Rose Last Man Standing at Merion
Englishman Ends His Nation’s 43-Year Drought in U.S. Open
By Stuart Hall
ARDMORE, Pa. – In victoriously hoisting the U.S. Open Trophy early Sunday evening at Merion Golf Club, Justin Rose ended an odyssey for himself and his country.
Rose became the first Englishman since Tony Jacklin in 1970 to win the U.S. Open, and he did so in dramatic fashion, surviving a daylong donnybrook on a bandbox East Course that provided one of the sternest tests in this championship's 113-year history.
"I've been striving my whole life really to win a major championship," said Rose, 32, who also became the first Englishman to win a major since Nick Faldo won the 1996 Masters. "This is the pinnacle of the game, winning major championships, and to win the United States Open Championship is, I guess in a way, very fitting of how my game has been the last couple of years."
Rose shot a final-round 70 to finish at 1-over 281, two strokes ahead of Australian Jason Day and Phil Mickelson, the 54-hole leader who added to his record total with his sixth runner-up finish. Jason Dufner, whose 3-under 67 tied for the day's low round, two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els (a final-round 69), Billy Horschel (74) and Hunter Mahan (75) tied for fourth at 5-over 285.
Five players figured in the top of the leader board changing 19 times in the final round. Rose believes Merion's design played a role in that, saying a local caddie referred to course as equal parts drama, comedy and tragedy, "like a good theatrical play," he said.
Not sure how much comedy there was, but there was ample drama and tragedy. There was also heartache, as Mickelson, who turned 43 on this Father's Day, saw another opportunity to win evaporate with a 74.
"This one's probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record," said Mickelson, who was also the 54-hole leader in 2006 and tied for second. "Except I just keep feeling heartbreak."
Day, 25, who finished runner-up at Congressional Country Club two years ago, was more optimistic.
"I feel that my game is in a really good spot right now," said Day, who shot 71. "I'm doing the right things. I'm doing the little things that count. I've been close so many times now in majors, especially at a young age, which is nice. I've got plenty of majors to play in and hopefully I can keep doing the same as I'm doing, and hopefully win one soon."
Time – and majors – can be fleeting though.
In the late 1990s, Rose was a teen who was considered to have a huge upside. He played on the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup Team at age 17 in 1997 and the following year tied for fourth as an amateur at the British Open, memorably capping his effort by holing out a 60-yard approach shot.
A day after that Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, he turned professional, but struggled mightily. He missed the cut in his first 21 professional events.
"Probably at times it feels 25 years since Birkdale, and other times it feels like it was just yesterday," Rose said. "There's a lot of water under the bridge. My learning curve has been steep from that point.
"Sort of announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it. And golf can be a cruel game. And definitely I have had the ups and down, but I think that ultimately it's made me stronger and able to handle the situations like today, for example."
After earning his European Tour privileges in 1999, Rose lost them a year later and had to go through qualifying school a second time. He won twice on the European Tour in 2002 and slowly emerged as one of Europe's best players.
He won the European Tour's 2007 Order of Merit, made his first Ryder Cup team in 2008 and began winning annually on the PGA Tour in 2010.
Countryman Luke Donald, who played the final round with Rose and fell out of contention early with three bogeys and a double bogey on hole Nos. 3-6, believes Rose's game was ideal for winning this major.
"I think Justin for the last few years has been known as one of the best ball strikers in the game," said Donald, who shot a final-round 75 and ultimately tied for eighth. "To win a U.S. Open, you have to have ultimate control of your golf ball. He did that. He hit some really clutch iron shots down the stretch."
Rose, who began the final round two shots back of Mickelson, first put his hands on the lead with a birdie on the 340-yard, par-4 seventh hole. He was out of the top position for only minutes after Mickelson holed a 64-degree wedge shot from 76 yards out of the rough for an eagle at the par-10th. Rose, playing two groups ahead of Mickelson, then hit his approach at the par-4 12th to 2 feet and converted the birdie.
Rose dropped back into a tie with Mickelson and Mahan with a three-putt bogey on the par-4 16th. Rose became the final outright leader when Mickelson and Mahan, who finished with a 75, made a mess of the 15th, making bogey and double bogey, respectively.
While many of the leaders slid back early, Els and Dufner made upward moves after starting seven and nine strokes back of Mickelson, respectively. Dufner was 5 under for his round and within three shots of the lead when he drove his tee shot on the 15th out of bounds and made triple bogey. When Els birdied the 17th, only four players were ahead of him. He was four strokes back, but could get no closer.
Holes eventually ran out for the remaining contenders to Rose, who let his emotions flow while still standing on the 18th green and with Mickelson still playing the 17th hole. Rose, whose dad died in 2002, looked and pointed to the sky, and wiped away a few tears.
"It's the golf that makes the silverware, and the history books are phenomenal, but it's about learning about yourself and how you can handle it," said Rose in a moment of introspection. "And you wonder if you can handle it. And then when you realize you can, you want to experience that feeling again and again and again."
England just hopes it's not another 43 years.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.