England’s Justin Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open Championship at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Finishing the week at 1-over par, he beat Phil Mickelson and Jason Day by two stokes. It was his first major championship after having won four other PGA Tour events and six international events while he was playing on the European Tour.
Rose is a man who launched his career as an amateur at the 1998 British Open when he holed an improbable 50-yard pitch shot from the rough on the 18th hole to finish T4. That finish answered any questions about whether he should turn pro or not.
But he disappeared soon after. He was deep in the process of trying to figure out how to play at the professional level by missing 21 cuts in a row. And that’s when he shifted to dealing with his career from a mastery point of view:
When I was missing 21 cuts in a row, I mean I was just trying to not fade away, really. I just didn’t want to be known as a one‑hit wonder, flash in the pan.
I believed in myself inherently, deep down I always knew that I had a talent to play the game. And I simply thought that if I put talent and hard work together, surely it will work out in the end, in the long run.
I think that the other thing that I was able to do during that time period is not beat myself further and further into the ground. If I missed a cut by five one week and I missed it by two the next week, I would kind of tell myself that I was getting better. I wouldn’t kind of beat myself further into the ground.
Also there’s been times in my career where I found it hard to finish tournaments, finish events, close out tournaments, and I think a lot of that goes back to that sort of scar tissue of early in my career.
And I feel like since I started winning in 2010, I had a two‑win season over here on the PGA Tour, that was sort of when I first felt like I was over the start to my pro career and I could kind of move on and believe in myself and be confident and trust myself under pressure.
Today, for example, I just felt very much in control for most of the day. And I had my ups and downs as well. I had a couple 3‑putts on the back nine and [they] just didn’t really influence the next golf shot.
All of these formative experiences leading up to his 2010 wins at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and backing that up with Tiger Wood’s AT&T National, helped him to move away from “normal” and start to view his game from 35,000 feet. For example, he had a unique way a “being” with this very difficult golf course:
I love the fact that it’s kind of got an ebb and a flow to the golf course. What I first love about Merion is how one of the local caddies described it, the first six holes are drama, the second six holes are comedy, and the last six holes are tragedy. Like a good theatrical play.
And that in a sense has been the way I framed up the golf course in my mind. Just trying to get off to a solid start [on the first six holes]. Trying to gain a little bit of ground in the middle [six holes] and then hang on [to the end]. So very rarely do you get a golf course that has distinct feels through stretches of holes like that.
I think that’s why the leaderboard would change. And then, for example, last night how a lot of guys faltered coming down the stretch particularly the last two holes. I felt pretty despondent for a second or two after finishing last night [he bogeyed them both] until I realized that the whole field had had trouble on those last couple holes.
And I shook that off really quickly and kind of figured out that you have to treat the last five holes differently. You sort of have to take par off the scorecard if you like. You just got to play them and maybe 2‑over par is level par for the last five holes.
So then in that context, he had a very narrow framework with which to deal with each and every shot:
Yeah, we had a very sort of narrow framework of thoughts this week. We had three or four thoughts which are all process driven. (1.) What’s the appropriate shot, (2.) execute it, (3.) accept it, (4.) move on. And just keep running that over and over and over and over again.
If you start getting outside that, you really are not bringing anything helpful into the mix. So that takes a lot of discipline to think that way, to act that way, to do that for 72 straight holes. And we managed to do it.
I think my caddie and I both got on the same page this week and we both helped each other out from that point of view. If he felt himself getting off, he had the vision to get back on track. And if he could see me getting off, we could talk about it and it was good that we both had a very clear game plan this week.
This fits very nicely into the theory about the time between shots. The time between shots is a perfect opportunity to “come up out of it” and just be with your caddie, your fellow competitors and especially with nature and the beauty of the golf course. To take a mental break because it’s very difficult to stay in the zone continuously for an entire round.
When I asked Roger Chapman about this at the Charles Schwab Cup, he spoke about coming in and out of the zone as he played. He said it begins for him when he’s about fifty yards away from his ball as he starts to size up the wind and the lay of the land as he approaches the ball. It becomes deeper as he’s next to the ball determining the club and the shot he wants to hit…deeper still as he gets over the ball focusing on his target…deeper still as his personal inner clock comes down to pulling the trigger.
And then it’s watching the ball in the air, how it falls onto the target…where it stops…and then he’s out of the zone and walking to the green, watching the birds and smelling the flowers.
What Chapman didn’t mention that really makes Rose’s model very powerful is acceptance of each shot no matter what happens. It’s not that you have to be happy with a bad shot, you just don’t have to clutter your consciousness with anger, frustration or what have you. It is completely counterproductive and takes you away from truly being present to the next Step 1.
Rose also had some interesting experiences and insights about playing that 18th hole under the most pressure of the round:
There’s definitely some deep breathing going on. You sort of want to bring yourself back into the moment. I worked really hard on my rhythm today. That’s one thing that can get off when you get a bit tight under pressure, you can often get a little bit quick. So I really worked on rhythm with my swing out there under pressure. And that’s as simple as I kept it.
And for the rest of it, I trusted that my pattern in my golf swing, I trusted myself.
And then you just close your eyes [figuratively] and you make a swing and you sort of hope to see it going down the fairway. Because you can’t control it either. You got to make a free swing. And I think if you get tight, you start to steer it a little bit, that doesn’t work either. So it’s just about getting up there and being as committed as you can and letting go.
And finally, Rose talked about the life lessons he learned from his good friend, Adam Scott. They were in the Bahamas together the week before the Masters preparing for the tournament which Scott went on to win, of course.
But the takeaway for Rose wasn’t so much about Scott’s win, it was about his loss at the British Open in 2012:
The other thing that I really learned from Adam was that I wasn’t scared of the heartache of losing [a major]. 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.
That’s something that I think I learned the most from him from was how he dealt with that disappointment. And I was willing to put my game on the line, was willing to put my confidence on the line by just putting myself in that situation and just because I saw how he handled it and how he was capable of coming through it. Rory did the same thing after the Masters. Coming on to win this tournament a few months later.
There’s as much to be learned from failure as there is to be learned from success. Success certainly feels a lot better, but failure really gets your attention while you’re working on it. As Rose says from his new lofty perch as the U.S. Open Champion, he was willing to put his game and his confidence on the line by putting himself in the cauldron…without fear of the outcome.
He was able to see in Scott, and then in himself, that he was big enough.