"I look for scars from this experience, but I don't think he is scarred. Even when things were at the lowest point, he told me he is still living his dream."
Carnoustie, of course, could have been Rose's worst nightmare, and not just because of the harrowing combination of narrow fairways, deep rough and strong winds. Journalists wanted Rose to reflect on his year, and true to his nature he met the request head-on in a large press conference, admitting to a loss of confidence, a counterproductive preoccupation with making the cut and playing far too many tournaments. Asked if he regretted turning professional, he was succinct. "To me, it was a simple thing: How am I going to be a great player quickest, how am I going to learn fastest? To me, that was by turning professional."
To deal with the more fragile state of his golf game, Rose had a confidence-building session with David Leadbetter, whom he had worked with on three other occasions, including last year at Birkdale. Mechanically, Leadbetter focused on Rose's biggest technical flaw, overactive long legs that cause him to get his club out of position on the downswing. It's a common problem with young and particularly tall players, and Rose has the added variable of having grown two inches—to 6'2"—in the last year.
"Justin has a bloody good swing," says Leadbetter. "At last year's Open his rhythm was good, and he drove it beautifully on a not very severe course. He had nothing to lose, and it gave him a false sense of security. He's had to learn about his flaws the hard way. He's actually technically better now because his lower body is more stable, but his confidence has been shaken."
So Leadbetter spent most of his time with Rose on the mental game. Walking with Rose during practice rounds, he soothed him with positive reinforcement. To keep the analytical Rose from getting too technique-conscience on the course, Leadbetter suggested that he concentrate on exhaling on his downswing.
"I honestly don't believe Justin has been damaged or ruined," says Leadbetter. "This is not an Ian Baker-Finch syndrome but a resilient young player with real talent and the time to develop it. He has a great work ethic, and I like the way his father works with him because he follows our recipe. In retrospect, the worst thing that happened to Justin was the shot he holed at Birkdale, because it got him rushing to be something he wasn't ready for. All I told him was to slow down, keep his wits about him and learn his craft, preferably on the Challenge tour. If he does that, everything he has gone through in the last year can be really valuable. He just needs to let himself play."
The message took. "I don't have any expectations," Rose said before teeing off at Carnoustie. "I just want to leave my heart and soul on the golf course."
Still, on the 1st tee last Thursday, Rose was obviously more than the "fractionally nervous" he later admitted to being. Exempt only because of his finish at Birkdale, he missed five of the first six fairways, swinging with a trepidation born of concern with technique. But after hooking his drive out-of-bounds on the sixth and falling to seven over par, Rose reduced his swing thought to simple breathing and began to show an impressive game. He hit nicely controlled iron shots in the wind, and scrambled with skill and touch. He played one under par from the 7th through the 17th holes, suffering a closing double bogey when his six-footer horseshoed out of the cup for a 79.
On Friday, Rose's hopes of making the cut of 12-over 154 were lost when he made four consecutive bogeys in the middle of the round. Still, en route to a 77 he played the last five holes one under and showed his passion after slightly pulling his tee shot at the home hole. "Big bounce right," he yelled. "Please!"
Mike Weir, who played both days with Rose, says that the young man exceeded expectations. "He's got plenty of game," says Weir. "I liked his attitude and his intensity. He's just got to do what everyone has to do—refine and polish."