CROMWELL, Conn. – In the case of Justin Rose it has truly taken a village, although anyone in “Camp Rosie” will tell you it was the Englishman, no one else, who made a gutsy par at the 72nd hole on Sunday at Merion to claim his first major.
The blueprint for this champion, however, is born from an eclectic circle of friends and advisors who have slowly helped carve a major champion from an ego that may have not been entirely broken early in his professional career, but it was certainly battered.
Rose’s climb over the last few years has been sure and steady – from his first victories in 2010, to last year’s breakthrough at the World Golf Championship at Doral – and as he hoisted the Open trophy on Sunday at mean Merion it seemed natural, easy almost.
But that scene was in considerable contrast to Rose’s humble beginnings when he missed his first 21 cuts as a professional and toiled for six full years on the PGA Tour before winning.
From that humble start, Rose slowly built a team around him and a major game.
“Sean Foley, undoubtedly, the best swing coach in the world. Kate (Rose’s wife), Kate is his rock,” said caddie Mark Fulcher on Sunday at Merion. “I think Justin and Kate have been very careful picking the team around him. They have developed a team they are comfortable with.”
As Foley watched Rose set out Sunday at just past 3 p.m. (ET) in search of Open glory, he recalled that it was a phone call at nearly that exact time four years earlier that set the two on the same path.
“I don’t know why I remember that,” Foley said. “He’d played with (Sean, who Foley coached) O’Hair (in Rounds 1 and 2 at the 2009 U.S. Open) and they had been working on the exact opposite things. He had a lot of questions that he didn’t have answers for.”
Two weeks later Rose began working with Foley – a fortunate marriage of science and a soulful appreciation of the golf swing.
Rose, you see, is an analytical type who requires the “why” to dovetail with the “how,” just like Foley. In this case, Rose didn’t want to know that he needed to swing the club more from the outside, he wanted to know why that was necessary.
Improvement was dramatic. The next season Rose enjoyed one of the hottest summer stretches in golf, sandwiching victories at the Memorial and AT&T National around a tie for ninth at the Travelers Championship, where he is playing this week.
“At the end of the day, hitting the golf ball is about geometry,” Foley said. “More than any other Tour player I work with Justin has the best understanding of TrackMan. He can hit balls and call out spin rates and call them within 200 rpm. He understands what is happening to the ball so well.”
The next step was the addition of Orlando, Fla., based sports psychologist Gio Valiante, who began working with Rose four weeks before his victory at the 2010 Memorial.
“His golf swing was fine when Foley called me, but there are mental fundamentals,” Valiante said. “Justin was a young man who was playing for trophies. You don’t play this game for trophies, you have to play for the love of the game.”
In practical terms, Valiante’s work with Rose led to his unique mental approach to last week’s grind at Merion. He envisioned playing in a tunnel with no leaderboards or fans and simply walk from each green to the next tee.
“Look at the way Justin reacted to bad shots, he was a model of composure,” Valiante said. “He really got over the mental hurdle this year.”
The final members of the team were putting guru David Orr, who Rose began working with last summer, and physical trainer Justin Buckthorp, who allowed Rose the flexibility to do the things Foley needed him to do.
And, of course, there was Fulcher, who described his time with the U.S. Open champion as “a long and interesting five years” and who has now caddied his way to four titles in the greater Philadelphia area (twice with Rose and twice with Laura Davies at the LPGA Championship).
“(Fulcher’s) role far outweighs mine,” Foley said.
In modern sports lexicon, the entourage has become a symbol of over-coaching and runaway entitlement. But in the case of Rose, it truly took a village to pave the way to Grand Slam glory.
Before heading out for the final round on Sunday, Rose paused on the practice tee to hug Foley who offered one final bit of advice.
“Accept this is an important day,” Foley told the Englishman, “and remember we are sons of great men and go out with the quality your dad instilled in you.”
Fittingly, Ken Rose, Justin’s father who died in 2002, turned out to be the final piece of the Englishman’s major puzzle.