Professional golfers are only in the habit of striding up to congratulate their rivals on the range if they have recently won or enjoyed a monumental moment in their lives, such as a birth or a marriage. For Justin Rose, the backslaps of the last month have been delivered for a different, if not unprecedented, reason.
“I’ve had quite a few of the lads come up to me to shake my hand and say, ‘mate, it’s great what you’re doing, supporting the ladies’,” Rose said. “And these are lads on the PGA Tour, by the way, and this is all happening way back home in England… It’s fair to say, they’ve noticed.”
Will Rose’s peers now seek to emulate the reigning Olympic champion and try, themselves, to redirect even a few rays of the glaring spotlight on to the female game and so begin to fix one of sport’s great anomalies? Rose is hopeful, but characteristically does not want to administer any lectures.
“It’s up to them to make their own decisions, but the fact they’ve sat up and taken notice of this, shows me there is a level of care,” he said. “The thing is with exposure is that it becomes self-perpetuating. Once people learn the stories, they learn the names, they then become more interested. They then follow. It’s a chicken and egg scenario, and I always wondered what came first. But because of this series I now know – it’s that exposure.”
“This series” is, of course, the Rose Ladies Series, set up in June by Rose and wife Kate after his manager, Paul McDonnell, read a Telegraph Sport article about the efforts of Liz Young to arrange a one-day competition for her fellow Ladies European Tour pros who, due to the pandemic, were facing a summer of inaction. The trio reacted with remarkable haste and so the eight-strong mini-circuit was born.
After seven one-day tournaments, the series reaches into denouement at this week’s three-day Computacenter Grand Final. Like Royal St George’s – the famous Open Championship links – Wentworth’s West Course has never before hosted a female professional tournament, but there the winner will stand on Friday holding the American Golf Order of Merit first prize. Those sponsors confirm the power Rose has brought. Untapped money, suddenly flowing, if not cascading, into pockets of the deserved.
“The numbers they’re playing for is not going to change lives, but it at least captures the attention,” Rose said. “Above all, we wanted to fill the gap and make sure they were ready to play when things got important again. But, saying that, to have Georgia Hall really take taking this seriously and for Charley Hull to decide not to go over to the States and instead compete in the whole series… well, that’s been a huge surprise. It’s fantastic to have the support of the top players, because, as we all know, in the men’s game that’s quite difficult to achieve.
“But it’s not just about them, because Gemma Dryburgh won back-to-back with us and then did go over to the LPGA Tour with our best wishes, urging her to use this ton-load of confidence. And what did she do in the first event on Sunday? She finished in a tie for sixth, her first ever top-10 on that circuit. That’s exactly what we intended – to get their games going. Yet it’s turned into something even bigger and we couldn’t be prouder.”
Inevitably, Rose’s reputation soars. Mel Reid, the Solheim Cup star, declared in May that golf needed a big male name to step up for women’s golf, in the manner that the late Kobe Bryant did for women’s basketball, and to an extent what Sir Andy Murray has for women’s tennis. And in Meg Maclaren’s eyes, Rose is the man. “For someone like Justin to do all this and just give us some respect has meant the world to all of us,” the LET Tour winner said. “Mel asked where was our Kobe and Andy? Well, here he is.”
Rose is humble – “that’s esteemed company even to be muttered in the same sentence as” – and points to Kate as the driving force. “We will miss it when it’s over and who knows what it might lead to,” he said. “I just know that come Wednesday when they’ll be playing on North Hants, the course where I grew up, I’ll be refreshing the leaderboard on my phone every few minutes or so.”
The problem is that Rose is playing himself this week and it may look a bit odd if he is on, say, the third hole at Harding Park in the USPGA Championship checking to discover how, say, Ellie Givens is faring. “It’s ok, I’m sure the season’s first major will focus the mind,” Rose said. His many admirers will be praying it does as his build-up to the San Francisco feature has been in direct contrast to the success of his series.
Rose has missed his last three cuts, making it five times in the last seven events he has failed to make the weekend, his worst run in 10 years. When Rose went into last year’s first major – the Masters – he was fourth in the world. This time he is 16th, his worst ranking in nine years.
Rose has not won in 18 months, his longest barren run in 11 years. During lockdown he split with long-time coach, Sean Foley, and although he burst back with a third at the restart event at Colonial, such promise seems a long time ago. Furthermore, his plan to arrive at Harding Park on Saturday for a lengthy reconnaissance was foiled by Hurricane Isaias, as he bunkered down with his family at their Bahamas home.
“I am going into the [US]PGA under the radar, no doubt about it. My golf’s been poor for the last year, to be honest with you. But I’ve been in a work phase for the last three, four months and you don’t always see the results. But I know they’re coming and feel in a much better place than 12 months ago.
“You know, I was 40 last Thursday and had a wonderful time with Kate and the kids and a few friends. I skipped the WGC in Memphis because I needed that milestone – it has allowed me to press the reset button. My 30s were obviously amazing, having kids and building the bulk of my career, but although outsiders might think, ‘well, he got’s a great life, the major, the gold medal, the Ryder Cup status, all those other garlands, what’s left?’ it’s nothing like that. I’m actually still very, very hungry.
“I get miserable when I’m not playing well and it’s in everyone’s interest I rebound. It doesn’t matter what you have, golf has been my passion from eight years old, it’s part of me. I can come across as laidback, but I’m driven and get very frustrated.
“The way I’m looking at it is there are three majors I haven’t won and I dearly want to. There is one this week, then two more in the rest of this year and then we go again, soon after, in 2021. We have seven majors to play in 11 months. That is a career’s worth of opportunity and we are lucky to be playing for it. And as well as everything else, the series has told me exactly how fortunate we are.”