The Game Loses a Friend


When I go to majors for early round research I like to walk the course with players during their practice rounds. I try to find a player I know well who's playing with three buddies. I'll follow them for nine holes, then look for another group. It allows me to get some behind the scenes information and some inside detail, and meet some players I might not know quite as well.
At this year's PGA Championship I had the pleasure of walking a practice round with Jay Haas, Davis Love III, Billy Andrade and Justin Rose. I knew the first three players, but Rose was playing his first event in the U.S. and I wanted to size the lad up. I remembered that Jennifer Mills had told me she spent time with Justin and his father at the Open Championship and found the Rose family to be delightful.
Nothing in the first five holes contradicted that opinion at all. Justin was polite and friendly, even though I'm pretty sure he had no idea who I was or what I was doing. He was fighting a cold, yet had a very strong game. Davis remarked about Justin's demeanor and seemed impressed with the kid's first meaningful trip to America.
On the 14th hole a tall gentleman joined us inside the ropes and introduced himself to me as Ken Rose, Justin's father. I told him my name and he immediately began telling me how much he enjoyed my father's work on the BBC. I had enjoyed Justin's company for the early part of the round, and got a clear understanding of how he became such a fine young man after chatting with his dad.
We talked about golf in the states, and in Great Britain, the rigors of travel and the early struggles that Justin had overcome. I told him that I'd seen Justin so often in our European coverage that I was shocked to find out he'd never played in the states before.
When I wasn't bending his ear, Ken was talking strategy with his son/pupil. They talked about the course and how certain shots fit Justin's game. The relationship between coach and player is often a tenuous one. When family relationships are added the dynamic is interesting to watch. Ken seemed to know just when to apply paternal guidance and when to be soothing and gentle.
Ken seemed so vital and full of life. His mind was sharp and his manner engaging. I knew he was sick, but figured he was in remission. I enjoyed watching a father and son walk the fairways, in synch and enjoying one another's company. It reminded me of the good things in our game, and the care with which those treasures are passed along.
I saw Ken the next day and wished Justin luck in the tournament. I told him I hoped to see him at Augusta. He seemed pleased at my confidence in Justin's performance, but he was focused on the job at hand. As it turns out Justin played very well at the PGA Championship and again the next week at the NEC.
In just two events in America the young Rose showed a game that has blossomed. In an interview at the NEC he said he would pass up the riches of the PGA Tour and compete next year on the European Tour. I couldn't help but think that the son wanted to stay close to his father, and not burden his mentor and only coach with too much travel.
The bonds that are forged on a golf course always seem to have a special strength. People sharing a passion, treating each other in a civil fashion and respecting ancient traditions seem to allow that caring to spill over onto playing companions and the like. In four brief holes I felt I had made a friend in Ken Rose.
Watching Golf Central Tuesday I was terribly saddened to hear of his passing. I felt lucky to have spent part of that day with him in Minnesota. I was happy he got to see Justin play with courage and style in another major championship. I'm sure he saw what I saw in Justin, a young man ready to challenge the game's elite on any stage.
Ken Rose's work with Justin the golfer was complete, though I'm sure he yearned for many more years with Justin the son. Ken was a lovely man taken far, far too early. I hope Justin excels while his dad continues to watch from inside the ropes, out of sight but never far away.