The Sprint International is known as the Tour stop where every need is anticipated and every accommodation made, and where pampered pros actually notice the effort. But the tournament outdid itself on Sunday, arranging for a gleaming rainbow over Castle Pines Golf Club near Denver just as 38-year-old Clarence Rose made a 30-foot eagle putt to win. There was no doubt in his mind as to the location of the rainbow's end. "There it is, right there on the 17th green!" he shouted later, during the awards ceremony, pointing to the place where he had made two eagles that day, the first to take the lead in regulation and the second to beat Brad Faxon on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff.
The 17th has always been magic at Castle Pines. Really a stout (492 yards) par-4 masquerading as a par-5 in the thin Rocky Mountain air, the hole usually has the leader board spinning as the contenders make eagles (20 last week) and birdies (200) that under the Stable-ford scoring system employed in the tournament—8 for double eagle, 5 for eagle, 2 for birdie, 0 for par, minus one for bogey, minus 3 for anything worse—can push a player to the top at the drop of a putt.
Rose had experienced the phenomenon before. In 1989 he shook nervously over an eagle putt at the 17th that, had he holed it, would have given him a victory over Greg Norman and his first tournament win. Rose missed, and that miss, like black magic, changed everything. Inches away from a career-confirming victory, the bottom fell out. Rose sank so fast the following season that by the lime the Tour returned to Castle Pines, he had made only eight cuts in 27 starts. Meanwhile, his wife, Jan, was five months pregnant, and their 18-month-old son, Clark, was about to endure a serious medical crisis. Jan broke the news to Clarence just after he had missed yet another cut: Tests had confirmed testicular cancer. "Things were more awful than you could imagine," says Jan. "We were in a deep fog."
When Rose flew home to Goldsboro, N.C., he effectively left competitive golf behind. "I wasn't playing too well anyway, just going through the motions," he says. "And what happened to Clark put golf way back in my priorities. Golf didn't mean that much anymore." Clark's malignant tumor was removed, and there has been no recurrence of the cancer. Rose lost his Tour card a couple of months later, and with the birth of Allison that December, he went on a lengthy sabbatical that included more babysitting than golf. Over the next four years Rose played in 18 Tour events and earned less than $30,000 (putting his career earnings at about $1.2 million).
Nonetheless, Rose enjoyed his time at home and never doubted that he would someday play again. "I didn't spend my money," he says. "When I made it, I pretty much kept it, so I had a little nest egg and didn't have to go find a job, though by the fourth year it was looking as though I'd better do something."
In 1995 Jan finally pushed her reluctant husband out of the house and onto the Nike tour. That was tough to take. "I'd been on the PGA Tour for 10 years," Rose says, "and it's like a major league player going down to Triple A. Your feelings are hurt a bit, but you have to stay sharp. The young players on the Nike tour shoot low and don't care who you are."
Rose was starting over again, putting in all the miles but with none of the glamour. He and Jan, kids in tow, traveled the Nike tour in a Dodge Caravan. "That year was our reawakening," says Jan. "Being together day in and day out in such close quarters, making those daylong drives, we all started smiling again."
In some ways it was 1982 all over again, the year Rose, fresh from a successful Q school and newly married, set out with Jan to begin their life on Tour. But back then they had driven all of 45 minutes from Goldsboro when Rose had to pull the car over so they could have a good cry. "We had never been away from home before," says Jan.
The debut of the Roses on Tour was distinctive for its lack of sophistication. "We were embarrassing," says Jan, laughing at the memory.
"My wife and I were starstruck," Clarence says. "We were walking along getting autographs—Tom Watson, Hubert Green—taking pictures and having a good time. I said, 'Hey, Hubie, come on over for a picture.' He set me straight right quick: 'My name is Hubert. My friends call me Hubert.' "