Why I snubbed LIV’s payday — and turned into Justin Rose 3.0
As compelling as the LIV billions were, there was a more powerful voice in Justin Rose’s ear, pleading with him to dismiss the eight-figure filing fee. It came from his younger self and now, in the days after his first win in four years, the decision not to emulate his contemporaries and reject the Saudis seems more than worth it.
“Of course it looked great on paper,” Rose said. “But what sealed it for me was honoring the kid who was on the putting green at North Hants Golf Club trying to hit putts to win the Masters and the Open and the US Open [US] PGA. I felt like I couldn’t let him down and stop chasing his dreams.”
Rose admits he must have turned up ready to pick, as did his friends and Ryder Cup team-mates – Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer. Rose, world No. 1 as recently as February 2019, found himself in a spiral after making unsuccessful – what some have called unwise – switches to his coaching staff and equipment.
When the Sheikhs called in early 2021, Rose had passed the 40th milestone and was on an inexorable descent from the world top 50, although seventh place in the Masters that year had served as a reminder of his enduring quality.
Rose is a blue name, a former major champion, the man who won gold in golf on his return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence. This Ryder Cup hero of undeniable substance and immense popularity was almost the hallmark of the Breakaway circuit. There was even a question about his thirst for competition after almost a quarter of a century in the grind and for LIV, which clearly proved to be quite a selling point.
Rose on the great schism in golf
“At the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019, I think I lost my plan and my true motivation,” said Rose, now 42. “I’m disappointed that I fell into this trap at the top when you is the world number 1 and is like, ‘Well, what’s next?’ No, I haven’t done a brilliant job of realigning my goals. But there’s nothing like a period of bad golf to make you realize it’s no fun. If that makes sense, it made me understand that the motivation isn’t really winning, it’s just how bad not winning feels.”
The LIV offer – reportedly around £50million – also helped Rose take stock. “I suppose because it made me sit down and analyze 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 non-negotiable, if you will, is that I didn’t have four or five years of major dispensations left, and without access to world ranking points things would have looked grim.
“I probably wouldn’t have gotten into this year’s Masters, maybe not the PGA, maybe would have had to qualify for the Open… so it could have just been the US Open and this will be my champion’s last exception [for winning in 2013] in this. I just didn’t want it to end like this.”
In the ensuing excitement that split the sport, Rose kept her head down and got to work. Last November he hired a new coach in Mark Blackburn, the Alabama-based Englishman who recently found success with Max Homa, and although the family’s move from the Bahamas back to London meant he only played 27 holes in December could – Snap, he was able to put in the hours on the simulator that quickly paid off.
“I was trending with good performances in my first two events [26th at the American Express and 18th at the Farmers Insurance], but no matter how great the progress, nothing beats a result,” he said. “I feel like I could be version 2.0 or even 3.0 and prove to myself that I can do it all over again.
“Ok, a second major wouldn’t like to go from zero to one because that changes everything, but a decade later there would be immense complacency. It would change the way my career is perceived and just as relevant to how I perceive it.
“So I don’t judge any of these guys for joining LIV – and they’re still my buddies – but it just wasn’t the right thing for me and it was a pretty easy decision in the end. I headed out earlier this year to be at all the big events and that’s why Pebble Beach [at the AT&T Pro-Am] was such a big win.”
Rome is gathering dust on the horizon
Rose was clinical in Monday’s finish, building a two-shot lead overnight on the legendary California layout and leading with three birdies in the first five of the remaining nine holes.
His 11th PGA Tour title – a record for an Englishman – ensured he won’t miss his first Augusta feature piece in 16 years, and after jumping 36 spots to world No. 35 his schedule is up full of opportunities to fulfill ambitions that also include some biennial dusting in September.
“It’s another case of not waiting for a journey to end in that way,” Rose said, referring to being overlooked for a wildcard by Padraig Harrington 18 months ago. “It hurt me, but again it made me refocus. This experience told me that I have to play my way into the team. Don’t take anything for granted. But with Luke [Donald, the Europe captain] Having six wildcards available and thus automatically qualifying is harder than ever.
“You have to be where the big points are, another reason why that win was so important. Ideally, I don’t want to be the 11th or 12th man, and that would have been me last time with a captain’s pick. I mean, of course I would honor that role. But that’s not what I’m looking for. I want to qualify on my own and be a player who contributes points.”
Rose has already told Donald that, although his countrymen will surely see the merits of the steadfast nonetheless. When Rose tapped to seal the £1.35million first prize, Westwood and Poulter were embroiled in a legal hearing being held in London that will effectively decide whether the DP World Tour can issue bans on the rebels . It must be doubted that Donald will have his former comrades around the Rom team room anyway.
Aside from Rory McIlroy, Rose is the only player with five or more Cup appearances in the top 12 overall and has just the kind of personality to lead the youngsters.
“It’s going to be a transition team, right, but the nous of having been in that environment before and maybe being the glue for some pairings is going to be key to the balance,” Rose said. “Luke was the first person to message me after I won. I would love to play with him in Italy and that feels a lot more likely than last week.”