Justin Rose: 20 years of Majors

Justin Rose has earned the right to look back on his career with pride. The 37 year old has won a Major Championship, two World Golf Championship titles, an Olympic Gold medal and been part of four Ryder Cup teams.

This week he tees it up at Augusta National Golf Club aiming to go one better than last year in Georgia, when he lost out on a Green Jacket in a play-off to Sergio Garcia. When he starts his first round on Thursday, Rose will begin his 20th year of competition in the Majors. To commemorate the occasion, europeantour.com looks back on the Englishman’s memorable journey.

by Will Medlock at Augusta National GC. 


His oversized red jumper might not have been the perfect fit, but Justin Rose seamlessly slotted into Major Championship folklore one afternoon in 1998. His game at Royal Birkdale had been as sharp as the smartly-cropped haircut; after all, it’s not every weekend a 17 year old amateur contends on his Major debut.

The boyish grin belied his ability. Deeply-etched, emotional scars would come, but these were Rose’s halcyon days. The only baggage he stepped onto the first tee with on that Southport Sunday was carried by his caddie. He would go on to play a shot that won a thousand hearts.

Out of position in the rough coming down the 72nd hole, Rose’s Major story could easily have started with a slightly less Hollywood ending; more Apocalypse Now than Singin’ In The Rain. His status as low amateur was assured, but he needed to get down in two from 50 yards to save par. What followed was a shot from the Seve Ballesteros handbook of craft. A deft escape landed softly on the green and ran into the cup, securing his share of fourth place. Cue that timeless celebration, arms raised and face turned up to the sky; his father applauded triumphantly at the boy, his boy, revelling in the adulation.

A lot has changed in the 20 years since. From a Silver medallist in Southport to a Gold medallist in Rio de Janeiro; this has been no ordinary career. The Majors have been a near constant through it all.

Welcome to the big leagues

In the immediate aftermath of that historic Birkdale afternoon, Rose made the leap into the professional game. What followed in the ensuing 11 months was the antithesis of those final hole heroics. A raft of missed cuts, 21 in total, was a cruel second chapter, but surely played its part in shaping the boy into the man.

He travelled the globe in search of a weekend. On June 27 1999, the universe finally relented. After opening with a 75 at the Compaq European Grand Prix, he edged into the third round with a Friday 69. A year that had given little and taken so much was dust in the rear view mirror.

Next stop, Carnoustie.

Rose’s second Major adventure was a more sobering experience than the first, though. A course that can asphyxiate the soul at the best of times handed the 18 year old another missed cut. A first European Tour card arrived later that year, a perfect tonic.

Over the next two years, the game would bite again. Rose lost his card and then won it back, treading a path only the lucky few avoid. However, there was a sense of things coming full circle in January 2002. Rose returned to Johannesburg, the place of his birth, and won his first professional title at the Dunhill Championship. As the months passed and autumnal oranges merged into the hues of summer, another victory came Rose’s way. This time he finished ahead of his close friend Ian Poulter, who had been hosting Rose at his house that week, to win the British Masters at Woburn.

Victory in his home country had global implications. For the first time, Rose could count himself among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Across the Atlantic

The American Midwest was calling, leading Rose to Minnesota for the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine National in August 2002.

Rose finished his week stateside in good spirits and esteemed company; Bernhard Langer, Retief Goosen and Adam Scott joined him in a share of 23rd come Sunday. By the time Auld Lang Syne was ringing in 2003, he was World Number 39 and all the post-’98 Open talk was starting to bear fruit.

The sting of those early days grinding on tour may have faded, but personal tragedy was cutting deep. Rose’s father, Ken, passed away from cancer the month after the 2002 US PGA Championship. He had been at Hazeltine, by his son’s side, as he had always been. You only need to see footage of him from Birkdale in 1998 to get a sense of the pride he had in his son, transfixed by his teenage offspring striding towards a cheering 18th green. It meant a lot.

On the course, the new year heralded Rose’s participation in all four Major Championships for the first time. A first U.S. Open appearance came in June at Olympia Fields Country Club. Despite finishing eight shots off the pace in Illinois, Rose earned a tie for fifth spot. What that result must have done to Rose’s mentality cannot be understated; he wasn’t just surviving but competing.

The delicacy of a golfer’s psyche has long been noted. Enough books have been written and theories professed to convince you it’s a game for masochists constantly chasing an elusive perfection; there’s a reason PG Wodehouse remarked ‘to find a man’s true character, play golf with him.’ Rose has rarely given the impression of someone easily tortured by golf and a best Major result of his career teased what was to come.

The way back

Golf never lets you have it easy for too long; Rose knew this already. The pendulum swung back with force in 2005 as his World Ranking plummeted to 112th, a year in which he missed all four of the game’s showpiece events. Media and fans alike were understandably more caught up with matters elsewhere, namely Tiger Woods reaching double figures for Major Championships wins. Away from the spotlight, Rose was negotiating the way back.

He returned to the Major scene in 2006 for the US PGA Championship and closed out the year with a long overdue piece of silverware in Australia at the Mastercard Masters. Signs of light, at long last.

