Justin Rose has set his sights on extending his 25-year career on tour for as long as his game – and his motivation – remains intact; although that shows little sign of waning judging by his performance in the recent Ryder Cup, where he assumed the role of father figure and chief chest beater during Europe’s stunning victory in Rome.
After playing your part in the Europe’s Ryder Cup win in Rome you were quick to support the campaign for Luke Donald to reprise his captaincy in 2025. While there was clearly plenty of support for that to happen – which was backed up by his subsequent acceptance of the role – was it also a subtle way of saying that you were ruling yourself out of that job, should anyone be asking?
We all recognise how difficult it is to win an away leg of the Ryder Cup these days, so to win a home and an away leg is now the ultimate prize in terms of captaincy. That certainly played a part in Luke’s decision to continue in the job, and I wholeheartedly endorse the European Ryder Cup committee’s decision to appoint him. In truth, it [the captaincy] probably came a bit early for Luke in Rome in terms of where he was at in his career as a player, but because of the circumstances [with Henrik Stenson being stripped of the captaincy after joining LIV] he probably thought he should do it. But now that he has got that experience undeer his belt it would be a shame to waste it.
I know that there is rarely a ‘perfect’ time to be captain, but I think there is a time when it’s in your sweet spot. You have to be current, you can’t have stopped playing, because that link has to be there. So it’s a fine line. But, in my view, Luke is probably coming to that sweet spot right now and he’s the right man for the job at Bethpage. It’s New York and it’s going to be loud. We always thought that Poults would be the right man for that job, and would be able to front down the crowd, but Luke’s quiet demeanour could actually be the answer, diffusing the situation rather than antagonising it.
As I said, Luke did a brilliant job in Rome, and I’ve always thought it a little crazy that we have these guys who do a great job as captain, gather all this experience and knowledge, and then someone else comes along and has to learn how to do it all over again. No other sport that I can think of does that. Sure, we have this nice tradition where the learnings are passed on, but each captain is different and wants to put his own mark on it. Luke certainly had his. He didn’t put a foot wrong.
So you’re not ruling yourself out of taking on the captaincy in the future?
Definitely not. It would be a huge honour to be asked to be captain at some point, but I feel like I’ve still got some good things ahead of me as a player. It’s not so much that I feel I need to play at Bethpage, it’s more than I need to believe I can play. That’s important. If you look at Luke, he sacrificed a lot this year and last year, because his game was coming back, but he had to concentrate on the Ryder Cup. I don’t yet feel ready to take on a job that could be detrimental to my ambitions of not only appearing again as a player, but also of winning a second major.
Although you weren’t playing at Whistling Straits in 2021 when Europe suffered that heavy loss, how surprised were you that the team, which included many of the same players, was able to turn it around in Rome?
I must admit, when I saw what they did to us at Whistling Straits, I did sit there on my sofa and think ‘Oh, gawd, Europe’s really in for it for the next decade’. The US looked so strong, so young, and I just couldn’t see it from our point of view. But then it flipped around. We went there with three of the four best players in the world [Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland], had this great engine room with Matt [Fitzpatrick], Tommy [Fleetwood], Tyrrell [Hatton] and Shane [Lowry], and these unknown quantities in Ludvig [Aberg], Bob [MacIntyre] and Nicolai [Hojgaard] who shocked the Americans like the old days. Then I sort of played the veteran’s role. It was a great mix and I see it becoming stronger with the new guys coming through.
You say ‘veteran’s role’. Is that really how you saw yourself? As the steady hand on the tiller? The daddy of the team?
Listen, first and foremost, I wanted to contribute on the golf course. I think that’s my job, and that was my ultimate focus coming into the week. But I also I felt that I could contribute in other ways in terms of looking out for the guys and just recognising that if any of my past experiences might help situations, then I was more than happy to pass that on. I didn’t go there thinking I could press my views on anybody unless asked or unless I feel like it was natural, but my goal was to be the best teammate I could be and offer as much as I could on and off the golf course.
You struck up a strong partnership with Bob MacIntrye and seemed to coax the best out of him and yourself. How did that dynamic work as well as it did?
I really enjoyed playing with Bob. I knew he was nervous heading into the matches, and that’s not neccessarily a bad thing, but it was just a question of channelling that energy in a positive way. He’s a great golfer and all I did was to help him, in whatever way i could, to show that. He did a fantastic job and I couldn’t have wished for a better partner.
