Justin Rose: A wonderful golfer who tamed the Merion beast

 

US Open, final leaderboard

  • +1: Rose (Eng)
  • +3: Mickelson (US), Day (Aus)
  • +5: Dufner (US), Els (SA), Horschel (US), Mahan (US)
  • +6: Donald (Eng), Stricker
  • Others: +9: Westwood (Eng)
  • +11: Laird (Sco), Harrington (Ire), Poulter (Eng)
  • +13 : Woods (US), Donaldson (Wal), Lawrie (Sco)
  • +14: McIlroy (NI)
  • +15: Garcia (Spa), Scott (Aus)

While American golf fans mourn yet another US Open defeat for Phil Mickelson they can seek consolation from the way that their national title was decided.

Champion Justin Rose won the title much more than Mickelson lost it. The three-time Masters champion let slip a two-stroke advantage heading into the final round but should ultimately accept he was beaten by the better man.

Rose has become a wonderful golfer. From tee to green he is almost peerless and he has a mental toughness that sets him apart from most of his rivals. It was those qualities that won him his first major.

No-one anticipated just how tough Merion would play on its return to the US Open roster. The notion that softened by recent rains it would yield a birdie-fest was completely wrong.

Justin Rose factfile

Justin Rose
  • Born 30 July 1980 in Johannesburg, South Africa but moved to England at the age of five
  • Tied for fourth as an amateur in 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale
  • Turned professional the following day
  • Eight PGA & European Tour wins, most recent the 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship
  • Tied fifth in 2003 US Open; equal-fifth in 2007 Masters; tied third in 2012 US PGA
  • Twice a member of the European Ryder Cup team (2008 & 2012)
  • Won 2013 US Open at Merion - first English winner in 43 years

It was a beast that demanded the best and Rose was up to the task. All week he exuded a confidence and a comfort level that few others could match.

The par-70 Pennsylvania layout could not be overhauled with raw aggression. The US Open demands more than that and this is probably why the swashbuckling Mickelson has always come up short.

Rose had a clear game plan and had the fortitude to stick with it throughout the Championship. "We had three or four thoughts which are all process driven," Rose said.

"What's the appropriate shot, execute it, accept it, move on. And just keep running that over and over again.

"If you start getting outside that, you are really not bringing anything helpful to the mix. That takes a lot of discipline to think that way, act that way and do that for 72 holes."

Rose credits caddie Murk Fulcher for helping ensure the mantra stayed intact throughout the championship. "If he felt himself getting off, he had the vision to get himself back on track.

"And if he could see me getting off, we could talk about it and it was good that we both had a very clear game plan this week."

Incidentally, Fulcher was on the bag the last time an English player won a US Open as he caddied for Alison Nicholas  in the women's version in 1997. "He did a brilliant job for Rose," said the former Solheim Cup captain.

The other figure to highlight is Rose's coach Sean Foley. The Canadian, who also teaches Tiger Woods, has helped the final pieces to fall into place to create a major champion.

In the four years they have been together Rose and Foley have forged a relationship every bit as strong as the one shared in his pomp by Sir Nick Faldo and David Leadbetter.

It is maybe even more profound given that Foley dispenses advice that assists the mental strength needed to make the most of superb technique.

It is one thing to have the attributes that will dispatch drives and irons long and true, and chips to tap in range, but you need the ability to do that when it really counts.

This is what Rose did on the closing two holes at Merion. He hit a brilliant tee shot at the long par-three 17th and nearly holed the chip.

Then knowing par would almost certainly be enough, he dispatched a drive every bit as good as Tony Jacklin's at the last at Lytham which helped the Englishman seal the 1969 Open.

Tony Jacklin on Justin Rose

Tony Jacklin

"It's all about confidence and I've no reason to believe he couldn't win four or five majors.

"He is a substantial player. Obviously he has set his sights very high and that's what you have to do. That's what makes good players from ordinary players."

Henry Longhurst called that one "a corker" and so was Rose's to set up a replica of the famous Ben Hogan second at Merion in 1950. Adjacent to the plaque that commemorates Hogan's brilliant one-iron, Rose launched a title clinching four-iron.

This was the product of supreme mental strength that has been years in the making. Every step of Rose's career, including the 21 that seemed backward when he began his pro career with all those missed cuts, have been made in the public eye.

From the moment he holed his chip at Royal Birkdale with his last stroke as a 17-year-old amateur great things have been expected.

But each hurdle from making his first cut to winning his first tournament - the 2002 Dunhill Championship - has been a hard-earned progression.

He won the European Tour Order of Merit in 2007 and established himself in America with four PGA Tour victories before this one.

The most recent was last year's World Golf Championships event at Doral at the level just below those of the majors. Since then Rose has known that the biggest prizes in the game could be within reach.

"I was perhaps trying to kid myself I was ready because you never really know," Rose told BBC Sport.

"But I've been feeling good about my game, I've been improving the last three of four years. I've put myself in testing situations, the Ryder Cup and other tournaments where I've felt comfortable with my game under pressure.

"That's what you need to know about yourself in a major," Rose added.

"Your resume definitely has something missing if you don't add a major to it, no matter how good a player you are.

Alliss predicts more wins for Rose

"It's nice to get that off my chest relatively early," added the 32 year old.

"I've only the last year or two been talked about as one of the players who should or could win majors and you certainly don't want the title of best player not to have won a major.

"Obviously now I've knocked that off fairly early, which is great."

Rose's victory was disappointing for the home fans thirsting to see Mickelson crowned. But the South Africa-born Englishman won them over with his manner in accepting victory. It was every bit as impressive as the play that won him the title.

His gracious acceptance speech, in which he paid tribute to his father Ken and credited Mickelson's audacious assault, hit exactly the right note.

It has taken a while but Rose was ready in every regard - a worthy winner now ranked third in the world and capable of more triumphs in the tournaments that define careers.