
does that, everything he has gone through in the last year can
be really valuable. He just needs to let himself play."

The message took. "I don't have any expectations," Rose said
before teeing off at Carnoustie. "I just want to leave my heart
and soul on the golf course."

Still, on the 1st tee last Thursday, Rose was obviously more
than the "fractionally nervous" he later admitted to being.
Exempt only because of his finish at Birkdale, he missed five of
the first six fairways, swinging with a trepidation born of
concern with technique. But after hooking his drive
out-of-bounds on the sixth and falling to seven over par, Rose
reduced his swing thought to simple breathing and began to show
an impressive game. He hit nicely controlled iron shots in the
wind, and scrambled with skill and touch. He played one under
par from the 7th through the 17th holes, suffering a closing
double bogey when his six-footer horseshoed out of the cup for a
79.

On Friday, Rose's hopes of making the cut of 12-over 154 were
lost when he made four consecutive bogeys in the middle of the
round. Still, en route to a 77 he played the last five holes one
under and showed his passion after slightly pulling his tee shot
at the home hole. "Big bounce right," he yelled. "Please!"

Mike Weir, who played both days with Rose, says that the young
man exceeded expectations. "He's got plenty of game," says Weir.
"I liked his attitude and his intensity. He's just got to do
what everyone has to do--refine and polish."

It's exactly what Rose is looking forward to doing, primarily on
the Challenge tour, although playing on the mini-tour will
probably mean forfeiting six-figure incentives from the
companies he endorses. "I'm beyond the point of wondering
whether I'm good enough," he says. "I know I am."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Digging deep A wayward driver put Rose to the test.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Shot for the ages Highlights for Rose have been few and far between since he chipped in at the 72nd hole at Royal Birkdale.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Headstrong To prep his pupil for Carnoustie, Leadbetter (right) worked more on Rose's mental game than on his swing.
"Justin has to take baby steps," says Payne Stewart. "You can't
start running with the big dogs if you're not quite ready."
"I feel a lot tougher," says Rose. "I can take anything that
anyone throws at me, hopefully. I hope I didn't go through this
for nothing."