CROMWELL, Conn. — Now that Justin Rose has fulfilled some of the enormous potential that was placed on his scrawny teenage shoulders 15 years ago, he can continue with a plan that is only a few years and suddenly five PGA Tour victories in the making.
Rose always has been about plotting a course and sticking to it. It’s helped him overcome the lows (21 straight missed cuts to begin his professional career), and brought proper perspective in dealing with the highs. Those have come, too, none bigger than Sunday, when he won the 113th US Open for his first major championship.
It’s also one of the reasons Rose met with the media on Wednesday at TPC River Highlands, site of this week’s Travelers Championship. It would have been understandable if Rose elected to withdraw from the tournament, citing fatigue or a strong desire to celebrate. But he honored his commitment, not only because he likes coming here and has a good Travelers record, but because it fits in nicely with — you guessed it — his plan.
“The way I set up my preparation for the US Open, I’ve set it up as a three-week run. The way I prepared for the US Open, only getting there Tuesday night was intentional, but I knew I was also playing two tournaments on the back end of the US Open, as well,” said Rose, who is also playing next week’s AT&T National, which he won in 2010. “The whole thought process has been a three-week run, so I figured I won’t interrupt that.”
He allowed for a slight interruption, actually. Tuesday was spent in New York, hitting the talk-show circuit, granting interviews, posing for pictures with the US Open trophy, reading the top 10 list for David Letterman. After a short — but bumpy — flight up on Tuesday night, Rose was looking forward to three things: sleeping, eating well on a regular schedule, and spending time with his two young children. His 4-year-old son, Leo, made Rose a clay trophy for Father’s Day. Sensing some competition, Rose quickly assured Leo that the clay creation is his favorite trophy, despite the big, shiny, silver one now in his possession.
Winning a major was also part of Rose’s plan, but he acknowledged after his win at Merion that it came sooner than he expected.
But maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise. Rose leads the PGA Tour in total driving this year, and led in greens in regulation last year. Those are two key areas for success required at any US Open.
It also hasn’t surprised his peers.
“I think Justin technically is probably the best player in the game. From putting to bunker game, short game, swing . . . it’s definitely, I think, the best. It’s just so flawless when you see him and watch him play, he makes the game look really easy sometimes,” said Hunter Mahan, who had thoughts of making the US Open his first major championship, before settling for a tie for fourth. “He’s a great US Open guy. Great iron player, incredible short game. That’s going to win anywhere, but for a US Open particularly.”
It’s taken Rose a while to get to this point. He tied for fourth at the 1998 British Open as a 17-year-old amateur, turned pro the next day, and struggled mightily. Wins on the European Tour came as early as 2002, but he didn’t taste victory on the PGA Tour until 2010, after he began working with Sean Foley and devised — yes, again — a plan.
Since then, he’s ticked off an impressive checklist. PGA Tour wins each of the last four years, including a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2011 and a World Golf Championship at Doral in 2012; hero’s status at last year’s Ryder Cup, where he delivered an unexpected point for the victorious Europeans by beating Phil Mickelson with a flurry of late birdies in a white-knuckle singles match.
Even though he’s only 32, Rose’s latest triumph over Mickelson was a long time coming.
“It’s definitely been a slow, slow journey and it’s taken its time, but it feels great to have gotten there,” Rose said.
He’s ranked No. 3 in the world this week, his best mark ever. And when Rose plays in upcoming major championships — for the short term, anyway — more will be expected of him. Which, according to another recent first-time major champion, can take some getting used to.
“I think Justin is probably in a little better spot to handle this. I was a rookie. He’s been one of the best players in the world for a long time,” Keegan Bradley said. “Winning your first major only happens one time, and it’s an amazing thing. I wasn’t able to sleep very well for weeks after. I hope he’s been able to enjoy it.
“He’s going to put a lot of pressure on himself to play well in majors from here on, because winning a major, the feeling is so awesome that he’ll want to do that again. I think he’ll handle it really well.”
Starting this week, that’s the — ahem — plan.
“You never know if it’s going to happen for you,” said Rose, who will be paired with Bradley and Zach Johnson for the first two rounds at the Travelers. “You think you’re good enough, you can tell yourself you’re ready, but until it happens, you just don’t know. So now, having had that experience and having had that confidence in myself, I feel like I can stand up, put one foot in front of the other, make good swing after good swing in that environment.
“I’m still hoping . . . hoping is the wrong word. I’m expecting to go out there and put in a good performance.”