Justin Rose Heads to the Golf Club at Chelsea Piers
June 14, 2017
Rose has always been genuine, giving of his time and, as any writer will appreciate, exceedingly thoughtful in his answers to questions. So when I recently received an invite through another of his sponsors – Glenmorangie -- to spend some one-on-one time with Rose, I jumped at the opportunity.
I met Rose at Chelsea Piers, the bustling multi-level driving range in New York that sits on the Hudson River. The 36-year-old Englishman was cordial as ever, immediately complimenting me on my adidas adiPure shirt that happens to be from another company he’s aligned with. (As a major champ and a well-spoken, engaging family man who’s active on social media, Rose is a popular pitchman in the golf community, making more than $12 million annually from partnerships that also include Zurich Insurance, British Airways, Hublot and Lamkin, according to Forbes.) A global golf ambassador for Glenmorangie, Rose also wore adidas gear, including a pair of comfy-looking adidas Yeezy shoes.
We talked about golf, family and 19th hole favorites. With the sun starting to set over the river, we sampled drinks that included a range of Glenmorangie single malt whiskies, including the 10-year-old Original that emerges from Scotland’s largest stills. Our talk about the whiskey’s clean finish extended to a discussion of the best U.S. Open finishes Rose has witnessed.
Tiger Woods’s 2008 playoff victory at Torrey Pines on a bum knee led the conversation, but Rose has a special affinity for Payne Stewart’s 1999 victory at Pinehurst. Stewart, who beat Phil Mickelson by a single stroke that year, had won Rose’s affection years earlier. At the 1993 British Open at Royal St. George’s, Stewart stopped to throw a ball to the then 12-year-old Rose.
“He was a class act,” Rose said of Stewart, who died in a plane crash about four months after his U.S. Open win in 1999. “I remember that punch in the air after his win. I had the same putt he did at the 72nd hole of the Open in 2014 at Pinehurst and mimicked his finish. That was a cool moment for me.”
For a lot of golf fans -- and I include myself in that group -- Rose exudes that same class.
At some point, I fully expect him to win the PGA Tour’s Payne Stewart Award, an honor given to a player whose values align with the character, charity and sportsmanship Stewart demonstrated. In this era of branding for professional athletes, it’s crucial to connect with media and fans, and particularly so for golfers, who in effect are independent contractors. While that might seem “forced” for some, Rose has always come across as exceedingly authentic. I asked him about that as we sipped our whiskey.
“It might go back to when I was 14 years of age and I felt like I had a lot of media attention at me on the time,” Rose says. “I always felt relatively comfortable in front of the media and the camera. I’ve always been a people person. When there’s a group of people that’s looking to ask questions, I think in some ways, `Well, this is kind of fun.’”
Rose also credits the struggles he faced early in his career. The world first saw his talent as a 17-year-old amateur at the 1998 British Open, where he tied for fourth place. Rose turned pro after that magical finish at Royal Birkdale, but would miss his first 21 cuts at tournaments around the world. He failed to earn any prize money for almost a full year.
“That was a time when I was cognizant that I really need to do things the right way because it’s easy to just run and hide,” says Rose. “I wanted to do the right thing and answer the tough questions.
“For the most part, I’ve always felt like I’ve had a great relationship with the media. There’s always give and take in any relationship. If you give a little bit, you get a little back. Fortunately it’s never been something that I’ve had to question.”
Rose, who is ranked 11th in the world, finished two strokes ahead of Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in winning his lone major title four years ago at Merion. It’s not surprising Rose puts the U.S. Open in a special category.
“It’s incredibly difficult and testing,” he said. “I like that it’s level par. It doesn’t have to be so rigid, but I like that it’s a grind, I like that it’s the ultimate test or that it’s an examination that’s harder than the rest.”
Rose lamented the fact that Mickelson would probably miss the U.S. Open at Erin Hills because the opening round conflicts with the high school graduation of Lefty's oldest daughter. While Erin Hills is an unknown as a first-time major championship site, Rose said the wide open layout favors a long-hitter and -- given the expected windy, firm and fast playing conditions that make it harder to hit greens -- also a player with a strong short game who's good around the greens. It was a pretty fitting description of Mickelson, who's been a runner-up at the U.S. Open six times and still needs a victory at the year's second major to complete the career Grand Slam.
"I'm sure it was a difficult decision, but he’ll tell you it wasn’t," Rose said of Mickelson skipping the U.S. Open. "He’ll be missed."
Being that we were at Chelsea Piers, Rose also encouraged me to hit a few balls and was nice enough to offer some swing tips -- suggesting I let my hands hang a bit looser at setup and position the ball a bit further up in my stance. Now it's on me to make the necessary tweaks. Rose also shared one of his favorite cocktail recipes, one he jokingly said he's educated a few bartenders on during family getaways to his place in the Bahamas. The drink includes ginger beer, soda water, Angostura bitters, a lime wedge and a shot of Glenmorangie Original.
"It’s really refreshing and summery," said Rose. "That serves me well by the pool."
I ended up spending about 40 minutes with Rose, who never seemed put-out to be there and even asked questions about my kids playing golf and my upcoming member-guest tournament. The annual event at my buddy's club is no U.S. Open, but it's a major championship of sorts for weekend warriors like myself. Rose gets that. He seems to instinctively get a lot of things.
I left with not only a better swing and a couple bottles of Glenmorangie whiskey, but an even greater appreciation of a golfer I've always admired. For me at least, the Olympic champ is truly the gold standard for good guys in professional golf.