Justin Rose is one of the most easy going guys you’d ever meet. The Englishman and world No. 14 golfer also loves his sport, and a moment after I mention England’s run in the 2018 World Cup, the two of us have our phones out. We’ve both got videos to show each other our in-the-pub celebrations when Harry Kane and other England players scored goals.
“There’s always that heartache of being an England fan,” said Rose, who was born in South Africa to English parents and later grew up outside London. Rose added that he was generally pleased with England’s 4th place finish in the 2018 World Cup. “Today, I think there’s less hype around the England team, and when it comes to developing the program, that’s a good thing.”
Rose is also a lifelong Chelsea FC fan, and said he keeps tabs on the English Premiership club and Team England too.
Last week, Rose and I spoke the day before competition started at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Rose, like many top-ranked PGA golfers, had a less than remarkable outing at API, but said that the tournament and its course, Bay Hill, make for one of the best annual events in the PGA Tour. Rose and I also spoke about what inspires him as a golfer and he talked about the current field of PGA Tour competitors.
Andy Frye: Bay Hill is a special place to play because it was Arnold Palmer’s club and home course. But what is it like for you, as a PGA Tour pro?
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Justin Rose: It’s definitely one of those courses that challenges you to play championship golf. There’s a lot of rough from fairway to green, and the winds can be tough. It looks magical on TV, and they obviously play off the Augusta vibe a little bit with the white sand in the bunkers, flowers everywhere and beautiful landscaping. But, they’ve not oversewed the greens, which is a big change in the last few years. The greens look browner and because of that they play firmer. You’ve got the beauty there, but firmer, more difficult, championship-style surfaces.
We often say “brown is the new green,” and when the greens are less soft it’s tougher for us. You have to drive the ball perfectly and the precision of your iron play has to be spot on. There are a lot of blowup holes here, and it’s a high risk-high reward type of play.
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Arnold Palmer, in my mind, played a very swashbuckling style of golf, and the course suits his style.
AF: Where else do you most like to play?
Rose: Listen, Augusta is one of my favorites, and it’s one of those places that when I get there, I just take a deep breath and say “it feels good to be here.” For nostalgia, I like to play Merion—I was fortunate enough to win the U.S. Open there. And I think the northeast is littered with great golf courses. I love to play Pine Valley, and Shinnecock and National, which are two great ones that border one another.
And the area I grew up in, near south London, is one of the most underrated places in the world to play golf. I like Sunningdale, Walton Heath, there’s a hidden gem called Swinley Forest. Those types of courses I call mini-Pine Valleys. They don’t have the same scale, but have the same feeling and same topography.
AF: Who do you like to play against among your peers? And who’s not so fun to compete against?
Rose: I feel like in the last few years I’ve played my best golf with Tiger actually. There’s a lot of fuss that comes with playing with Tiger, big crowds, noise and such. You either let it distract you, or you tunnel up and let it energize you. He’s a great playing competitor. He recognizes good golf and he’s very complimentary when good golf is played, so he’s cool to be around.
I love watching Rory (McIlroy) play golf. As much I love playing with him, you’re like, “damn, why does he make it look so simple.”
AF: So, is it Rory’s calm demeanor? Like every other golfer, is he tearing himself up inside on a bad day?
Rose: Each PGA player is like a duck. We always look serene on top, but there’s a lot of paddling going on below. But Rory exudes natural talent, and has an ability to let anything disappointing, like a bad shot, roll off his shoulders and move forward more easily than most of us. He’s a gifted golfer and he plays free.
Some of today’s field, like Rory, DJ (Dustin Johnson) and others let the game’s stress roll off and are underrated for that mentality as a part of their game. I’m still trying to learn from them that kind of calm.
AF: Early on what golfers inspired you most?
Rose: Actually, I love watching good golf for obvious reasons, but I don’t take inspiration from other golfers as much. Tennis is one area. I love to watch Roger Federer play tennis, and if I could trend toward that—clearly I’m not going to win 20 majors the way Federer has won 20 Grand Slams, but if I could, I’d trend toward the end of my career as someone who plays freer and freer. Thing is, he had to evolve and learn to become that way over his career.
AF: What’s your take on the England national team since Gareth Southgate took over as manager?
Rose: It’s not so much as it was 20 years ago with big name players like David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, when the team had to hide from the media. (Southgate) is a good manager, and we’ve got a lot of great young players that are committed and play well together.
Harry Kane (England’s captain) has become a friend of mine through the years—and loves his golf. That’s one of the things, who you get to meet and hang out with through golf. To play with guys like Harry, who loves to play golf and for whom it’s an outlet with relatively low risk for injury, it’s cool. He definitely doesn’t fit the stereotype (of a footballer) and he’s a great guy and great leader for England.
“Each PGA player is like a duck. We always look serene on top, but there’s a lot of paddling going on below.”
AF: As a Chelsea fan, what do you think about Frank Lampard as manager? Where’s Chelsea going the next few seasons?
Rose: As a fan, I’d rather us be—with the youngsters—in a transition period. If we could place top four and make the Champions League, I think it’s an incredible season. But I’d rather even be mid-table, watching the young players develop and the club rebuild, rather than have some big name Italian manager come in and struggle. The young lads like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mound, Billy Gilmour—lads from the Chelsea academy coming on to play—that’s how it should be. To have Frank Lampard there, you know he loves the club more than anything, and is doing everything for the right reasons.
I have a home in Chelsea (London) too, and so it’s something I connect with my son a lot on. My son’s not a golfer and he’s 11 years old. He loves football, and I’ve gotten more into football again as a result of it.
AF: So, as diehard Chelsea fans, do you and your son hate Man United?
Rose: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say he hates Man United, but there’s always that rivalry. When they were really good, United were much easier to hate. But he “bleeds blue” as we say, and football is something that we really connect on.