NEW YORK -- Two days after winning the U.S. Open, Justin Rose can’t take his eyes off the large, silver trophy. Shuttling around from one talk show to another in New York City, Rose poses for pictures, signs autographs and even lets one fan kiss the trophy.
There are stops at the Today Show, Letterman (see his top 10) and others. Through them all, Rose keeps gazing longingly at the names on the trophy, calling it “surreal” that his name will soon be engraved on it, too. (For a stop-by-stop account of his media tour, click here).
It is Rose’s first career major championship and comes 15 years after he finished fourth at the 1998 British Open as a 17-year-old, holing out on the final hole at Royal Birkdale to do so.
In between stops, Rose sat down to discuss what it’s like to be a major champion, how the win has changed him and even a bet he made long ago with Adam Scott.
When did it sink in that you were the U.S. Open champion?
I had one very early coming off the 18th green. I realized the magnitude of it in the moment I think that was because of the emotions involved. I’m not typically a crier but being Father’s Day, being a major, being a lot of relief, memories of my dad, it was a bit much. It set in quickly. But then it felt right to me and I was at peace with it. It’s something I’ve had to face for a long time but those experiences I’ve had will make me a better player. The 1998 British Open has really been my identity. I’ve always thought to surpass that and for people to remember me I’d have to win the Open Championship, but maybe this is the moment they’ll remember me for.
What’s going through your mind when you realized you’d won?
There are two moments for me; the moment of feeling I’ve done my very best and feeling like a champion; and then actually being the champion. The two are quite different. When I knew my 281 was good enough it was just relief. It was the realization of all I put into the game had come to fruition. If things had gone sideways I don’t know how I would be feeling right now. But I walked off that golf course giving everything I had and it was a sweet feeling.
Was there a moment during the tournament when you felt like, ‘This is happening?’
On the front nine I felt very comfortable. On the back nine, I felt another level of comfort. I bogeyed No. 14 -- the rain was coming down heavily -- but I hit two great shots on 15, a 3-iron off the tee and 6-iron into the green. That’s when I knew I would be OK. I three-putted 16, but it didn’t faze me.
You pointed skyward after putting out on the final hole Sunday in honor of your late dad, Ken. What kind of influence did he have on your life and career?
My dad was everything to my development in the game. He pushed me. But he also backed off when he needed to, and I had a childhood and played other sports. He was my coach until I turned pro. He was a self-made, self-taught golfer. He used to read the golf books, take the basics and pass them on to me. He somehow knew performance and how to prepare for tournaments. We used to do things differently than other kids my age. We used to visually and mentally prepare. He was ahead of his time that way.
He passed away in 2002 when you were 21 years old; what would you say to your dad if he were sitting here now?
I’d say, thank you. Being a dad now myself I understand the commitment he made to me, putting me first in so many ways. I thank him for believing in me. At the time I didn’t pay attention to it because it doesn’t resonate, but he often said at the time, even when he was on his deathbed, I would know what to do. So I thank him for that.
You’ve had what seem like two different careers going back 15 years ago to when you finished fourth at the 1998 British Open as a 17-year-old amateur and then missing 21 straight cuts, to these last three years with five wins, including your first major championship. Did you ever wonder whether you’d get here?
I was so young and hadn’t done anything in the game, I had no choice but to dig in and commit myself. The Open Championship was the skewing factor for so long. It created expectation and pressure that I wasn’t ready to handle. If I take the Open out of it, I achieved this, that and the other. Surely things have to work out in the long run. I was able to strength from the small victories -- if I shot 75 one week and 73 the next, I would tell myself I was getting better. That was a huge key to digging out of the hole.
Adam Scott is a close friend of yours. What did he say to you after winning the Masters? I also heard there was some sort of bet between you two?
It meant a lot to hear from Adam. We traded some texts back and forth after Augusta and he said it was our time; that it was basically now or never. I think that’s what he figured out and he thought my game was ready. The way he was able to play down the stretch at Augusta was so impressive. He swung freely and was committee to every shot. When you’re watching and you haven’t achieved that level of success you wonder if you’re capable of it.
You try to kid yourself and believe in yourself, but not until you do it do you know. The bet that was a young, childish bet we made when we were about 21 years old. We said whoever wins a major first, half the winner’s check is going to the victory party. I think Scotty should be on the hook for that, but we’ll see if it still applies. But I think we’ll both sit down at some point and celebrate how far we both have come. We’ve known each other since 18 or 19 and have grown up together out here.
How does this victory change things for you?
It has made me believe in myself, that I wasn’t kidding myself as a kid. Majors and Ryder Cups and tournaments, those are dreams you have as a kid. I’m now not a million miles away from all that. Being a major champion is a bit of a relief because sometimes you don’t know if it’s going to happen. If I could motivate myself and dedicate myself to a Hall-of-Fame career, whatever would qualify for that, might be a nice goal for me. It would be a moment where I can look back and say, ‘I did that.’