ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - After the touching salute to his father, the teary victory call to his mother back in England and the kiss of the silver trophy, Justin Rose treasured the validation of winning the U.S. Open for his first major championship.
“The silverware and the history books are phenomenal, but it’s about learning about yourself and how you can handle it,” Rose said after his steely cool finish to claim a two-shot victory over Phil Mickelson and Australian Jason Day at Merion.
“That feeling of testing yourself and coming out on top is incredible.”
Rose burst onto the international scene when he finished tied for fourth at the 1998 British Open at Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur.
The Englishman, who learned the game from his father, Ken, who died in 2002 from leukemia at age 57, turned professional the next day.
He suffered his growing pains in full view, missing 21 cuts in a row.
“I sort of announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it,” said Rose. “And golf can be a cruel game.
“Definitely I have had the ups and downs, but I think that ultimately it’s made me stronger and able to handle the situations like today.”
Rose began to deliver on his massive potential by winning four times internationally in 2002.
He added two more European PGA titles in the 2007 season before further embellishing his resume with a pair of U.S. tour wins in 2010. Rose won the FedExCup BMW Championship the next year and followed with the WGC-Cadillac Championship in 2012.
He also played a key role in Europe’s come-from-behind Ryder Cup victory over the United States last year at Medinah.
Inspired by his good friend Adam Scott, who in April became the first Australian to win the Masters, Rose believed he was ready to take the next big step on Father’s Day at Merion.
“I texted my mum late last night and I said, ‘let’s do it for dad tomorrow.’ And she just simply texted me back that would be fantastic.”
Rose finished his triumphant final round in style with a supremely confident par at the daunting 18th, where he struck a brilliant four-iron following a picture-perfect drive right near the plaque commemorating Ben Hogan’s fabled one-iron shot to the green on the way to the 1950 Open title at Merion.
After putting out Rose pointed skyward, touched his lips and pointed upward again before wiping a tear from his eye.
Victory was not yet assured, as Mickelson was still on the course. But Rose knew he had done all he could and later phoned his mother.
“We both were in floods of tears speaking to each other. She misses him immensely. I miss him immensely,” he said of his father.
“I felt like I sort of put into practice a lot of the lessons that he’s taught me, and I felt like I conducted myself in a way that he would be proud of, win or lose. And that’s what today was about for me in a lot of ways.”
Rose became the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin’s triumph at Hazeltine in 1970 and said he hoped his victory would be a springboard for talented compatriots including Luke Donald and Lee Westwood to join the major winners’ club.
The new U.S. Open champion said another text message, this one from Masters champion Scott, helped fuel his confidence.
“He sent me a text message after I congratulated him. He said to me, ‘this is your time, this is our time to win these tournaments. We’re 32, we have been around quite awhile. We paid our dues in some senses.”
Rose said disappointments were part of the process.
“This is a journey,” he said. “And it goes back 20, 30 years for me of dreaming, of hoping, of practicing, of calloused hands.
“You’ve had to do it the hard way, you’ve had to do it yourself.”
Well, perhaps not all by yourself.
“I think my dad always believed that I was capable of this,” Rose said. “When he was close to passing away, he kind of told my mom, ‘don’t worry, Justin will be okay. He’ll know what to do.’
“He kind of believed in me to be my own man.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford