Golf Prodigy on the Prowl
Four months ago, Justin Rose made a serious run at the British Open. That was the easy part.
Now comes the real work for the 18-year-old Englishman.
Since turning professional following his stunning fourth-place finish at Royal Birkdale--just two strokes behind winner Mark O’Meara--Rose has been painfully reminded that he’s still, after all, a teenager.
He’s played eight tournaments since then--and missed every cut.
Without a cent of earnings to guarantee a place on next year’s PGA European Tour, Rose has to win his card at qualifying school beginning Wednesday in southern Spain.
Of the 180 players entered, only 35 will get their card. Nobody will be under more pressure than Rose, who produced a stunning birdie on his final shot as an amateur, holing a 45-yard pitch on the 72nd hole of the British Open.
The British tabloids immediately likened him to Tiger Woods and proclaimed he had more potential than Seve Ballesteros’ prodigy, 18-year-old Sergio “El Nino” Garcia, often considered Europe’s best young player.
“I was floating in cloud-cuckooland,” Rose said. “I don’t regret anything, not even missing the cuts. I am disappointed but I feel stronger for it.
“Now I feel I am no longer in a tumble dryer going round and round and then being hung out to dry. Now I am ready for the school.”
Adding to the pressure is his first major endorsement deal, signed last week with ball manufacturer Maxfli. The performance-related deal could be worth as much as $1 million over three years.
There is criticism that Rose, who turned 18 two weeks after the British Open, should have remained an amateur a bit longer. Woods, 4 1/2 years his senior, said at the time “it would be very difficult for me to turn pro at that age.”
Rose’s father, Ken, and manager Mike Todd downplay that notion but admit Rose was probably too laid back in the eight tournaments.
“The Justin Rose since the Open is not the Justin Rose with the killer instinct,” said his father.
“By his own admission he wasn’t as prepared as he could have been,” Todd said. “He didn’t drive the ball very well in those tournaments and it affected the rest of his game.”
Qualifying school is a grueling six rounds at San Roque and neighboring Real Club de Golf, both of which are next door to Valderrama, site of the 1997 Ryder Cup. One British newspaper dubbed the six days the “Pain in Spain.”
In just four months, Rose has grown more than an inch to 6-foot-2. He’s beginning to shave regularly and still wears a broad smile as he learns the cruel professional game.
“Where I went wrong was in failing to spot one very obvious difference,” he said. “When I was an amateur, I used to play golf all day and every day. That game was my hobby. When I turned professional, the game became my work.”
Born in South Africa, Rose and his family moved to England when he was 5. At 14, he was a scratch player and last year was the youngest ever to play in the Walker Cup. His fourth in the British Open was the best finish by an amateur in 45 years.
“That kind of portfolio drew us to him right away,” Todd said. “His youth, his way with people and the media makes him an attractive package.”
If Rose fails to win his card, he may wind up playing on Europe’s secondary Challenge Tour, although Todd said he’d probably be invited to larger tournaments “because of his age and his ability to put people through the gates with a big appeal to young kids.”
Rose will be up against some well-known names in Spain, including former Ryder Cup players Steven Richardson and Paul Way.
“It’s a big week,” Rose said. “Everybody thinks you have to play safe golf. It is not safe golf. You make your swing and stay with it. You can’t worry about the consequences.”
Spoken like a true 18-year-old.