Justin Rose boasts the titles of major champion, Olympic gold medalist and former World Number One on his golfing resume. But for all of his achievements, one of the key moments in his career came when he was just 17 years old, as he created one of the greatest moments in Open Championship history.
As detailed in The Story of 1998, the latest documentary podcast episode from the critically acclaimed show The Open Podcasts, Rose’s performance that year, and his stunning shot on the 18th hole, helped form the path to greatness he would eventually take.
“It was something that I felt like I was going to be remembered for, forever more,” Rose said. “That one shot that I hit there, that’s the one shot that I have had to try to live up to. For a long time that shot became a little bit of a burden to me, because I did have a tough start to my professional career, and you never quite know where things are going to go from there.
“I’m so grateful now, knowing that I’ve had what I feel is a successful career that I’m proud of, I’m so grateful that I feel like I’ve done a good job living up to that moment, and I’m able to look back at it with fond memories, and go ‘wow, that was the start of something great’."
“That one shot that I hit there, that’s the one shot that I have had to try to live up to.” Justin Rose
A precocious, generational talent
Although Rose would gain global attention in 1998 as one of the most exciting talents that golf had ever seen, the Englishman in fact had showcased his precociousness earlier still, nearly qualifying for The 124th Open in 1995 at the tender age of 14.
“I guess in 1995, as a 14-year-old boy, my love affair with The Open Championship started,” Rose said. “I was lucky that my home club North Hants hosted a Regional Qualifier for The Open, I played my Regional Qualifier there and shot a 67 and actually lead the Qualifying!
“So then I headed up to Scotland, and the Final Qualifying venue I went up to was Scotscraig. I just remember it being an incredible experience. It definitely generated some media attention, you know, a 14-year-old trying to qualify for The Open.
“I remember being paired with European Tour player Pedro Linhart. The members at North Hants made a huge fuss of it, and a lot of them drove through the night to watch me play the next day. My brother flew in from South Africa to caddie for me, and it was just an incredibly special occasion.”
Despite not quite making the final cut to play at St Andrews in The 124th Open, Rose had gained invaluable experience mixing with professionals and, by the summer of 1998, he had decided to join the paid ranks himself. However, that was to precede Rose qualifying for The 127th Open at Royal Birkdale at just 17 years of age, making it through at neighbouring Hillside.
“It was very timely for me to be honest,” Rose said. “There’s definitely a slight misconception that I had turned pro based upon my fourth-placed finish at The Open, but that decision actually happened a little bit earlier in the summer. So I think that the fact that I qualified at Hillside was just a great way to end my amateur career, playing in The Open Championship before playing in the Dutch Open the very next week as a professional.”
For Rose, Final Qualifying also provided a bit of foreshadowing, before the main event at Birkdale.
“I was really excited at the time, and qualifying at Hillside was definitely a huge thrill,” he said. “I’m not sure if I led the Qualifying, but I remember chipping in on the 18th hole, believe it or not. Little did I know that a week later I would be doing something very similar!”
Rose excitedly made the trip to Royal Birkdale, and after getting his hands on new equipment and playing practice rounds with Nick Price and Ernie Els, he felt like he had nothing to lose by the time the Championship had begun. Although he compiled a first round of 72, a ‘lacklustre’ score in his own words in good afternoon conditions, the same could certainly not be said of his second round, a performance that thrust the teenager into the media spotlight.
“That was a special day for sure,” Rose said of the Friday. “I think it was one of those classic days, one of those windy days that professionals don’t play in that often. I felt like it was more indicative of conditions we played in amateur golf a lot more frequently, a lot more regularly.
“I knew that anything around par was just amazing, so I was grinding hard, and then I had that amazing finish. I went from one under to four under and shot 66, out of nowhere I suppose! I remember my dad being so excited behind the 18th green and giving me a big hug, and I kind of was a little taken aback by his excitement, because I didn’t appreciate how good a round of golf it actually was. I’ll always remember that moment.”
A stunning second round of 66 led to Rose becoming the subject of national media attention in the Saturday newspapers, and vaulted him all the way up into the final group in round three. And it was the way he dealt with the added furore surrounding his golf that stood him in good stead for years to come.
“I was a bit taken aback by the attention. I was just going with the flow, and taking what came at me and doing it with a smile, and I think was so embarrassed more than anything about the attention I was getting. I think the one thing that really helped me was that I had a realisation that people didn’t really expect me to go and win the Championship.
