Why I snubbed LIV’s payday – and turned into Justin Rose 3.0
As persuasive as the LIV billions happened to be, there was a more powerful voice in Justin Rose’s ear, pleading with him to turn down the eight-figure signing-on fee. It came from his younger self and now, in the days after his first victory in four years, the decision not to emulate his contemporaries and so reject the Saudis seems more than worth it.
“Sure it looked great on paper,” Rose said. “But what sealed it for me was honouring that kid who was on that putting green at North Hants golf club trying to knock in putts to win the Masters and the Open and the US Open and [US] PGA. I felt I couldn’t let him down and stop chasing his dreams.”
Rose acknowledges he must have appeared ripe for the plucking, just as his friends and Ryder Cup team-mates were – Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer. Rose, the world No 1 as recently as February, 2019, was on a spiral, having made unsuccessful – some claimed unwise – switches to his coaching staff and his equipment.
When the Sheikhs came calling in early 2021, Rose had passed the 40th milestone and was on an inexorable drop out of the world’s top 50, although seventh in the Masters that year had reminded of his enduring quality.
Rose is a blue-riband name, a former major champion, the man who had won gold in golf’s return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence. This Ryder Cup hero with undoubted substance and huge popularity was almost the breakaway circuit’s identikit. There had even been a question about his competitive hunger after a near quarter of a century on the grind and for LIV, that has plainly proved to be quite the sales pitch.
Rose on golf’s great schism
“At the backend of 2018 and the start of 2019 I think I lost my plan and my real motivation,” Rose, now 42, said. “I’m disappointed that I fell into that trap at the top, when you’re world No 1 and you say to yourself ‘well, what’s next?’ No, I didn’t do a brilliant job of pivoting, of resetting my goals. Yet there’s nothing like a spell of bad golf to make you realise it’s not fun. If this makes sense, it made me understand that the motivation is not really the winning, it’s how bad the not-winning feels.”
The LIV offer – rumoured to be around £50 million – also helped Rose to take stock. “I suppose it did, because it made me sit down and analyse what I wanted from my career and what soon became clear was that the majors are the things that continue to drive me. And what made it, if you like, non-negotiable was that I didn’t have four or five years left of exemptions for the majors and without the access to world ranking points, it would have looked grim.
“I probably wouldn’t have got into this year’s Masters, maybe not the PGA, might have had to go through qualifying for the Open… so it could have just been the US Open and this will be the last of my champion’s exemptions [for winning in 2013] in that. I just didn't want to see it conclude like that.”
Home sweet home! pic.twitter.com/7hRRnZrkWq
— Justin ROSE (@JustinRose99) February 7, 2023
In the ensuing furore that split the sport, Rose kept his head down and went to work. Last November he enlisted a new coach in Mark Blackburn, the Alabama-based Englishman who has enjoyed recent success with Max Homa, and although the family move from the Bahamas back to London meant he was only able to play 27 holes in the December ice-snap, he was able to put in the hours on the simulator that have paid hasty dividends.
“I was trending with ok performances in my first two events [26th at the American Express and 18th at the Farmers Insurance], but as great as progress is there is nothing like a result,” he said. “I feel like I could be a version 2.0, or even 3.0 and prove to myself that I can do it again.
“Ok, a second major would not like going from zero to one, because that changes everything, but a decade later there would be immense self satisfaction. It would alter the way my career was perceived and, just as pertinently, how I perceive it.
“So I don’t decry any of those guys for joining LIV – and they’re still my mates – but it just wasn’t right for me and it was quite a simple decision in the end. I set out at the start of this year to get into all the big events and that’s why Pebble Beach [at the AT&T Pro-Am] was such a big win.”
Rome dust-up on the horizon
Rose was clinical in the Monday finish, building on a two-shot overnight advantage at the iconic Californian layout and pulling away with three birdies in the first five holes of the nine that were remaining.
His 11th PGA Tour title – a record for an Englishman – ensured he will not miss his first Augusta feature piece in 16 years and having jumped 36 places to world No 35, his schedule is replete with the opportunities to fulfil ambitions that also feature a certain biennial dust-up in September.
“It’s another case of not waiting a journey to finish in that manner,” Rose said, referencing being overlooked for a wildcard by Padraig Harrington 18 months ago. “That did sting, but again, made me refocus. What that experience has told me is that I have to play my way on to the team. Don’t take anything for granted. But with Luke [Donald, the Europe captain] having six wildcards at his disposal and so qualifying automatically is harder than ever before.
“You have to be where the big points are, another reason why this victory was so important. Ideally, I don’t want to be the 11th or 12th man and that’s what I would have been with a captain’s pick last time. I mean, of course I would honour that role. But that’s not what I’m looking for. I want to qualify under my own steam and be a player who’s going to contribute points.”
Rose has told Donald as much, although his countrymen will surely see the merit in the stalwart regardless. When Rose was tapping in to seal the £1.35 million first prize, Westwood and Poulter were embroiled in a legal hearing taking place in London that will effectively decide if the DP World Tour can issue bans to the rebels. It must be doubted that Donald will have his former comrades anywhere near the Rome teamroom anyway.
Apart from Rory McIlroy, Rose is the only player with five or more Cup appearances in the top 12 in the standings and possesses exactly the type of personality to help guide the youngsters.
“It’s going to be a transitional team, right enough, but the nous of having been in that environment before and of maybe being the glue to some pairings will be vital in the balance,” Rose said. “Luke was the first person to message me after I won. I’d love to be there in Italy playing in his side and that all feels a lot more possible than it did last week.”