LEMONT, Ill. – Justin Rose prepared for the BMW Championship by finishing in a share of second place at a tournament one week earlier.
After two PGA Tour victories last season, it was his best result so far in 2011.
Never mind the fact that it came at an eight-man field. In something called the JR Challenge. And the “JR” stands for Justin Rose.
The “tournament” was Rose’s annual buddies’ trip with seven other guys he’s known since his schoolboy days in England, as they traversed some of Long Island’s most desirable golf courses – Sebonack, National, Garden City and Friars Head – in a continuous 72-hole Stableford scoring match.
“We play for a little trophy, but really it's just a good excuse to get together with my oldest friends, guys I've known since I was about 10 years old,” he said. “They'd be the guys that you'd call up if you ever needed something, English guys. They've known me through thick and thin, they've known me before I turned pro – just your real hard-core true friends.”
Even though he was playing off a plus-7 handicap, Rose unceremoniously finished behind his half-brother Brandon Harcus – not exactly a confidence-builder heading into one of the bigger weeks on the schedule.
Then again, as he joked on Sunday evening, “That got me back in contention.”
Rose had reason for levity after the final round at Cog Hill, as he parlayed that title contention into a two-stroke triumph for his third career PGA Tour victory.
Don’t underestimate the impact that one had on the other.
“I think mentally last week I got away from the grind of everything – the grind of the year, the grind of the FedEx Cup – and just hung out with some buddies and maybe that recharged my batteries,” Rose explained. “Even though I played golf four times, I think I came into this week a lot more refreshed.”
“It’s easy for players on the PGA Tour to start identifying with their world ranking, FedEx Cup number, the money list,” said his swing instructor Sean Foley. “To be around his mates from when he was 10 years old, you recognize what’s important. It’s not the day-in, day-out grind of golf. I think being able to go out with his mates and have some fun and decompress was helpful.
“Rosey sometimes needs to step away from it all and put it into perspective. I think that’s what he did.”
There’s an old joke about what professional golfers do when they go on vacation. In this instance – much like the rest of us – Rose chose to tee it up, which would be the leisure-time equivalent of a plumber unclogging toilets to unwind during his downtime.
Of course, if it helped him prevail over all other plumbers in the next competition, maybe it would all be worth it.
Such was the case for Rose, who posted ascending rounds of 63-68-69-71 to hold off John Senden in the final stanza. After a disappointing season that saw him on the outside looking in to reach the Tour Championship coming into the week, the result vaulted him into third place on the FedEx Cup standings
Rose entered the day with a four-stroke overnight lead and though he never relinquished it, he found himself up by just one with two holes to play. Just off the green on the 17th hole, he considered using his putter – or what he called “the chicken stick” – but instead went with the 54-degree wedge. And he holed it.
“I think the manner in which I won this tournament, it rates as high as the best tournament I've ever won, just by going wire to wire,” Rose contended. “To win at this level, with this strength of field, wire-to-wire, I think gives me a lot of confidence, and I think it's a big step up. Obviously being a playoff event puts it in that special category of tournaments, too.”
It was all aided by being in the right frame of mind, something garnered from his week spent away from competitive golf … playing in a golf tournament.
“I think mentally this is the best I've ever been in terms of being very under control with my emotions, being very calm, being very aware of the situation and feeling comfortable with it,” he said. “You know, as it turned out, I may have had better ball-striking weeks as a whole, but I think this week as a competitor and as a professional, I think it was probably my best-ever performance.”
It also gave him a sense of redemption. One week after losing to his half-brother at his eponymous event, Rose finally had bragging rights within his own family again.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said with a smile. “I think maybe I one-upped him this week.”
Turns out the JR Challenge may not have been named for Justin Rose after all. Following his share of second place finish one week earlier, the initials for that buddies’ trip just happened to stand for something else for the guy who rebounded to win his next start.