A YEAR on from his dramatic and emotional US Open victory at Merion, Justin Rose has his sights set on becoming the first player in 25 years to retain the title.
The north Hampshire golfer gets the defence of his crown under way at Pinehurst, in South Carolina, in just under an hour – but he knows that the odds are stacked against him winning the trophy for a second consecutive year.
Curtis Strange was the last man to win back-to-back titles at what is seen as the toughest of the four Major championships, with his second victory coming in 1989.
However, having “got over the hump” by winning his maiden Major title at Merion, Rose believes that the pressure on him has been turned down a notch, allowing him to play with more freedom.
“I really want to treat this Major that I’ve won now as a gift, which gives me the ability to sort of free wheel for the rest of my career – play free, play loose, just go after it,” the former Robert May’s School pupil said.
“I don’t even like the word, defending, because it puts you behind the eight ball. You don’t want to be out there being defensive at all. I’m just really excited about the opportunity this week presents.”
Despite the course at Pinehurst getting a major facelift, Rose will be hoping that his accuracy will be rewarded at the US Open this weekend.
Even before winning at Merion last year, the world number nine boasted a decent record at the US Open, having finished tied for fifth in 2003, 10th in 2007 and just six shots off the pace in 2012.
The second major of the year is often said to be the toughest tournament on the calendar, with tight fairways and penal rough punishing any slightly wayward shot.
It makes sense that Rose, a notoriously accurate player, should thrive in such conditions.
“I feel like the US Open test suits me,” the 33-year-old said. “I felt like I had a good opportunity in 2012 at Olympic Club too. I played really well there. I finished six back but as a player sometimes it’s a lot closer than that.”
However, a redesign at Pinehurst has made it a slightly different test. Since the US Open was last played there, in 2005, an event Rose failed to qualify for, massive changes have been made to the South Carolina course.
Large areas of rough have been removed, replaced by bare, sandy areas. The fairways have also been widened and the course lengthened, with many experts predicting that a razor-sharp short game may be needed as players struggle to hit unreceptive greens.
Rose is neither a long hitter, nor a short game specialist, so he could find the going tough.
One player who could thrive in such conditions is Phil Mickelson, who Rose will play alongside for the first 36 holes. Rose’s most famous victory over the left-hander came in the singles at the 2012 Ryder Cup, a match that was played in an excellent spirit, and the Hook golfer says that he enjoys playing with Mickelson.
“I enjoy the spirit in which Phil plays the game, how free he is out there,” Rose said. “He’s got a great temperament for the game and nothing seems to phase him.
“That’s something that I think a lot of players can look up to him for. It’s hard to play that way and that has stood him in good stead throughout his career.”
As tradition dictates, US Open holder Rose and Open champion Mickelson will be joined by reigning US Amateur Championship winner, Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, for the first two days.
The trio will begin their campaign from the 10th tee at 7.51am (12.51pm BST) today, while their second round will begin from the first tee at 1.36pm (6.36pm BST) tomorrow.