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Bloom Off the Rose, Cut Unkind

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND | Having arrived and been installed as a favourite for the Open, Justin Rose departed the scene ignominiously. In one of his books, P.G. Wodehouse, the incomparable English author, wrote of the sand-filled sock that tended to await those who felt pleased with themselves. On Friday, one of the longest days of any Open and one of the most eventful, it whacked Rose plumb between the eyes.

It was nothing to do with his playing with Tiger Woods because Rose had played with the world No. 1 in the 2002 Open. In fact, Rose said, he had expected it. He had thought he would be paired with Woods and Ryo Ishikawa, the Japanese prodigy, in a trio full of talent and appeal for television viewers in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

It was the first time since 2003 that Rose had failed to last four rounds and only the third of the nine times he had competed in the Open, once, famously, as an amateur. St. Andrews was where he had entered his first Open, failing to get through final qualifying, and it was where he had won the Links Trophy as an amateur, starting his first round with four birdies in five holes. It might have been the most Scottish of cities and his was the most English of names, but Rose felt at home in St. Andrews.

The Wodehousian sock, when it swings, can generate some force. Rose had every reason not to expect it. In fact, having won two of his previous five events on the PGA Tour and as one of four men to average more than four birdies each round in the U.S., he had real hopes that he might make the famous walk up the 18th. It was what he had dreamed about – spectators acclaiming him as the first Englishman to win the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992 and the first Briton since Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999.

He had arrived at St. Andrews in good time and in good humour, having watched the World Cup final on television during a couple of days snatched at home in London. Gio Valiante, the sports psychologist who had started working with Rose only two months ago, was in town and so was Sean Foley, Rose’s coach. 

“I wish I could claim the credit for what he has done recently,” Valiante said, smiling. “The first time I saw him hit balls I did something I have never done before. I rang my father and said: ‘Dad, I have just picked up Justin Rose as a client and he is going to win a tournament before the end of the year.’ But this is a classic case of a student making his teacher look good.”

Foley was surprised when he studied Rose’s technique. “I thought physically he was depending on his hands and arms to square the clubface. I remember thinking: ‘How has he got to this level? How has he got so good with what I thought were very poor mechanics.’ I was quite excited at the prospect of working with him.”

But then it started to go wrong. On Thursday, Rose played in the afternoon when a northwest wind got up and the course that had been so easy for the first six hours of play became more and more difficult. Even so, his 70 left him happy. His 77 on Friday was a different matter. It was a day of long rounds. What with the suspension for 65 minutes because of the high wind, players were taking more than seven hours from start to finish and the homeward nine holes – 3,721 yards of pesky Fife turf – were as welcoming as a cold bath on a midwinter day. 

“One of the other caddies said that Thursday morning was like playing indoors,” Mark [Fooch] Fulcher, Rose’s caddie, said. “All I can say about Friday morning is that it wasn’t. It was an incredibly hard day. Justin was bitterly disappointed on Friday night. He couldn’t hole any putts. He couldn’t find his rhythm. St. Andrews is not much of a visualisation course where you can picture the ball flight and its ending. At St. Andrews you aim at a post, a tower or a tree. It was the end of a long run for him and as much as he wanted to be in it at the end, he couldn’t be.”

Rose left for a holiday in the Mediterranean with wife, Kate, and five other couples during which they would celebrate his 30th birthday. His wonderful couple of months had ended. Now he needed to concentrate on one of Valiante’s key principles. “We talked about acceptance,” Valiante said. “Hit a bad shot and you must accept it rather than drag it with you and keep thinking about it.”

The next month or so will tell us how well Rose has learned this lesson.


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