PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — It was misting, but it felt like rain. Justin Rose made the observation, which was on target for a chilly June morning at Pebble Beach.
Rose also was pretty much on target with his game. As usual.
The U.S. Open is his kind of tournament, with an emphasis on accuracy, offering rough that is too long and greens that are too hard. It's an event where you’ve got to keep the ball on the fairways and your head out of the clouds.
Rose, the Englishman, has done both so far in this 119th Open, a reason he’s very much in contention to capture America’s golfing championship a second time, Friday adding a 1-under-par 70 to his 66 on Thursday for a 7-under total of 135.
“Yeah, I’m swinging it well,” said Rose. “I can put it down the fairway. I’m pretty comfortable on every shot. But you’re just looking for that last bit of quality.”
He’s had it. And almost had it. Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open and Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial, two of more than 20 victories around the world from San Diego to Hong Kong. In 2016 he was the first Olympic golfing gold medalist in 100 years. In 2017 he lost a playoff to Sergio Garcia in the Masters.
Now, a month from his 39th birthday, Rose can be proud of a career that hit the headlines, hit the skids and, with his earnings and endorsements — the name of the investment firm Morgan Stanley is on his golf cap — definitely has hit the jackpot.
Rose was a 17-year-old amateur when in the 1988 British Open at Birkdale he hit the shot — holing a wedge from 50 yards off the 18th hole the final day of that ’98 Open — that changed his life. Not necessarily for the better.
**“**It was my intention to turn pro the following week no matter what,” he has explained. “But I'd intended to do it quietly, get a few tournaments under my belt and get a bit of experience before going to qualifying school.”
However, that miracle shot hoisted him into fourth place (Mark O’Meara won), and with headlines blaring and agents swirling he turned pro within hours. He missed the cuts in his first 21 tournaments, and the elation — his and the country’s — turned to gloom.
“There was embarrassment, disappointment, despair, lots of emotions through that time,” said Rose, “but I never felt defeated. People ask me how I got through it. I actually had to take the Open Championship out of my mind. That was the skewing factor. I looked at my amateur career, and that told me I had some talent.”
It took a while for that talent to reappear. Rose worked to be the golfer he had been, finding success on the European Tour, and then advancing to the PGA Tour. Step by step, swing by swing, he has become a star.
After his Friday round here, Rose was asked whether he felt his wealth of experience would count in the final two rounds of the Open and also what a second career major would mean, especially one held at a historic course such as Pebble Beach.
“Yeah, I hope it counts for a lot,” said Rose, “and I hope it means a lot. But I’m experienced enough to know there’s no point answering the second part of your question right now.
“There’s a long way to go. And yet I couldn’t think — here and St. Andrews would probably be the most iconic places to lift a bit of silver. I couldn’t think of anything better. But if you don’t mind, I’m just going to wait a couple days.”
We don’t mind. We understand a golf tournament is an unusual part of the sports landscape, where positions change rapidly. A four-shot lead can disappear as quickly as one player making two bogeys and another two birdies.
The place is named Pebble Beach Golf Links, but it’s not a true links, a course built on sandy soil once under the sea, as in Britain. Yet Pebble does have a British routing, nine holes out, nine back — well, 10 out before the return. And Rose, along with others in his grouping, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, had to begin at the 10th, near Carmel.
Rose played his first nine holes with nothing except birdies (two) and pars. Then came a bogey at the first, one of the easier holes at Pebble, and when he knocked his tee shot over the edge of the bluff into the weeds he got another bogey.
“At this point,” said Rose, “there’s not a lot to worry about.”
He was talking both about his golf game and the Pebble summer weather, two items that remain unchanging.