Rose wins FedExCup in dramatic fashion
Clutch birdie on final hole secures FedExCup trophy at TOUR Championship in Atlanta
September 23, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Justin Rose's Round 4 highlights from TOUR Championship
ATLANTA – Not earning a penny helped Justin Rose win the PGA TOUR’s richest prize.
Missing the first 21 cuts of his pro career showed Rose that the game that came so easy as an amateur would require his all if he wanted to succeed as a pro.
“That has kept me honest. … That’s kept me working hard and kept me from never taking it for granted,” Rose said.
An inspirational work ethic explains how a 38-year-old father of two has ascended to the top of a sport increasingly dominated by youth. The past four FedExCup champions had an average age of 25 years old.
Rose won the FedExCup after ascending to No. 1 in the world ranking in his previous start. He is the third-oldest player to reach the top of the world ranking for the first time.
His FedExCup pursuit started with a win in his first event of the season and ended with a birdie on his final hole. Rose’s birdie at East Lake’s 18th hole denied Tiger Woods from taking home both trophies available Sunday.
His impressive consistency allowed him to win the TOUR’s season-long prize. No one finished in the top-10 in a higher percentage of starts this season. His 11 top-10s – in just 18 starts – were the most of his career. He finished in the top 3 in one-third of his starts, including wins at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and Fort Worth Invitational.
“This isn’t about the money. It’s about being the best player on TOUR for the year,” said Rose’s swing coach, Sean Foley. “His vision of greatness is about more than paychecks and planes and all that.”
Rose can now add the FedExCup to a resume that includes nine PGA TOUR victories, 11 international titles, the Olympic Gold Medal, a U.S. Open and European Tour money title.
Foley calls Rose one of the game’s first “modern pros” because he was an early adopter to a holistic approach to improvement. Rose’s team looks at much more than swing plane and basic statistics.
“From how he eats, to how he trains, to how he breaks down a golf course, he has a very thoughtful approach to maximizing his probability for success,” Foley said. “Sometimes people are afraid to change what they do or how they do it. His lack of satisfaction in what he’s doing has really pushed us to look under every rock.”
Rose was winless in the previous two PGA TOUR seasons, though. That long drought forced him to make a frank assessment of his game and address his biggest weakness.
He has long been a world-class ball-striker. There is no other way to conquer Merion, the course where he won the U.S. Open five years ago. It’s a historic venue where players like Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan have won championships.
Rose’s excellence now extends to the greens after a dramatic improvement. He moved up more than 100 spots in the Strokes Gained: Putting standings this season. He finished 17th in that statistic after ranking no better than 97th in the prior seven seasons.
“When guys putt a certain way or chip a certain way for like 10 years, it’s easy to just cash it in and (say), ‘Well, I guess I’m not going to be good at that,” Foley said.
Mark Broadie, the inventor of the Strokes Gained statistics, said Rose’s rapid rise is exceptionally rare, ranking in the 95th percentile of single-season improvements in that metric. Rose is gaining more than two strokes per tournament on the greens over last year.
As Rose’s long-time friend, Paul Casey, put it, “Your weaknesses are your opportunities.”
It started with the claw grip, which Rose switched to shortly after the 2016 Ryder Cup. “It took away a lot of the tinkering that I found that I would get into,” he said. He’s utilized multiple methods to improve his green-reading, as well.
“Justin works hard on the science of the game to give him a feel he can trust because the numbers stack up,” said Nick Faldo, the first Englishman to reach No. 1 in the world, after Rose’s win at the Fort Worth Invitational. “That was my style, as well.”
Rose started this season by overcoming an eight-shot deficit to Dustin Johnson in the final round of the HSBC Champions. Rose shot Sunday’s low score, a 67 in windy conditions, to win his first TOUR title in more than 900 days.
“It's been a long time since I've won, or at least it feels like that,” he said after the win.
Rose had won in six consecutive seasons before going winless for two in a row. He won the Gold Medal in 2016 but failed to win on the PGA TOUR or European Tour for the first time since 2009. He didn’t say anything after his win in Rio de Janeiro, but he said Sunday that he was struggling with a “pretty bad” back injury that week.
He then waited until October to earn his first win of 2017 at the HSBC.
“Sometimes you learn the most when you’re not playing well and I think that’s when I needed to make a change in my putting,” he said Sunday. “It was a recommitment to my fitness and it was a recommitment to my short game and my putting. That’s what got me to this point.”
Rose and Foley also tweaked his swing to take pressure off his back. Alleviating the pain allowed Rose to do what he does best. Less time getting treatment meant more time practicing, especially on the putting green.
“If you watched Justin Rose work, you’d think he never accomplished anything in his life,” Foley said.
But then you’d remember that on Sunday he took home the PGA TOUR’s biggest prize, proving that hard work does pay off.