Ardmore, Pa. • So much for all those hopes of Phil Mickelson celebrating his 43rd birthday and Father’s Day together in style. Turns out someone else had dear old Dad on his mind while heading down the homestretch at Merion on Sunday.
Which means you can cross Justin Rose’s name off the list of “best player to never win a major,” after the lanky Englishman played solid yet unspectacular golf to hold off a host of challengers and win the U.S. Open by two strokes over Mickelson and Australian Jason Day.
“Yeah, I’ve been striving my whole life really to win a major championship,’’ confessed the 31-year-old Rose, the first Englishman to win a major since Nick Faldo in 1996 and the first Brit to win the Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. “I’ve holed a putt to win a major hundreds of thousands of times on the putting green at home.
“I mean this is the pinnacle of the game, winning major championships, and to win the U.S. Open Championship is, I guess in a way, very fitting of how my game has been the last couple of years.’’
As for Mickelson, who had to settle for runner-up status for the sixth time in his illustrious career, none will be harder to take than this. “For me it’s very heartbreaking,’’ said Mickelson, who seemed to have all the momentum when his 75-yard wedge on No. 10 dropped onto the green and rolled right into the hole for an eagle to draw him even with Rose. “Also playing very well here and really loving the golf course, I felt, heading in the way I was playing and the position I was in, this was my best chance.
“So this one’s probably the toughest for me. At 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record.
“Except I just keep feeling heartbreak.”
Rose, on the other hand, felt sheer bliss, as he finally not only fulfilled the expectations back home but found a way to honor his late father at the same time. “Father’s Day was not lost on me today,’’ said Rose, who entered the day two shots off the pace, then proceeded to play steady golf while everyone else came up short. “You don’t really have many opportunities to dedicate a win to someone you love.
“Today was about him. I got a beautiful text that said ‘Go out and be the man your dad taught you to be and the man your kids can be proud of and look up to.’
“That’s how I tried to carry myself. My dad was my inspiration the whole day.’’
Now, naturally they’ll want to know what can he do for an encore. Rose was once considered a bit of a child prodigy, before golfing realities set in. That’s given him time to gain a better perspective.
“I sort of announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it,’’ said Rose, who’s now won five events on the PGA Tour and six more abroad, “And golf can be a cruel game.
“Definitely I have had the ups and down, but I think that ultimately it’s made me stronger and able to handle the situations like today, for example.
“This is an amazing feeling. It’s the golf that makes the silverware and the history books. But it’s about learning about yourself and how you can handle it.
“You wonder if you can handle it. And then when you realize you can, you want to experience that feeling again and do it again and again and again.’’
Doing it once, though, is more than players like fellow Englishmen Luke Donald, Day, and Americans Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Billy Horschel can say. Today Justin Rose is on top of the golf world, Phil Mickelson is wondering if he’ll ever win an Open and a bunch of other guys are kicking themselves for letting such a great opportunity get away.
But for Rose, who outlasted them all to claim the prize and honor his father at the same time, no victory will ever taste so sweet.