With his seven top-three finishes, Lee Westwood’s near misses are a thing of golfing folklore. Luke Donald has been ranked No. 1 but never come that close down the stretch in a major. Ian Poulter saves his best for the Ryder Cup, while Paul Casey’s star has fallen since his breakthrough year in 2009.
Finally, after a 17-year wait, England has a major winner in U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.
The English public has long held high hopes for Rose since he chipped in on the final hole to finish fourth at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale as a skinny 17-year-old amateur. His career has taken many twists and turns since, but he realized his vast potential with a one-shot win at Merion on Sunday.
Rose is England’s first U.S. Open champion since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
“He had that audacious chip in at Birkdale when he was 17 and then witnessed the difficult time he had after turning pro and all the struggles that he had, and to fight through that takes a lot of courage and what was shown was exactly that,” Jacklin told BBC Radio 5 Live radio on Monday.
“He’s a good guy and he’s good for the game and he hopefully will open the door for more British players to give us some of the same.”
The modest, mild-mannered Rose is among the most popular players on the circuit and his victory has been well-received, in England and beyond.
“Best player in the world the last few years,” 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said on Twitter. “Major much deserved.”
Rory McIlroy also tweeted his congratulations, saying the victory “couldn’t happen to a better lad.”
“Rose to the Top,” was the headline in the English newspaper The Sun. “Rose’s Sweet Smell of Success,” said The Independent.
Most of the English papers ran photos of Rose on the 18th hole, looking upward and pointing his fingers to the sky in tribute to father Ken, who died of leukemia in 2002.
“Father’s Day was not lost on me,” Rose said. “You don’t have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. And today was about him and being Father’s Day.”
British golf has rarely had it this good the past couple of years. Donald, Westwood and McIlroy took turns at No. 1 in 2012. McIlroy, McDowell and Darren Clarke — all of Northern Ireland — have won majors since 2010.
Britons were the bedrock of Europe’s Ryder Cup successes in 2010 and 2012. Rose made birdie putts on Nos. 17 and 18 on the final day of last year’s match at Medinah to clinch a stunning singles win over Phil Mickelson, one of the catalysts for Europe’s record comeback against the United States.
On that day, Mickelson stood back and applauded Rose for his courageous play on the greens. Nine months later, it was the same player who suffered at the hands of the 32-year-old Englishman, finishing one shot behind for a sixth second place at the Open.
Rose’s technique, which held up so well at Merion as he calmly made par on the unforgiving 18th under intense pressure, has always been a thing of beauty. It helped him capture big amateur tournaments when he was 14 and 15. By the time he’d won the silver medal at Royal Birkdale in 1998 for being the highest-placed amateur, comparisons were already being made with Faldo.
Rose turned professional the very next day but missed 21 cuts in a row. Victories in the Dunhill Championship and British Masters in 2002 confirmed his potential but it wasn’t until last year that he really became a force, winning at Doral for his first victory in a World Golf Championship.
“I think the fact that it hasn’t been easy for him, took him a while to get where he did, has meant that he is a great inspiration for everybody here,” said Chris Gotla, general manager of North Hants Golf club where Rose played as a teenager. “Everyone here knew how good he was going to be.”
Rose, who was born in Johannesburg and moved to England with his family when he was 5, was playing in the final round with Donald, who fell away after a poor start and tied for eighth — seeing yet another chance at a major slip by.
The 32-year-old Rose has made that breakthrough, though.
Plenty more could now follow.