Reason: The day a kid became a man at Merion

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2013
Merion Golf Club
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JOB DONE: Justin Rose looks to the heavens after finishing his tournament on the 18th hole at Merion.

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OPINION: Rudyard Kipling may not have been about to throw his mashie niblick in a pond when he paired triumph and disaster but golf does seem to grapple with the highs and lows of fate like no other sport.

The US Open at Merion had it all, from the glorious triumph of Justin Rose to the humbling of some of the finest golfers to have played the game.

When Rose looked to the heavens after holing his final putt, my mind turned to a small upstairs room in St Andrews three years ago. Rose had just arrived at the Open after winning in the United States for the first time - twice! - and we began to talk of his father, who had died of the same pernicious disease that killed my young brother.

Rose's pale eyes became filmy. He said: "The last two Sundays walking down the fairways of both tournaments I just had a feeling he was with me. I had a feeling he was walking with me. You try to live the lessons they [fathers] taught you.

"Dad would be the first to say: ‘I don't want you out there thinking about me, I want you out there winning the damn tournament. Don't be distracted by reminiscing. Get the job done because that's what I taught you to do.' "

But when Rose had done the job on Monday in Pennsylvania, he could look up and reminisce. He could think back on the 21 cuts he missed when he turned pro after finishing fourth as an amateur at the 1998 Open. The acerbic old pros, jealous that this 17-year-old was being asked to play in all these tournaments despite repeated failure, christened him Just-in Vite. Welcome to life on tour.

Rose could think back on his opening shot in the 1997 Walker Cup that careened out of bounds. He shot an 81 after leading the Masters after two rounds in 2004. Even on Monday, in his greatest hour, there were a couple of three-putts and a semi-shank out of a bunker. It hasn't come easy.

After his US Open victory Rose said: "This is a journey. This is like, this is just such a satisfying feeling. And it goes back 20, 30 years for me of dreaming, of hoping, of practising, of callused hands. In a sense this could be the most satisfying, because there's no one helping you along the way. You've had to do it the hard way, you've had to do it yourself."

In golf a top player loses far more often than he wins. When Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer lose it is faintly shocking. When the All Blacks lose, a nation groans. But golfers lose all the time. At Merion, Tiger finished 13-over-par, his worst score in a major as a pro. Even Tiger loses more often than he wins.

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The golfer has to come to terms with disaster or he would go mad. Steve Stricker is one of the game's great gentlemen and golf poked him in the eye. Stricker was in contention to win his first major when he carved his drive out of bounds on the second hole. The blond American's body was still reverberating with shock when he shanked one off the pipe over the same boundary.

"How did you take eight in a US Open, Mr Stricker?"

"I made a good pitch and putt."

Jason Dufner, the man drawn by a cartoonist, was in contention when he hooked his ball out of bounds on the 15th and then slapped one into a bunker.

"How did you take seven, Jason?"

"I got it up and down from the sand."

The old joke swirled round Merion. As one philosophical caddie observed, the first six holes are drama, the second six are comedy and the final six are tragedy.

Rory McIlroy bent a club in frustration. Luke Donald felled an observer with a tee shot and then had to go barefoot into a creek. Phil Mickelson holed a wedge for an eagle and was cheered all round the course. One group of fans had baked him a birthday cake. But fate couldn't give a damn. Putt after putt slipped by and he finished second in his national championship for a record sixth time.

Triumph and disaster.

A few years ago I said to Justin that having a kid would help him win. A European survey had shown that men became more successful after becoming fathers, particularly of boys.

"I hope so," Rose said.

It turned out that way.

Justin's coach, Sean Foley, a man who breakfasts on philosophy, sent a text before the final round telling Rose to be the man your father taught you to be and the father that your kids can look up to.

Rose also thanked Adam Scott, who sent him a wonderfully generous text after winning the Masters, saying: "This is our time." Rose said: "The other thing that I really learned from Adam was that I wasn't scared of the heartache of losing one. The way he handled himself at Lytham, I think, is something that he needs as much praise on as winning the Masters. I think it's amazing the way he has just been himself after that loss and after that win."

You could say the same about Justin Rose. Triumph and disaster. It has been a long walk but the skinny kid finally grew into a man on Father's Day.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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