Spring of 2007 arrived and that meant only one thing. Augusta National Golf Club leaves its indelible mark on all who walk its fairways, but not all players leave their mark on it. Rose had made the cut in both of his previous Masters appearances and started with an opening round of 69 to co-lead after 18 holes. The headlines wrote themselves; Rose blooming among the Azaleas was a gift.

He remained in contention all week and was one shot shy of the lead after 54 holes. A double-bogey on the 17th on Sunday derailed his challenge and led to an eventual tie for fifth. Yet, it sowed seeds of belief that one day he might return to challenge again. An excellent 2007 would be bookended by victories, as he won at the Volvo Masters in November to move to seventh in the world, inside the top 10 for the first time in his career.

Smoke and mirrors

Inconsistency led to fluctuation and Rose pinballed around the top 100 over the next four years, before eventually gravitating towards the top 20. His run of Major results from The 2007 Open to the 2011 US PGA Championship read: T12-T12-T36-CUT-T70-T9-T20-CUT-T13-CUT-DNP-DNP-CUT-CUT-T11-CUT-T44-CUT. It wasn’t a run that suggested imminent Major glory, but this game has a habit of deploying smoke and mirrors.

Rose kicked off on the 2012 Major trail with a share of eighth at the Masters and finished it with a tie for third at the US PGA Championship, his best result in any of the big four. It took him 14 years to best his opening salvo in 1998, but it would take just ten months for him to better that third place at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. And how.

Rose had been playing well in the build-up to the 2013 U.S. Open, arriving at Merion Golf Club in June with five worldwide top tens to his name since the season had begun. Yet, he had only twice signed for a sub-70 round in seven previous U.S. Open appearances. Rose started with a 71 in Pennsylvania, four behind the early leader Phil Mickelson.

Friday’s fare changed everything. A 69, combined with a two over par round from Mickelson, opened the door to Rose and compatriot Luke Donald. Those with betting proclivities would still have backed Mickelson, the likable everyman who had five previous runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open. The narrative swung back in Mickelson’s favour on Saturday, however, and he found himself the only man under par after 54 holes.


Sunday at Merion was Father’s Day and it would provide the most stirring of subplots. Rose began two off the pace set by America’s sweetheart Mickelson, but Merion had snared many of the week’s field and Rose needed Mickelson to fall into its trappings and hope he could survive.

Rose got through his front nine in one under par; Mickelson headed out in three over but eagled the tenth. Back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th put Rose in a strong position, particularly with Mickelson less than convincing. Just as in 1998, Rose arrived at the 72nd hole with something on the line.

From around 240 yards, he sent his second shot on the par four 18th hurtling towards the pin. It ran up close, but rolled just off the green, leaving Rose a delicate up and down for par. Once the formality of his par putt was complete, it was clear where his thoughts lay. He immediately looked skyward, kissed his finger and pointed upwards; a rare tender moment on a course that had been inclined to rougher treatment throughout the week. Mickelson would eventually finish with bogey, confirming Rose’s two-shot victory.

His story had taken a decisive, and deserving, turn. No longer would Rose’s already impressive career carry an asterisk denoting his shortcomings on the Major stage. He had done it when it mattered. For Rose, on Father’s Day 2013, it really mattered.

The Green Mile

Rose’s career had reached its high point post-Merion, but arguably his peak was still to come. He made a case for having found it in 2015, recording three top sixes in the four Majors. Another top ten followed at Augusta National twelve months later, so it was no surprise when Rose hit the front in Georgia after 54 holes of last year’s staging. Tied with his Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia on Saturday night, the duo played out one of the most memorable conclusions to a Major in recent memory.

Garcia’s Major travails had garnered greater debate in clubhouses and column inches than Rose’s; the Spaniard had 12 Major top fives before pitching up in Augusta. After 72 holes, he and Rose were still inseparable, and most could have been forgiven for favouring Rose after his Merion heroics. Maybe that made his wayward drive on the play-off hole all the more surprising.

Garcia made no mistake, finding the fairway and getting up and down in two to end his own wait. The embrace between the two friends afterwards was heartfelt. Rose’s anguish at having missed a golden chance was palpable, but he recognised the magnitude of what Garcia had done.

As far his chivalry stretched that day, he still knew a golden chance had slipped by. Rose had led Garcia by two after 11 holes, but ultimately a bogey on the 17th had cost him the Green Jacket. He didn’t need to let the embers of the week burn out before he posited, “I think this is a tournament I’m going to win one day.”

Looking Up

Rose’s belief in his ability to win at Augusta National is built on solid foundations. In 12 previous appearances, he has five top tens, including three in a row since 2015. Whether that victory arrives in 2018, 20 years since he first arrived on the Major scene, is one of many questions whirring in the background this week.

It seems fitting that two of the most prominent moments in Rose’s Major exploits share a sweet kind of symmetry. When Rose chipped in as a 17 year old at Birkdale, he looked up to the sky, a celebration he would replicate upon finishing his round at Merion; one an outpouring of unbridled joy, the other an achingly bittersweet tribute to his late father. If he isn’t to add another landmark moment to his Majors story, Rose could probably live with those images being the defining ones.