So Rose and Valiante began picking at that scar tissue. Valiante divides golfers into two categories — mastery golfers and ego golfers, essentially a distinction between intrinsically and extrinsically motivated players. Most high-level players, he said, begin as mastery golfers.
“They play because they love the game,” Valiante said. “Then what happens, you start getting attention, accolades, trophies, and our motivation shifts. It’s an unconscious process. It’s not about the golf. It’s about what we get from the golf.”
So Rose worked to free himself from the results, to free himself from the past. In 2010, shortly after he began working with Valiante, he won the Memorial, his first PGA Tour victory. A month later, he led in Hartford headed into the final round, shot 75 on Sunday and tied for ninth. A long conversation with Valiante followed.
“Rather than get emotional,” Valiante said, “he relearned what happened.”
The next week, he won the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia. Through this time, he worked with Foley as well because while he has always had an exceptional swing, “He was probably a 6 out of 10 then,” Foley said.
“That’s good enough to contend. Now, he’s an 8.5, sometimes a 9. He can contend and win. It’s been a continuation of everything.”
The U.S. Open is the latest step in that continuation. He was not regarded — by his peers or the press — as a fluke of a champion. Phil Mickelson, who lost by two shots to finish second for the sixth time, might have been the people’s choice. Rose, though, is worthy.
“I think Justin, technically, is probably the best player in the game,” said Hunter Mahan, another Foley client who finished tied for fourth at Merion. “And I mean that from the putting to bunker game, short game, swing, everything he does — it’s definitely, I think, the best. It’s just so flawless when you see him and watch him play, and he makes the game look really easy sometimes.”
Except it’s anything but. The teenage Rose knows that. Heck, the late-20s Rose knows the same. Professional golf can strip players naked. But it also offers the strong, the diligent, a means to recover. That’s why Rose arrives at the AT&T National as a major champion.
“It just takes time to heal,” he said.