Rose Hopes Early Work Pays Off Once Again
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Perhaps the number of times a player plays the upcoming U.S. Open venue before the championship is less important than when the player completes those preliminary rounds – and with whom.
Justin Rose captured the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club after his early preparation helped him avoid the difficulty of squeezing in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, when rain washed out much of the available practice time on a course that was hosting its first Open in 32 years. Similar weather issues are not forecasted this year at Chambers Bay, but Rose is taking a similar approach to 2013, and on Sunday, he was joined on his nine-hole tour by course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr.
“There’s a lot to take in on this particular venue,” said Rose, who tied for 12th last year at Pinehurst No. 2 in his title defense. “I think when you add 20,000 people out here tomorrow [Monday] and a busy golf course and extra guys, I think you’re not going to be able to play at your own pace and it’s going to be very difficult to absorb it all, and very draining.”
Chambers Bay is hosting its first U.S. Open, and Rose quickly absorbed the demands of the course – physical as well as mental – when he toured it for the first time on Friday. The layout features elevation changes of some 200 feet, and requires players to climb nearly to the top of the massive property three times in the course of the round.
“It’s a tiring golf course,” said Rose, 35, who has one victory and two second-place finishes on the PGA Tour in 2015. “I did 18 the first day and I’ve chosen to only do nine the last two days because it takes a lot out of you. You want to be fresh for Sunday. If you have to put in a hard Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to really learn this place, it can be learned, but it can take its toll, too, come the weekend.”
On Sunday, Rose received insight from the principal architect of Chambers Bay.
“I met Justin’s caddie [Mark Fulcher] last night, and they invited me to come along with them today,” said Jones, the son of legendary designer Robert Trent Jones. The senior Jones designed three courses that hosted the U.S. Open and redesigned six others that hosted the championship. Jones Jr. has designed or remodeled nearly 250 courses, and Chambers Bay is his first to host the U.S. Open.
“I watched a shot-maker play,” said Jones, 74, of his tour with Rose. “He was piecing it together, bit by bit, analyzing and breaking down my puzzles. He was quick to figure out where to play and where not to play – he used the slopes well.”
Rose found himself enjoying the process.
“I didn’t really know what to expect coming here, to be honest with you,” said Rose, who grew up in Hampshire, England. “It’s a good test of golf, and it’s one that takes a lot of attention and learning – there’s nothing by accident out here. Every slope has been thought about; every reaction to a good shot and a bad shot has been calculated. If you wrongly use a slope and you get unlucky – or what you think is unlucky – it’s really not unlucky. There is a [proper] way to play the golf course.”
Rose, the runner-up at the Memorial Tournament on June 7, has now toured each nine twice, and as Jones observed, his analysis of Chambers Bay is ongoing.
“I’m trying to figure out a game plan, get comfortable off the tee and with the approach shots – which ridges to use and which to avoid,” said Rose. “There are pin placements that deserve a lot of respect and others where you can make some birdies. I think it’s going to be what I’d say is a real U.S. Open. I think it’s going to brown out and become very firm and fast. I’m just trying to get my head around everything.”
Rose pointed to one demanding four-hole stretch on the outward nine, and also compared the course to an iconic venue that will host its fifth U.S. Open in 2018.
I think the front nine’s got some tough holes on it – I think 4, 5, 6 and 7 are going to be a key stretch of the golf course,” he said. “It’s going to be a good test. It reminds me of a West Coast Shinnecock [Hills].”
Jones appreciated the comparison to the classic Long Island course that hosted the National Open in 1896, 1986, 1995 and 2004.
“That makes me happy,” said Jones, whose brother, Rees, inherited his father’s nickname of the “Open Doctor” for his role in updating several U.S. Open courses in the past 30 years, including Bethpage State Park’s Black Course and Torrey Pines, site of the 2021 U.S. Open. “We have thought the course out carefully, and [USGA president] Mike Davis will set it up and use it to the best of his creative imagination to challenge the players.”
For his part, Rose knows that the championship will not be won on Monday.
“I’m going to get away a little bit now,” he said before stepping on a player shuttle. “I probably won’t be around here at all tomorrow, just take a day’s rest.”
If Rose’s routine helps to bring him another U.S. Open victory, his counterparts will surely take note.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.