ATLANTA – Justin Rose said it took a few days for the sting of losing in a playoff to Keegan Bradley at the BMW Championship to wear away and to realize he had become the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“You can always judge (the accomplishment) on your phone,” he said before the start of last week’s Tour Championship. “If you win a major, your phone blows up. You win a tournament, you get a nice bunch of messages. Getting to World No. 1, my phone blew up again. You can kind of gauge it from the response really of your wider network. It was a big moment for sure.”
To reach the top of the mountain, Rose, 38, improved the one area of his game that he been a glaring weakness: his putting.
Before this season, Rose typically had putted slightly worse than the average Tour player. But he started the year putting better than he ever had. As the season wore on, the question was whether the Englishman could sustain the high level or would he regress to his previous level of performance.
Rose did regress from his early strokes gained average that hovered around 1.0, but not much. Going into the Tour Championship his strokes gained putting average was 0.577. That ranked 11th on Tour and it means Rose was earning more than a half-shot edge on the field over 18 holes based exclusively on the quality of his putting, or 2.3 shots over the course of a 72-hole tournament.
As can be seen in the chart below, while his putting has drastically improved, Rose has maintained his high level of ballstriking.
Rose still drives the ball well, but the quality of his approach game has gone down significantly since 2013 when he won the U.S. Open at Merion. That season he ranked third in strokes gained approach the green with an average of 0.961, second in proximity to the hole average (32 feet, 2 inches) and ninth in greens in regulation (68.89 percent). Heading into the Tour Championship, Rose ranked 44th in strokes gained approach the green (0.36), 39th in proximity to the hole (34 feet, 8 inches) and 23rd in greens in regulation (70.11 percent).
Those are still solid stats, and the combination of his effectiveness off the tee and his play from the fairway combined to rank him fifth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green heading into East Lake (1.388). Rose, however, knows he can do better.
“I feel like I haven’t hit the ball this year as I have in previous years, and I wish I could have had everything absolutely buttoned up,” he said. “Maybe that’s next year. That’s the great thing: Having got to No. 1, I can still look at my game and pinpoint areas where I know there are gaps to fill.”
That should be a scary thing for Rose’s competition to consider. If he maintains his level of performance off the tee and around the green next season and can boost his performance from the fairway to where it was three, four or five years ago, then even if Rose’s putting regresses, he is still going to be in contention almost every week.
“I still feel motivated to wake up in the morning and find those little gaps,” Rose said. “Improvement can be a double-edged sword. If you try too hard for it and you don’t understand the processes that are in place, the work, you can get lost real quick.”
Rose is analytically minded by nature and pays close attention to his stats. He understands the process that got him to the top of the rankings and has a smart team supporting him that includes full-swing coach Sean Foley, putting guru Phil Kenyan and caddie Mark Fulcher. It would be hard to imagine Rose “getting lost” trying to improve the subtle shortcomings in his game.
What is not hard to imagine is Justin Rose staying at the top, or near the top, of the rankings for a long time. Gwk