You seemed to take on Ian Poulter’s mantle on a few occasions with all the chest thumping and fist pumping. Where did that all come from?
You know, on that first afternoon, when I holed that putt on the 18th [for a half against Max Homa and Wyndham Clark] was a bit of a dream. I’d seen Poults do things like that, on the final green, on the final match of the day to give Europe all the momentum, but I’d never had the opportunity. I had never had one of those pivotal moments. That’s why my celebration probably seemed a little Poulteresque. That lives with you forever.
Given the different languages and cultures that exist among the European team, what is it that unites such a disparate group to get behind a flag that has little meaning to anyone?
Strangely, I think it is our differences that makes us stronger. A good pairing on the European team doesn’t mean playing with your best mate. It means representing something bigger than yourself, and I feel like that’s, for me, what being a European Ryder Cup player is all about. We are united by the generations of players that have come before us.
What is it about the Ryder Cup that brings out the best in you?
I don’t know what it is. It probably goes back to representing England when I was an amateur, and back to playing county golf. It goes back to all those experiences. As soon as I wear something on my chest that is something bigger than just myself, I feel like it forces me to be the best version of myself. When you’re playing 30 tournaments a year as an indivudal, it’s sometimes difficult to bring your best every single week. At the end of the day, the only person you’re going to let down is yourself. I’m not saying that that’s the mindset at all, but it’s much easier to have weeks where things just don’t quite come into focus. Whereas the magnitude of the situation when you’re playing for a team, your country or a continent, you are representing something much, much bigger than yourself. I feel like encourages me to be the best version of myself, which hopefully then makes me play some of my best golf.
How important was your victory at the PGA Tour’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am in May in terms of rebooting your career, which before then, had seen you go four years without a win?
It was an absolute game changer. It got me back into the world’s top 50 and got me into the Ryder Cup reckoning – or least got me on Luke’s radar to considered as a potential captain’s pick – and it got me into those signature events on the PGA Tour next year. That was vital, otherwise I would have been in a sort of no man’s land. So I am in all the big events, and along with my new coach, Martin Blackburn, with whom I’m only about 50 per cent on in our journey, and with Fooch [Mark Fulcher] back on the bag, I do believe I got a few big weeks left in me. Yes, I’ve made some mistakes there for a few years with equipment and coaching decisions, but I’m back on track and the hunger is still there. I feel like I’ve got that Indian summer of my career to look forward to.
Your game seems to thrive on courses where course management is needed more than sheer power. Do you see yourself playing a schedule that takes in more of these types of venues to improve your chances of competing?
I love strategy, and I think that tougher golf courses reward more strategy. Obviously, if you couple good strategy with good ball-striking, normally it’s a pretty good combination. I just think the patience that’s required to play certain tests, that it’s not flat-out driver on every hole, I kind of value that, putting the ball in play, angles, if you do miss, how do you not compound an error, those sorts of things. Listen, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career and will continue to make mistakes, but I think the more you can limit the amount of them mentally, that’s going to help on these types of tests.
Having turned down LIV, what was your reaction when you first heard that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had entered some sort of an agreement with the Saudi PIF, the money behind LIV?
Yeah, I mean, the news was definitely left field. I was wondering if it was some sort of prank for the first five minutes or so. To be honest, I’m very happy with the decisions that I’ve made. I feel like my game is trending in the right direction and I feel like it’s been important for me to challenge myself against the best players in order to try to rekindle the form that I know I’m capable of. And I could only do that by competing on the PGA Tour. I also didn’t want to miss out on the chance to play in major championships, so I’m happy with where things are right now for me personally.
Looking at the bigger picture, as things stand we are no nearer to a clear understanding of how the landscape of professional golf is going to look next year or into the future. The initial headline seemed to be like it’s just going to be this very smooth transition and ‘come on back boys, it’s all done now’, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’d probably be more concerned if I was on LIV right now than on the PGA Tour.
Would you be happy to welcome back LIV players to the PGA Tour if that is how it turns out?
Obviously we’re looking for a harmonious world of golf. This is what I think this is designed to achieve. That’s not going to happen overnight. Clearly there are a number of players currently playing on LIV that people want to see competing on the wider stage. They’ve got a lot to offer the game. Just because they made a certain decision it doesn’t mean they’re outcasts forever. Having said that, for them just to be welcomed back overnight is not going to sit well with anybody on the PGA Tour.