SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | Justin Rose was looking for a new wave of competitive desire ahead of this Open and he found it during a holiday week in Italy after the US Open: “All of a sudden, the hunger was back.”
Last week, there was another source of inspiration for the player who, as a 17-year-old, finished in a share of fourth place behind Mark O’Meara in the ’98 Open at Royal Birkdale. He went to watch Roger Federer playing both his Wimbledon semi-final and final.
Yes, he was sitting in the Royal Box on the final day and patently enjoying so coveted a social occasion. But as much as that, Federer’s way of going about his business was serving as a lesson. “I look up to Roger,” said the 2013 US Open champion. “Everything he does is spot-on. The way he handles himself and the grace in which he plays the sport is incredible. Also, I like how, mentally, he doesn’t give much away – an approach which is so well-suited to golf.”
Rose talks fondly of ’98 and he will tell you that “the innocence in which I played the game” still serves as a model: “My performance as a 17-year-old was very free and one in which I was using my natural ability.” The “innocence” feeling was dented by the 21 missed cuts which followed after he turned pro but, in recent years, he has gone some way towards recapturing it by clearing out the memory bank. “I try to get rid of thoughts rather than add to them,” he explained.
Another thing he mentions as he recalls that week of weeks is that it means something to his children, even though it was 19 years ago and his children are both younger than 10. It is because of how that final shot of his – a holed 45-yard pitch – was turned into a lego scene. “When I see them watching it, that’s when I realise it was a pretty cool experience.”
For all Rose’s talk of shedding thoughts, there is yet one he has taken on board for the purposes of this Open. Having had so many bad draws, weather-wise, across the intervening years, he has made up his mind to embrace whatever the weather throws at him. In which connection, he reminds himself that tougher conditions favour someone of his 36 years.
That Rose has never done better in any Open since ’98 surprises him. He didn’t want to say that a failure to win the Claret Jug would leave “a sort of hole” in his career, but he did acknowledge that he desires a victory at some point “to close the book on my Open Championship story.”
With Rose being the man he is, it’s the kind of story’s end which would have mass appeal – especially if it happens at Birkdale.