SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Royal Birkdale is where it all began for Justin Rose.
Now, there’s a Lego scene to prove it.
Rose was a slight 17-year-old golfer wearing a baggy red sweater and a wide smile when he produced one of the British Open’s iconic moments in 1998, holing out from 45 yards for eagle at the 72nd hole to secure a tie for fourth place.
He was the talk of Birkdale that week. Even trash-collector girls stopped working to get a glimpse at the English amateur making a run at the claret jug on home turf.
It was a summer that defined him, and still does in many ways.
One of the first places he sought out when arriving for a practice round at the course last week was that piece of rough to the left of the fairway on No. 18, where he holed the shot of a lifetime.
Days later, the moment was recreated in Lego form and got the attention of Rose’s kids and his three-year-old nephew, Billy.
“You see them watch it and see them so impressed,” Rose said. “It’s a Lego scene, that’s how you know it was a cool achievement.”
Rose looks back at that moment and that particular British Open – his first – and sees someone playing with “freedom” and the “innocence” of youth. He is trying to use that as a model going forward.
He’s also amazed that it remains his best finish at his home major.
“It’s disappointing,” he said on Tuesday. “Maybe the expectation for a number of years afterwards took its toll coming back, trying to live up to it. I feel now, though, at this stage of my career I’ve sort of somewhat proved that that wasn’t a flash in the pan, so I can come back to the Open a little freer than I could.”
Rose is the Olympic champion, a U.S Open winner from 2013, and a reliable pick at most majors these days. Three months ago, he was dueling with Sergio Garcia in the final round of the Masters, only to lose to his good friend in a playoff.[gallery:13876645]
Still, he sees the next few years as the “do-it-now phase” of his career if he wants to win the claret jug.
“Unfinished business, for sure,” he said. “I don’t want to say that if I don’t win this, it’s going to be a huge sort of hole in my career. But it was the one tournament that even before I finished fourth here as an amateur, I got to final qualifying at the age of 14 and created a bit of a story then.
“It’s definitely been a championship that I’ve had great moments in. And to win it would kind of close the book in a way on my Open Championship story.”
He has only one other top-10 finish at the British Open, and Rose has been known to complain about being on the wrong side of the draw.
“I’ve decided,” Rose said, “that that’s kind of going to be a non-issue going forward.”
He plays with Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Thomas in his first two rounds.