Playing in tough, wet conditions at Cog Hill, Justin Rose shot an even-par 71 to close a wire-to-wire victory at the BMW Championship. Rose, who admitted to feeling frustrated at times this season, started the week outside the top 30 in FedExCup points and needed a solid finish to earn a trip to the fourth and final leg of the playoffs, the Tour Championship, along with other perks, such as automatic spots in the Masters, U.S. Open and the British Open.
And he certainly came through in the clutch. Now, he’s No. 3 in points, putting him in excellent position to win the $10 million payout.
Rose hadn’t had a terrible season — four top-tens, not counting today’s victory — but he was probably hitting the ball better than he was scoring. Finally, it all came together at the BMW.
So, what changed? Did he do something different?
Rose spent the bye week on his annual buddies’ trip called the J.R. Challenge (his namesake) in Long Island. They played Sebonack, National, Garden City Men’s Club and Friars Head (Rose said his favorite was Friars. Unfortunately, he played National on a wet, soft day.) Apparently the relaxing, fun atmosphere was excellent preparation. He even joked it got him back in contention after he finished tied for second in the boys’ trip.
“I think sometimes when you get away from the game mentally but you’re still playing the game, so I was still kind of keeping my eye in, so to speak, but I think mentally last week I got away from the grind of everything, the grind of the year, the grind of the FedExCup, and just hung out with some buddies, and maybe that recharged my batteries,” said Rose in his post-round presser. “Even though I played golf four times, I think I came into this week a lot more refreshed.”
I was trying to ask him the question without selling out his caddie Mark Fulcher, who told me: “He had four different caddies, played four different courses and everything was simple. What he decided was we’re going to play to a number, we’re going to keep it simple, so instead of uphill, downhill, or this and that, I gave him a number — how far it’s going to play and that’s how far we’ll hit it.”
Justin called me out when I asked my follow-up question and said, smiling, “You’ve been speaking to Fooch, haven’t you.
“Yeah, I did simplify things this week. I changed a couple things up with Fooch, also my caddie’s nickname, but in the past it’s throwing number after number after number at me, and this week we boiled it down to the number that the shot was actually playing and then committed to the shot from there,” explained Rose. “Basically, I just took out a lot of the periphery and just boiled it down to he was just ending up giving me one number. And it really worked.
“I didn’t carry a yardage book this week, which is something I normally do. So yeah, some big changes there from that perspective, and that’s why I give him a lot of credit this week. I actually said to him, Fooch, I want you to caddie for me this week. In the past I’ve been taking the responsibility because I thought that’s what was best for me but it was getting hard work out there, so eventually I just said to him, listen, caddie for me.”
Rose narrowed it down to two things that deserve the most credit: “I had a great lesson with (Sean) Foley on the range on Tuesday and got the swing to a spot where the ball was going where I was looking, and then the changes I made with Fooch simplified the mental side of the game and enabled me just to not get in my own way. That’s the best way of putting it.”
Rose, who won two PGA Tour events last season, the Memorial and the AT&T, didn’t have the best record going into the final round with the 54-hole lead — he was 1 for 7 and now, of course, he’s 2 for 8.
His killer instinct and prowess to close tournaments have been questioned in the past, but he showed guts on the back nine at Cog Hill Sunday, despite some shaky moments off the tee. He sealed the deal with a chip-in for birdie on No. 17, giving him a two-shot cushion going into the difficult final hole.
“I felt absolutely 100 percent in control today, never felt uncomfortable, didn’t feel nervous on the first tee, felt like I had my game,” said Rose. “All week actually, and I think that’s a calmness more than anything.
“I practice closing. Every Sunday when I’m not in contention, I practice it. I practice doing the right things, practice trying to have the same mindset. I think it’s very difficult just to expect to have it when you’re in contention and when you’re in the lead.
“I think you need to practice a strategy and a form of doing it even when you’re lying 30th. And this week I’ve improved my position with my final round most of the time. I think I’m 15th in scoring average on Sunday, so I’ve definitely made some conscious changes and taken steps to improve on that aspect of my game.”
It certainly paid off today.
Congrats to Rose and Fooch, two of the nicest and classiest guys out here. Also, best wishes to Justin and his wife Kate, who are expecting their second child (it’s a girl!) on Christmas Day.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)