AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sergio Garcia curled in that 12-foot birdie putt, the most important shot of his life, and the first one there to congratulate him was the man he’d just vanquished.
Justin Rose embraced Garcia, the man whom he’d played beside and against for more than two decades, and spoke in his ear as the gallery around them roared in a solid wall of sound.
“Nobody deserved this more than you,” Rose said. “I’m very happy for you. Enjoy.”
And then Garcia plunged into the arms of his family, friends, and fans, soon to get his green jacket and the lifelong benefits that come with it. Rose, meanwhile, got a solemn ride to Augusta’s media center and, from there, a tough drive home.
“It’s going to sting, for sure,” Rose said, his gaze steady but his frustration evident.
How do you get past this? How do you come to terms with the fact that you had a two-shot lead with five holes to go, that you had the Masters on a tee? Nothing that Rose did could possibly be considered a choke or a collapse, but still … a break here, a putt there, and we’re having an entirely different conversation right now.
To begin, Rose may not have a green jacket, but he’s already got a major, the one he won in 2013 at Merion. There’s no gray area here: you either are a major champion or you’re not. Rose already was. Garcia, until just hours ago, was not. Both men can talk about how little it matters in the grand scheme of life, but don’t believe them for a second. It matters.
Plus, Rose is 36, and that’s old enough to have a sense of the ebb and flow of pro golf. “You’re going to win majors, and you’re going to lose majors, but you’ve got to be willing to lose them,” he said Sunday evening. “You’ve got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There’s a lot of pressure out there, and if you’re not willing to enjoy it, then you’re not ready to win these tournaments.”
It takes a special breed of player to be able to thrive under the pressure of major-Sunday golf – think you could hit a five-foot putt with millions watching you? – and Rose seems built for this life. “I loved it out there,” he said after the round, and you believe him. He offered congratulations to Garcia for good shots, and kept his composure when his own game began taking on water.
And he did it all, it’s worth noting, with virtually the entire gallery against him. Rose had been in this position before, standing between Phil Mickelson and a U.S. Open victory. At that tournament, Mickelson and Rose were tied after 10, and the entire home-country crowd wanted Phil to bring home that coveted U.S. Open trophy. Rose had other ideas, and eight holes later had his major win.
“I get my fair share of love and support out there on the PGA Tour in tournaments most of the time,” Rose smiled on Sunday night. “Obviously, people felt strongly that it was his time.”
Rose left the media center in the company of family and friends, rolling out into the warm Augusta night even as Garcia’s raucous green jacket ceremony pulsed on the far side of the clubhouse. Soon afterward, Rose took to Twitter to offer up one more bit of sportsmanship:
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) April 10, 2017
“Incredible battle out there,” Rose tweeted. “Sport in the moment can be tough. But it’s just sport. Hope you guys enjoyed it.”
Pretty much everyone did. And pretty much everyone who did will be pulling for Rose to win another of these again very soon.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.