"They were getting behind the underdog, ‘oh this is cool, what a great story’, but I still had that feeling of nothing to lose. That’s what served me that particular week, the fact that I didn’t buy into the expectation and the pressure. And I have definitely looked back at that mindset in times past, and tried to recreate that in my career, where I have felt the burden of expectation. That’s where great golf comes from, that place.”
“I remember I definitely had some out-of-body experience feels, almost ‘oh my goodness, I can do nothing wrong here’. I just felt, ‘yeah, I’m going to win The Open’!” Justin Rose
Although his Saturday score of 75 was not ideal, after having led The Open through 48 holes of the Championship, Rose was still in a great position throughout Sunday, just a few shots off the lead and with the Silver Medal all but secured.
“On that Saturday I remember I definitely had some out-of-body experience feels, almost ‘oh my goodness I can do nothing wrong here’, based on the support but also the way I was playing and the confidence in my game. The way I was playing and putting, I just felt, ‘yeah, I’m going to win The Open!'
“I readjusted my goals going into Sunday, now it was just bonus time really, but I did set myself a goal of finishing in the top 10 that would really cap off all the special experiences I had that week. Because if you go out and shoot 80 on Sunday, not that it devalues anything, but it’s kind of what everybody expects to happen. The fact that I was able to finish it off and have a top, top finish made it a special week.”
Rose’s Sunday score of 69 was good enough for tied fourth in The 127th Open, just two strokes out of the eventual play-off. That fourth place still stands as the best finish by an amateur golfer in The Open since Frank Stranahan's runner-up placing at Carnoustie in 1953, but what remains in the memory of fans even more so than Rose’s record-breaking position is his final shot of the Championship.
“I remember sizing up the leaderboard," Rose said, "and I knew I couldn’t win but I had achieved my goal, and the calmness set in that it was an amazing week. And then the 18th, I started to butcher the hole a little bit. (The third shot) was only about 40 yards, it was 25 yards left of the green, and I had to go over one of those pot bunkers, and the pin was cut pretty close to it, so it was basically a high lob shot.
“That shot created a lot of pressure for me, and I’m grateful that I feel like I’ve done a good job living up to that moment.” Justin Rose
“To be honest my recollections of that shot on 18 are now embedded in my brain through what I’ve seen back on TV. I think at the time, I was just trying to get in and get out, don’t make a nine down 18, you know finish it off. And then the shot just came out absolutely perfectly, and then the ball lands and it starts to trickle to the pin. What I do remember is, I guess, the embarrassment I felt for finishing that way, I think I was blushing! I was like, 'oh my goodness, what have I just done', walking up there and looking up to the heavens, it was almost a bashful response.
"That was my overriding emotion, and the rest of it was pretty much blackout. It was something that was way beyond anything I could have ever imagined or experienced… even now I can’t put it into words. It was the most outrageous finish. But that one shot sort of encapsulated the performance I suppose and elevated everything that happened prior to that, so it took an incredible week and kind of put a bow on it.”
Despite famously missing his first 21 cuts as a professional, Rose would go on to achieve a plethora of titles and successes, spending 13 weeks as the world’s top ranked golfer and winning a U.S. Open trophy and an Olympic gold medal. Though his final shot as an amateur initially threatened to overshadow his ability as a golfer, Rose can now look back at the shot for what it was: one of the greatest moments in the history of The Open Championship.
“To be honest, it was something that I felt like I was going to be remembered for forever more," Rose said. "That one shot that I hit there, that’s the one shot that I have had to try to live up to, and get past. And in my way, I struggled to make sure it’s not the thing I was remembered for. You know, for a long time that shot became a little bit of a burden to me, because I did have a tough start to my professional career, and you never quite know where things are going to go from there. I just didn’t want that to be my defining moment, as great as it was.
"And I’m so grateful now, to have this opportunity to talk and look back at it, knowing that I’ve had what I feel is a successful career that I’m proud of, and that I’ve been able to move forward and move past that moment, and be able to look back at it with fond memories. I can go ‘wow, that was the start of something great’, versus at times I thought, 'this is it, this is what I’ll be remembered for'. So that shot created a lot of pressure for me, and like I said I’m grateful that I feel like I’ve done a good job living up to that moment.”