Why World No. 1 Rose is the most underrated golfer in the game
You could set your clock by Justin Rose’s behaviour. The pre-shot routine, the measured pace of the walk, the greens in reg, the ease at which he complements his peers, the ease at which he routinely demolishes most of them, the ready smile, even the risqué little wink.
Occasionally the chin fluff gets a little more stubbly than usual but, before too long, his house and chin is put back in order. The hair doesn’t seem to have changed since the last century, there will always be some kind of navy blue-white polo on show and probably a green and a burgundy on the other days.
He’s been with coach Sean Foley for almost a decade, his caddie Mark Fulcher since the 2008 Players, and he married his long-time girlfriend Kate Phillips in 2006.
Not much, you suspect, happens by chance in the world of Justin Peter Rose.
At the start of this season Rose and his team put together a plan to make some improvements and, given it’s the PGA Tour and you have a stat for anything and everything, the Englishman and his team focused on his short-range putting. In 2017 Rose found himself 188th of 190 players for putts made between four and eight feet with just 61% of his efforts finding the bottom of the cup.
“I very rarely set outcome goals, like I want to win a major, I want to get to No. 1. I really focus on my game. I focus on the areas that I think I can improve my game and a big part of that was my putting,” Rose said.
“So it’s not about just improve your putting but it’s how you go about that. We built a bit of a process. I felt I could really improve between four and eight feet so I built some putting drills to help me improve that. And then this year No. 1.”
The actual numbers show Jason Day at the top of the pile but, whatever, Rose upped his putts made to 78% to move up to fourth.
So the claw grip, the only thing that has the appearance of something out of the norm in Rose’s world, is now a massive strength.
None of these things are very seductive though are they? He’ll say the right thing pretty much all of the time and when the opportunity to go running round the green, windmilling your polo shirt around your head after making birdie at the last two holes win a crunch Ryder Cup singles against Phil Mickelson, Rose somehow managed to simultaneously fist-pump and apologetically shake his opponent’s hand in the same motion after knocking in a 20-foot putt.
His presence on the leaderboard is so constant that it has become almost unremarkable, there’s no outstanding club in his game like a DJ or Rory driver or Spieth putter. He’s also not American.
Rose, who actually rebuilt his swing after Rio to help with some back problems, has become a better player these days as he nudges ever closer to turning 40. He is now 38, all bar two of the rest of the world’s top 10 are still in their twenties, but he’s now pretty much the undoubted governor in an era of some genuinely exceptional talent. If you had a free £20 bet on any of them for a tournament next week you’d be pretty bullish to ignore the Englishman’s claims – and not even go each-way on it.
For his last six starts, starting in Massachusetts en route to winning the FedEx Cup Playoffs to London to China and now Turkey, he is a ridiculous 70-under. His worst finish in that period was 8th at Walton Heath where he was the host and under the weather for the start of the week.
We all know about his early struggles and the 21 straight missed cuts, it seems that’s all we’ve got to throw at him in terms of negatives.
He’s won every year on the PGA Tour, other than 2016 when he won the Olympics in Brazil, and only he and Dustin Johnson had a Stroke Average under 69 for the 2018 season.
And while the others have their more obvious assets, for Rose it is the ability to make it work on a certain week. He’s not cool, he never will be but he does some very cool things when he has to.
To watch him lead Europe off in the Friday morning fourballs in Paris, and find the fairway amongst all the hoopla and then stiff his approach, is something that very few can do.
“This week [in Turkey] I didn’t really drive the ball well but my iron play was great. Some weeks I drive the ball really well. Some weeks I chip it really well. Some weeks I putt it really well. I feel like all aspects of my game are there to bail me out on a given week. It’s just a matter of trying to get more of them together, more often.”
The obvious plan for any superstar of the game is to add to the list that really counts, the majors. For Rose that reads just one, albeit winning a US Open at Merion at one over, and all the plans will be to add to that number.
Augusta is the obvious one, he’s only once finished outside the top 15 in the past eight years, though he’s very slowly coming to terms with the Open Championship 21 years after his ‘Hello World’ moment at Birkdale as a teenager. This year, away from the FedEx riches or the now two wins, his birdie at Carnoustie’s 18th just to make the cut was one of the highlights of the year. Two days later he birdied the last for a fourth day running to give himself a very good sniff of maybe a play-off. In the end Francesco Molinari did likewise to seal his first big one.
Much can change in the next five months but you suspect not Rose’s general form. Next year could be sensational for him and he believes there’s more to come. After his win in Turkey he highlighted the manner in which Mickelson and Padraig Harrington collected their majors in quick succession and this would be the dream.
There is a strong rumour – it’s that time of year when these things begin whirring around – that Rose will begin next season with a set of Honma clubs in the bag as opposed to the TaylorMade gear of the past two decades, which is based on the former CEO of the TaylorMade, Mark King, now being a consultant with Honma Golf. If you listen to the stories then he might not be the only Englishman on their books in 2019.
Maybe, after all, he will throw us a little curveball?