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Rose No Shrinking Violet Under Pressure

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | When Justin Rose eyed a putt in Dubai last week, images of the Englishman at various times in his life popped into the mind’s eye…Rose, aged 16, competing in the McEvoy Trophy at Copt Heath, with Ken, his father, acting as his caddie. Rose was tall for his age and, as his legs looked as though they had grown faster than the rest of his body, he appeared gawky. Rose, aged 18, sinking a pitch to the 72nd green to set off a roar that marked his finishing fourth in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale. Rose, 32, playing in the singles at the Ryder Cup and coming from behind to beat Phil Mickelson and sustain the Europe momentum that led to victory. Of these, the Ryder Cup image is the most vivid and most revealing. There was a lot of pressure on Rose. Four of his teammates had already won but Nicolas Colsaerts had lost. The match was delicately poised. Rose had to win otherwise Europe’s victory chances would probably have gone. Rose has never shirked the pressure, not often given in to it. He didn’t now. At Medinah that Sunday he took to glancing at the silhouette of Seve on the left sleeve of his shirt, to give him inspiration. Rose knows a bit about terminal illnesses. Margi, his sister, used to work for the Ballesteros Foundation against cancer in London. Ken, Justin’s father, had guided him through adolescence and the early wobbly stages of his career before dying of leukemia in 2002.
Justin thought of Annie, his mother, of Katie, his wife, of his young children and, buoyed by these thoughts, he showed the courage he had as a young pro when the game became so difficult that he missed halfway cut after halfway cut. Almost every Friday he came out of the recorder’s hut straight into the querulous faces and waiting notebooks of journalists who asked the same questions each time: “What’s gone wrong, Justin?” One day during this doleful run Ken Rose said: “You know Jus, you don’t have to go through that ordeal every week. I can get you out of the recorder’s tent a back way so you can give the journalists the slip.” Justin looked at his father and said the words that showed what he was made of: “Dad, I’ve got to do it. It’s part of the process. I’ve got to learn to deal with this.” I once sat in the Rose’s house in Orlando, (next to Ian Poulter’s and across the street from Henrik Stenson’s) and asked him if he was handy around the house? Kate Rose, across the table, burst out laughing. That rang true. I saw Justin at Heathrow airport not much later. He was struggling with a baby carriage, trying to unfold it. “Babe,” he said plaintively, “I’m having a bit of trouble here.” Rose is not a big hitter. He is longer than Poulter, but shorter by some way than Rory McIlroy. Nor is there the thunder in his irons of Tiger Woods nor the accuracy of José Maria Olazábal. His strength is in his soft, smooth touch around and on the greens. At his best, he is one of the world’s leading putters. That Saturday night in Chicago, he had taken his clubs back to his hotel room and spent a few moments practicing his putting on the carpeted floor. He discovered something about the pressure of his hands on his putter grip and decided to loosen it. It worked. The next day, he rolled in a curling 25-footer to level the match on the 17th green and then knocked in a shorter putt on the 18th to beat Mickelson. There has been a lot of talk recently of how Poulter’s performance in the Ryder Cup should have made him a better player in individual events. After Poulter had holed five putts in succession to help he and McIlroy win their match against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson on Saturday afternoon, his caddie asked: “Why can’t he do it in individual events?” You could say the same about Rose, who might not have won the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in October had his confidence not been boosted by his performance in the Ryder Cup. As a person, he is growing in front of our eyes. “Kate and I feed 1,600 kids in Orlando at the weekend year round through the money we have raised for Blessings in a Back Pack. Every time I make a birdie that is a couple of kids fed for the year,” Rose said. And as a golfer, too. “In Turkey, I drew upon the positive experiences from the weeks before. I am not really putting that well right now but it feels to me that when I’m under pressure I’m hitting better putts than generally. When I get nervous, it heightens my senses. In the past, I would not have liked that feeling.” So watch out for Rose. As Nick Faldo once said: “There’s no give up in Rosie.” We may be about to witness the full flowering of Justin Rose.


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