Rose Riding Recent Momentum to Chambers Bay

Justin Rose's success at Merion in 2013 provided him with a blueprint of what it takes to win a U.S. Open, something he hopes to apply at Chambers Bay. (USGA/Simon Bruty)
Justin Rose's success at Merion in 2013 provided him with a blueprint of what it takes to win a U.S. Open, something he hopes to apply at Chambers Bay. (USGA/Simon Bruty)

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Justin Rose will always have a place in U.S. Open history as a result of his clutch victory at Merion Golf Club two years ago. When you win on one of America’s classic courses, where legends like Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino have also won, it is doubly sweet.

If Rose gets in contention to add to his Open résumé this week at Chambers Bay, no one will be surprised.

He is one of golf’s best, currently No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking™, and it has been a productive spring for Rose, 34, who was born in South Africa and grew up in England.

Hampered by a sore wrist early this season, Rose missed three cuts in the first six events in which he competed. But as his wrist improved, so did his game. He tied for second in the Masters and won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans two weeks later. He lost to David Lingmerth on the third extra hole of a playoff in the Memorial two weeks ago.

Combine Rose’s recent results with having proven himself in the championship he is trying to win again, and he is a player to watch.

“It’s one of the most grueling tests that we play, and to come out on top in a U.S. Open tells you a lot about yourself as a player and how you handle pressure,” said Rose. “Since then, I feel it’s been a successful couple of years. I’ve maintained my world ranking. I’ve won tournaments, done all the right things.”

If not for Jordan Spieth’s record-tying 18-under performance at Augusta National, Rose might well have arrived in the Pacific Northwest owning two major titles. Rose shot 14 under at the Masters, but was simply outdone by one of the game’s all-time great weeks.

Rose knows the scoring at Chambers Bay doesn’t figure to be nearly as low. At Merion in 2013, rains early in the week had some believing scores would be unusually low for a U.S. Open. Rose didn’t buy into that theory and won by shooting 1-over 281.

“I just stayed with my mindset of being patient and trying to churn out pars and take your birdies when you can find them,” Rose said Wednesday at Chambers Bay. “I think it’s going to be very similar this week.”

A demanding course traditionally is part of the U.S. Open’s DNA, distinguishing it from the other majors, in which winning scores are usually lower.

“Would you want to play 20 of these a year? Probably not,” Rose said of the U.S. Open. “But I think for one tournament, it’s very special and it’s a test I certainly relish.”

Rose tees off at 2:17 p.m. PDT in Thursday’s first round. If he plays well the first two days, he will have similar starting times on the weekend. Doing well in a major requires not only hitting great shots and sinking important putts, but coping with things like conserving and channeling your energy and not overthinking the situation.

At Merion, Rose found a way to deal with late starts. Rose, his wife and kids are all early risers, so at Merion he and his wife adjusted their schedule so he wouldn’t have so much time in which to worry about the stakes of a late-afternoon round.

“Kate and I were purposely having late dinners,” he said. “We were purposely going to bed around midnight and we were sleeping to roughly 9 o’clock. Then we’d go grab coffee. I’d come back and work out. I’d do everything a bit slower than usual to sort of run down the clock a bit before you have to start thinking about the round.”

Rose is part of a European resurgence in the U.S. Open. European golfers endured a long drought in the championship, but have now won four of the last five. There is a simple reason, according to Rose.

“There have been a lot more Europeans playing a lot more golf in the States in the last five, 10 years,” he said. “Our schedule is predominantly U.S.-focused.”

With Spieth leading the way, golfers in their 20s have made an increasingly large mark on the PGA Tour. Yet Rose is in the heart of what is seen as the prime of his career and knows the opportunity is there for him to build on his record.

“From 30 to 40 I always felt was going to be the time where I was going to have to step up and win a major,” he said. “To get that done relatively early in that time frame has been great. In the next six years, 20-plus majors are going to come around. If I just keep doing what I’m doing, I’m going to have opportunities to win. Of those opportunities, you need to take advantage of as many as you can.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.