HARTFORD, Conn. – I’ve always considered Justin Rose one of the classiest and most intelligent and cordial golfers that I’ve ever been fortunate to meet in any sport.
There isn’t supposed to be any rooting in the press box or media center, but I felt for Rose in the final round of the 2010 Travelers Championship when he shot a 4-over-par 39 on the back nine for a 5-over 75, blowing a four-stroke lead and finishing in a tie for ninth at 269, three behind Bubba Watson, who beat Scott Verplank and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin in a playoff for his first PGA Tour victory.
Rose was obviously disappointed but didn’t hide from the media, saying he simply lost his putting touch when it mattered most.
“It’s hard to play golf when you feel you’re going to miss every putt from two feet,” said Rose, who had notched his first PGA Tour title three weeks earlier in Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament. “I was just that uncomfortable on the greens all day. The other thing is my golf game felt fair or thereabouts, and though I had a lot of chances early, I just felt really uncomfortable on the greens. When that’s the case, it’s just hard to get out there and get after it. I tried to stay in the moment as best I best I could all day, but it was a hard one.”
The Englishman returned to TPC River Highlands in Cromwell this week for only the second time since that late demise, having tied for 13th in 2013, when he kept his commitment to the tournament a week after winning his only major championship, the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. But unfortunately, myself and spectators won’t be able to watch Rose and the rest of the best field in tournament history in person because the Travelers Championship is the third of five events at the restart of the PGA Tour schedule that will be TV-only because of the coronavirus pandemic. Only a limited number of media will have access to the grounds, but not this reporter, who will celebrate covering his 50th anniversary tournament watching on CBS and Golf Channel.
But that doesn’t prevent me from telling readers how Rose, the former No. 1 golfer in the world now ranked 13th following injury problems, has put his money where his mouth is in doing something mighty worthwhile. Rose and his wife, Kate, put up £35,000 (about $44,000) of their own money to start the Rose Ladies Series, an eight-tournament series for female golfers in England.
“I am keenly aware that I had the opportunity to go back to work and compete on the PGA Tour, but this is not the same for the ladies and some junior tours as well,” said Rose, who has 10 wins in the United States and eight on the European Tour. “I am sad that the Ladies European Tour has been suffering so badly. To me this seems somewhat unfair, so my wife and I felt there was an opportunity to step up and help.
“The prize money is modest because it is me throwing in some money and then the ladies are paying an entry fee and being able to play for a spot. We wanted to give them the opportunity to play and to be ready for when the opportunities arise later in the summer.”
The series kicked off last Thursday with an event at Brockenhurst Manor Golf Club and will run for eight consecutive weeks through Aug. 6-7. A highlight event will take place July 9 at Royal St. George’s, the storied club that was supposed to host this year’s British Open, which the Royal & Ancient canceled because of the pandemic. All the golf clubs are offering their facilities for free.
Paul McDonnell, the director of European golf for Excel Sports Management, read a story a few weeks ago that said Liz Young, an English pro who plays primarily on the Ladies European Tour, wanted to create a tournament in which female golfers in the United Kingdom could stay competitive, with obvious social-distancing measures in place. McDonnell’s company is the same agency that manages Rose’s business affairs, has Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas as clients and oversees the new series.
McDonnell forwarded the story to the Roses, and within 10 minutes, Justin got back to him and inquired about doing not just one event but a series.
“These girls are crying out for golf, and they will do what’s needed to be competitive,” McDonnell said. “Justin doesn’t have to do this, but he’s back playing [on the PGA Tour]. He wants to try to give those ladies a chance to warm up before they go back on tour. It’s amazing they’re doing this out of their own pocket, and he’s giving back to ladies’ golf in the U.K. and England.”
Before the first event, No. 25 Charley Hull, LPGA Tour winner Bronte Law and Hall of Fame legend Laura Davies confirmed participation, and American Golf, a U.K. golf retailer, announced it would match the £35,000 donation from the Roses. First place at each event is £5,000 (about $6,260), and American Golf’s contribution will go toward the Order of Merit. Whoever is No. 1 at the end of the series will receive a bonus of £20,000 (about $25,000).
“You cannot distinguish between men’s golf and ladies golf,” Rose told London’s The Telegraph newspaper, which initially broke the story about the series. “The dreams are the same from the outset, but it is the opportunity and the platform that is skewed.”
Hull, a four-time European Solheim Cup member and winner of the 2016 CME Group Tour Championship, won the first event when she shot an even-par 70 and then made a 15-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to beat Brokenhurst’s Liz Young. Davis shot 77 to tie for 18th, and the next event starts Thursday at Moor Park Golf Club.
“Justin’s name is so much more important than the money,” Young told The Telegraph. “It brings in so much more. With his big profile comes all the support, if you are looking at it from a media, social media and fan club point of view, he brings all that with his name.”
While U.S.-based minitours continue to play, and the best golfers in the world have returned to the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, many female golfers were left uncertain about their return. The LPGA Tour is set to resume play July 31 with the Drive On Championship in Toledo, Ohio, with spectators allowed on the grounds. But on the heels of that announcement, the LPGA Tour announced the Evian Championship, a major event scheduled a week later in France, would not be played in 2020.
The Symetra Tour also hopes to resume play in late July but is scheduled to play only nine more tournaments this year. The rest of the LPGA Tour’s revised schedule has more questions than answers, as there are 19 more events this year, but they are to be played in seven countries, with varying levels of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Still, the players who have been provided this opportunity are ready to get back to work – just like their male counterparts – no matter what the setting looks like.
“In showing his support, [Rose] shows that he understands we work as hard as the guys and we have the same goals,” Law said in an interview with Sky Sports, which is broadcasting the series. “That’s sometimes maybe lost because the interest in the men’s game is a lot larger, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t training as hard or working as hard or wanting to achieve the same things they do. But it’s our job to increase the publicity that women’s golf is on the rise.”
Not only is women’s golf on the rise, but with the actions of Justin and Kate Rose, it also could begin to thrive. I sure wish I could talk to Rose about the generosity of him and his wife this week. I also could have discussed part of the reason that the Roses could fund the series of events after he signed a contract on Jan. 20 with Boston-based Axis1 Golf, creators of the world’s only “perfectly balanced/torque free putters.”
“We couldn’t have a better ambassador to represent our brand,” Luis Pedraza, Founder and CEO of Axis1, said of joining forces with the reigning Olympic gold medalist and former FedExCup champion. “Justin is incredible to work with and immediately recognized the difference this technological innovation can make – for every golfer. We worked with him to fine tune our putters and created the Axis1Rose. The synergy of our relationship is paying off, helping to create a new global brand of putters.”
Since switching to the Axis1 in 2019, Rose set career bests in Total Putting (13th), Putting Average (fifth), Overall Putting Average (third), One-Putt Percentage (third) and Three-Putting Avoidance (eighth). Rose’s 65 tied the lowest round in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2019 thanks largely to needing only 22 putts. He also shot his personal low 9-hole score of 28 at the Dunhill Links.
“I had great success using the Axis1 last year and am excited to partner with the most innovative brand in the field,” said Rose, who tied for third in the Charles Schwab Challenge and 14th in the RBC Heritage in the first two events after the PGA Tour restart. “While helping to create this putter, I saw the technology that sets it apart from the rest and I believe it can revolutionize the market.”
And hopefully it can continue to help one of the most thoughtful people in golf.