ARDMORE, Pa. — It’s impossible not to think about fathers on the third Sunday of every June, which happens to annually coincide with the final round of the US Open.
So, when the sun began to burn through the clouds at Merion Golf Club early in the evening, at about the time he was putting the finishing touches on the biggest win of his life, Justin Rose’s thoughts turned to his father. Ken Rose coached his boys like any proud dad would, showing them how to play golf well, but more importantly how to live, how to treat people, and be respectful and fair and kind and loving. How to be a man.
Rose showed all those traits Sunday, and knew just who his two-shot victory in the 113th US Open would be dedicated to. Ken Rose died in 2002 at age 57.
When Rose tapped in for par at the 18th hole, the final stroke in a final-round 70, his win wasn’t yet secure. That would become official in a matter of minutes, when Phil Mickelson couldn’t make a closing birdie. But Rose sensed what he had done, and let emotion take over for just a few seconds, looking up and pointing.
“Yes, the look up to the heavens was absolutely for my dad. Father’s Day was not lost on me today. You don’t have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. And today was about him and being Father’s Day,” Rose said. “I was trying to keep it together, because I didn’t want to be premature. But that was my time. The clouds had parted, it was kind of ironic. It was just a beautiful evening.”
Certainly for Rose, who became the first Brit to win the US Open since 1970, when Tony Jacklin did it. Rose was actually born in South Africa, but moved to England at 5 and became an accomplished player under Ken’s tutelage.
The lessons instilled during all those years were evident on Sunday. Rose displayed the poise and precision needed to win one of golf’s most grueling tournaments, with Merion making life miserable for almost everybody in the field. A tournament that was supposed to see a lot of birdies morphed almost immediately into what US Opens always are: a struggle to stay afloat in a swallowing sea of bogeys and big numbers. Last man standing usually wins.
Rose made five birdies on Sunday, none bigger than the back-to-back putts on Nos. 12-13 that gave him the outright lead over Mickelson, the fan favorite and 54-hole leader who was attempting to win the US Open for the first time.
Instead, he claimed his sixth runner-up finish in this event, shooting a 74 to tie Jason Day (71). Mickelson couldn’t hide his disappointment, coming up two shots short on the day he turned 43.
“It’s very heartbreaking. This could have been a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the US Open,” Mickelson said. “I think this was my best chance. This one’s probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record. Except, I just keep feeling heartbreak.”
His heart skipped a beat at the 10th hole, when a shot from 75 yards found the bottom of the cup for an eagle, bumping Mickelson from one shot down to one shot ahead, the solo leader with eight holes to play.
The plan he developed for Merion backfired, though. He chose not to put a driver in his bag, adding a fifth wedge instead. Both would prove pivotal in the final round, because Mickelson said there were two holes on the front nine where, because of the wind, he would have used driver. He dropped shots on both, making double bogeys at Nos. 3 and 5.
Even more costly were the bogeys Mickelson made on the back nine when he had a wedge in his hand. He flew the green at the short 13th and failed to save his par, giving Rose the outright lead. He then hit a poor approach to the 15th hole and couldn’t make par, again falling out of a lead with Rose.
“[Holes] 13 and 15 were the two bad shots of the day that I’ll look back on where I let it go,” Mickelson said. “Those two wedge shots were the costly shots.”
Mickelson’s misfortune opened the door for Rose, who withstood bogeys at the 14th and 16th, when he three-putted. Nursing a one-shot lead when he stepped to the 18th tee — the par 4 played 511 yards on Sunday, and nobody in the field made a birdie in either of the final two rounds — he hit two of the best shots of his life. He ripped a drive down the fairway, near the plaque that marks the spot from where Ben Hogan played during the final round of the 1950 US Open, which he won. Then Rose hit a 4-iron from 229 yards that hugged the flag, running just past the hole and through the green. He needed two more shots for his par, joining the major champions’ club with a career-defining win on a punishing course.
“I really targeted Merion. I’ve been striving my whole life, really, to win a major championship. I’ve holed a putt to win a major championship thousands of times on the putting green at home. Pretty happy it was a 2-incher at the last,” Rose said. “I felt like this tournament really began to be on my radar as the one major championship that would suit me the most. I had always felt good at Augusta, always dreamed about winning the [British] Open championship. But I thought this one actually might have been my best chance.
“I just love it when a plan comes together. It’s how this week felt, to be honest.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.