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Happy homecoming of a people's champion

Major winner Justin Rose returns home to North Hants Golf Club complete with US Open triophy. Jon Couch went to meet him

 

Firmly established in the world’s top ten, a Ryder Cup winner and, of course, a US Open champion – it’s difficult to see how Justin Rose could be any more endeared by his public as the ‘local boy done good’.

Packed to the rafters with members, star gazers and even former playing partners and mentors, North Hants Golf Club was bursting with pride amid the Spring sunshine as in from the shadows emerged the return of its favourite son to rapturous applause and adulation.

Proudly holding aloft the major trophy he won so famously at Merion last June, Rose greeted his adoring public from the balcony of a new function room in the clubhouse named after him and, typically, returned the love, paying tribute the club for their support in helping to produce a champion. A people's champion.

Behind him stood a shrine of framed photographs, memorabilia and trophies adorned the walls and cabinets of the plush new Justin Rose Suite prompting the humble hero to set new goals for future homecomings.

“I'd like to create a problem here where they run out of wall space,” Rose jokingly told the News & Mail. “That’s my job, to create more memories, more victories but I'll always come back and share it with North Hants.

“My goals are to win more majors and hopefully one day all of the majors, to repeat the US Open win at Pinehurst next month would be phenomenal.

"If it’s not to be the US Open then I'll be trying my hardest to win the Open Championship and bring that one back here, and if it’s not that one, then another. But I’ll always share it with the guys back here.”

Hampshire Hog trophy

One of the most fitting moments of the day was the sight of Rose reacquainting himself with the Hampshire Hog trophy from where it all began as a fresh-faced 14-year-old.

By that time, a relationship had already been struck up with us at the News & Mail and it was undoubtedly a measure of this most humble of men that the local newspaper who first spotted his talents and supported him through his formative years were one of the first invited in for a one-on-one.

Indeed, irrespective of his growing number of accolades and achievements in the game, Rose has continued to keep his feet firmly on the ground and as he demonstrated on Sunday, is as proud of his roots as they are of him.

Rose revealed he had to get special permission from the US Golf Association to hang on to his precious US Open trophy for one last visit of his home club, and while young members were photographed alongside the world famous jug, Rose was presenting one of only three US Open miniature replicas to club officials as a token of his appreciation.

“I'm very proud of this place and coming back is always a treat,” added Rose, who also put the young North Hants members through their paces with a golfing clinic before holding a question and answer session.

“I’m very proud of this place and it's always fun coming back. People are proud of me and I’m proud of them too. In your formative years you need that support and encouragement and I’ve got that here at North Hants.

“The members have always been fantastic with me, they've stuck by me and believed in me, which is great. It’s an added source of confidence.

“They did everything they could to set me on my way and that’s important because in your formative years the people you surround yourself with and the guidance you get can make a huge difference to where you end up. I feel fortunate to be in this environment when I was growing up.”

Glorious homecoming

For Rose, the day formed part of a glorious homecoming week who plays on British soil for the first time as a Major champion this week at nearby Wentworth when he tees up for the BMW PGA Championship, starting today.

The 33-year-old, who finished tied second in 2012, is second favourite to secure a first ever win in front of his home crowd, but although he is yet to win a tournament since his Major success at Merion, all the signs are encouraging that Rose will at least be a contender.

In his last four events since completing his recovery from a shoulder injury, Rose has improved with each start, following up a top 15 placing at the Masters by finishing eighth, fifth and then fourth at the Players Championship at Sawgrass, Florida, last Sunday.

“My game is definitely trending in the right direction and it is nice to feel fully fit again,” he added.

From there, Rose will then have to hand back the US Open trophy in preparation for his title defence at Pinehurst, North Carolina on June 12-15 – and he admitted that it won’t be an easy thing to do.

“I look at 88-89 a lot on the trophy and the name Curtis Strange, he was the last guy to defend the title, so I take inspiration from that,” he added.

“It’s obviously very tough to do that in a Major, it doesn’t happen very often but I’ve got used to the trophy being around the house and I’m going to miss it when it’s gone so that’s more motivation for me to get my name back on it and keep hold of it for another year. I don’t know a lot about Pinehurst yet but I'm going to go there, figure it out and spend three days, like I did at Merion, to try and learn it and put a game plan together. My game is in good enough shape, I feel like it's a possibility, it’s just a matter of doing it over the course of the week.”

And Rose admitted that he’ll be taking the love from North Hants onto the fairways of Wentworth and Pinehurst with him these next few weeks as he looks to fill those walls back home with more memories.

“I do feel the support of everyone,” he concluded. “I'm out of sight a lot but I'm not always out of mind and I feel that through social media, my website etc, with people contacting me from back home.

“I’d like to get back more, the schedule doesn’t really allow it, but I see a lot of faces in the crowd at Wentworth just down the road and it’s very much appreciated.”

 

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