ARDMORE, Pa. — The first time Justin Rose showed up for a professional golf tournament in the Philadelphia area, he walked away with the winner’s trophy at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square.
That tournament was just Rose’s second victory on the PGA Tour.
So when Phil Mickelson’s desperate chip from the 18th fairway in Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Open rolled past the hole and into the fringe, Rose might be ready to look for a place somewhere off the Blue Route.
At the very least, Justin is the most successful Rose the Philly area has seen since Pete.
“The Philly crowd remembered that,” Rose said of his victory at Aronimink. “I felt like I had a lot of goodwill all week. There was a lot of, ‘Go Justins!’ and ‘This is your town!’ I feed off that energy as best as I can.”
Rose, the No. 5-ranked golfer in the world, became just the second Englishman to win the U.S. Open and the first to win since Tony Jacklin won at Hazeltine National in 1970. Rose is also the first Englishman to win a major tournament since Nick Faldo won the Masters in 1996.
Rose joins Olin Dutra, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino and David Graham as U.S. Open champions at cozy Merion Golf Club. Rose’s name will also go alongside Bobby Jones, who won the 1930 U.S. Amateur to complete the grand slam.
He did it by shooting even-par 70 on the final day of the tournament with five birdies and five bogeys. In winning his first major and fifth tournament overall, Rose shot 1-over par. The 32-year old was remarkably consistent throughout the grueling tournament, scoring a high round of 71 on the first and third days and a 1-under 69. He conjured up his complete game to pull out the victory.
Headed into the U.S. Open, Rose was ranked first on the PGA Tour in total driving, sand-save percentage and birdies made on par 5s. He was fourth in ball striking, sixth in par-4 scoring average and eighth in scrambling, due in part to the fact that he's one of the best wedge players in the game.
However, Rose was just 125th in putting.
At Merion, Rose took 120 putts in his 72 holes (1.67 average) with just four three putts all weekend. He also hit fairways at a 75 percent clip and found himself in the bunkers just twice.
Rose proved that it’s difficult to get in trouble if you don’t put yourself in tough situations.
Still, Rose didn’t seal the victory until Mickleson’s rollercoaster round was put to bed when he failed to score a birdie at the 18th hole (see story). However, he felt pretty good about his chances when he birdied the No. 12 and 13 holes. Those birdies came moments after Rose heard the roar from the crowd on the 10th green after Mickleson chipped in from 75-feet for an eagle.
When Rose heard the crowd go crazy for Mickelson, he collected himself and “didn’t go chasing the golf course.”
“I immediately answered with birdie-birdie of my own and I think that was huge,” Rose said. “It gave me that little bit of leeway playing the last five holes.”
Mickelson still had the slimmest of chances, though, and Rose knew it. That’s why he didn’t get too excited when he finished his round even though he felt it would be good enough to win. When Rose tapped in for par at 18 a few minutes before Mickleson made his valiant attempt to force an 18-hole playoff, he pointed toward the heavens in tribute to his first coach and father, Ken, who died of leukemia in 2001.
It took everything he had in order to keep his emotions together.
“The look up to the heavens was absolutely for my dad,” Rose said. “Father’s Day was not lost on me today. You don’t have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. Today was about him.”
It also was about history. The U.S. Open was back at Merion for the first time since 1981. Before that, Lee Trevino beat Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff at Merion in 1971.
But it was the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion that forever entrenched the course into the history of sports. Merion was where Ben Hogan hit that famous 1-iron shot on the 18th fairway to put himself in position to win in a playoff, a little more than a year after he was nearly killed in a car accident.
There is a plaque on the 18th fairway that marks the spot where Hogan hit his 1-iron and as fate would have it, Rose’s tee shot landed inches in front of that historic spot.
“In preparing for this tournament, it’s hard not to play Merion and envision yourself hitting the shot that Hogan did,” Rose said. “Even in the moment today, that was not lost on me. When I walked over the hill and saw my drive sitting perfectly in the middle of the fairway with the sun coming out, it was almost fitting. I just felt like at that point it was a good iron shot on the green and two putts — just like Hogan did.”
Rose not only thought of his dad as he completed his final round, but as he walked up the 18th fairway he also wondered what Hogan would have thought of his shot from nearly the identical spot.
“Ben Hogan might have thought it was a decent shot, too,” Rose said.
Hogan shot 7-over par to win in 1950 on a Merion course that measured out to 6,994 yards. It measured out to 6,996 in the 113th U.S. Open where Rose shot a 1-over 281. As it turned out, Merion played nearly the same some 63 years after its most famous moment.
It was in the quiet moments before the tournament began that Rose found what made the course so special. When all was said and done, even Rose knew that Merion was the real winner of the week.
“As Trevino said, ‘I fell in love with a girl named Merion, I just didn’t know her last name,’” Rose smiled. “I’ve been sort of joking about that all week.”