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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk

  • US Open, Round Four

Winding road leads Rose to delivering on Dad's prediction

Alex Dimond at Merion June 17, 2013


It took 15 years for Justin Rose to go from the amateur who captured the hearts of a nation, to a major champion taking his rightful place in the golfing annals.

In between, a long, often testing journey for the 32-year-old.

"At times it feels 25 years since Birkdale," Rose said on Sunday, "and other times it feels like it was just yesterday. There's a lot of water under the bridge. My learning curve has been steep from that point."

A tied-third finish at last year's US PGA Championship apart (scrambling around for the scraps as Rory McIlroy ran away with matters), Rose's fourth placed finish in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1998 remained his best finish in a major. Everyone who witnessed it still remembers the 17-year-old holing out at the last from the deep rough that year, raising both arms to the sky in disbelief.

Fast-forward 15 years, and this time it was a tap-in for victory. This time, it was the ball he raised to the sky - after giving it a kiss heavy with emotion.

Rose's father, Ken, was in the crowd to see his son play so well at Birkdale - clapping more enthusiastically than anyone when that wedge approach rolled into the cup. But he passed away five years later, never to see Rose fulfil a destiny he always suspected of him.

"My dad always believed that I was capable of this," the son said. "He always did say, when he was close to passing away, he kind of told my mum, 'Don't worry, Justin will be okay. He'll know what to do.'

"He kind of believed in me to be my own man. I think that I took a lot of confidence from that."

Rose has not always known what to do, though. He turned professional immediately after his Open adventure, confident in the earning potential of his willowy swing, but quickly went on a run of 21 consecutive missed cuts that saw him relegated to the relative embarrassment of the Challenge Tour.

Only now, many trophies (the most recent the most important) removed from those horrors, is he able to speak of that difficult period.

"I think when you've got past something you can talk openly about it," he said, as darkness descended on Merion and his light was the only one still burning. "I probably announced myself on the golfing scene before I was ready to handle it. And golf can be a cruel game.

"Definitely I have had the ups and down, but I think that ultimately it's made me stronger and able to handle the situations like today."

The Challenge Tour has been the proving ground for many a top player, however - just ask Martin Kaymer. It was never part of the plan, but perhaps experiences there - when it's the weight of the pressure you apply yourself that hangs heaviest - that enabled Rose to handle the pressure of Sunday at a major.

He started on the same score - and at the same time - as another Englishman, Luke Donald, yet they experienced remarkably different afternoons. Donald, his spirit seemingly broken by the bogey, double-bogey finish that soured the end of his third round on Saturday, hit a volunteer on the head on the third, had to chip will standing in water on the fourth, and never really recovered.

Rose, in contrast, bounced straight back from his first bogey of the day with a birdie at the next, and continued in that fashion for the rest of the afternoon. When Phil Mickelson jumped back into the lead with an eagle at the tenth - just Phil being Phil - Rose made back-to-back birdies to reclaim control.

When everyone else was dropping shots at the 17th and 18th, Rose produced three of the best swings of his career to make pars - pars that would decide the tournament.

"It was fun to watch Justin Rose," Donald noted afterwards on Twitter. "Great control from tee to green, and a deserved champion."

"You got to make a free swing," Rose added, when asked about keeping cool down the stretch. "If you get tight, you start to steer it a little bit, that doesn't work. So it's just about getting up there and being as committed as you can and letting go."

It proved a winning recipe, Rose becoming the first US Open champion to hail from England since Tony Jacklin in 1970 - and joining illustrious names from Ben Hogan to Lee Trevino to have won the tournament on Merion's history-infused fairways.

But it was more immediate history that helped inspire Rose. Just as those missed cuts hardened his resolve, and four years with swing coach Sean Foley ("one of my best friends") firmed up his technique, so seeing the likes of McIlroy and Adam Scott win majors made Rose approach golf's four biggest tournaments with a different mindset.

Both players bounced back from stunning losses - McIlroy at the 2011 Masters, Scott at the 2012 Open - to win their first majors shortly after. Rose more than matched Scott on both occasions they played together in the Bahamas a week before this year's Masters, and then could only watch as Australian won in a play-off.

Seeing Scott - same age, similar pedigree, identical ambitions - go through the wringer and come through stronger the other side, made Rose realise there was nothing to be afraid of.

"I took his money both times we played before the Masters," Rose revealed. "I thought that's not fair, that he went and won the tournament!"

He added: "But what I learned from Adam was that I wasn't scared of the heartache of losing [a major]. The way he handled himself at Lytham, I think, is something that he needs as much praise on as winning the Masters. I think it's amazing the way he has just been himself after that loss and after that win.

"[So] I was willing to put my game on the line, was willing to put my confidence on the line by just putting myself in that situation, because I saw how he handled it and how he was capable of coming through it.

"Rory did the same thing after the Masters. You can learn a lot from that."

Rose took those examples to heart, and now he is a major champion. While it would be wise to allow him time to celebrate this seismic moment ("the pinnacle of the game"), it is perhaps interesting to note that every previous US Open champion at Merion has won multiple majors.

Winning a major is, disassembled to its constituent parts, essentially a result of executing 280-or-so shots as planned. There is no real artistry to it, little obvious flamboyance - especially in a US Open.

"We had a very sort of narrow framework of thoughts this week," Rose explained of his process. "We had three thoughts. What's the appropriate shot … execute it, accept it, move on."

It's the culmination of those incremental moments, however, that stirs the soul. That writes history.

That sees a son fulfil the destiny his father always expected of him.

"This is just such a satisfying feeling," Rose concluded, "and it goes back 20, 30 years for me of dreaming, of hoping, of practising, of calloused hands.

"What a piece of silverware to be sitting to my right. It's just an incredible experience, and just a childhood dream come true."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk