As the father told us the family lived in an English town called Hook, he quipped, "It's next to a town called Slice," which showed he knew how to wink.
He did seem a decent guy -- calm, not a blowhard, the kind of guy you might like to know, maybe the kind of guy you already did know and like in your hometown.
And as we gathered around him the way sportswriters have gathered umpteen times around the parents of teen phenoms, he said that, even as his son's teacher and coach, he barely could process seeing his son's name up a leaderboard near "Tiger Woods" and "Nick Price."
That was some quirky week in July 1998 on the west edge of England. It managed to be both gloomy and rousing. The Saturday brought some of the angriest British Open weather you could have the cold privilege of seeing. A motley twosome of Mark O'Meara and an Oklahoman journeyman from Japan's tour, Brian Watts, contested the four-hole playoff after tying through 72. The 41-year-old O'Meara, who had won none of the 58 majors he played in through 1997, nabbed his second out of three in 1998. And a 17-year-old amateur from Hampshire, the North Hants Club course record holder with a 65 at age 14, climbed the most skilled leaderboard in the world, to T-2 after a second-round 66, to fifth alone after a commendable 75 on that ghoulish Saturday, to T-4, finally, after a closing 69.
"At the beginning of the week, I just wanted to be part of it," the lad said.
Yet by the time he sent a chip shot out of the scrub and over a bunker and onto the green and into the cup on his final hole as an amateur, No. 18 at Royal Birkdale, well, it would be hard to describe the loudness of that roar.
It might be the loudest you ever heard.
So as Justin Rose finished that Open just shy of his 18th birthday and tied with Jim Furyk and Jesper Parnevik and a Scot named Raymond Russell, the immediate talk concerned Rose's immediate future. Rose and his father Ken of the "Slice" quip indicated he would turn pro, and people debated the wisdom of the idea of that because everybody has an outlook, and away went he and everybody from Birkdale.
Would he thrive right away or ever? Hang around sports -- especially golf -- long enough, and you know better than to expect anyone to mimic Tiger Woods. You know there's a chance you might never hear much again about the 17-year-old golfer with the heady British Open week. You might think of him 15 years on and wonder, Hey, what happened to that guy?
By now you probably know that this same Justin Rose showed up Sunday at the U.S. Open at 32 years of age, and that on one of those Sundays when your nerves could jangle out of your body and start running down the street, he played the last five holes of an autocratic course in a stately even par. You probably know his supreme approach and chip on 18 helped make him the first English major winner since Nick Faldo chased down a disintegrating Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters, the first English U.S. Open winner since Tony Jacklin 43 years prior, and the first major winner from an exceptional era of English players that includes Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey.
You might know that this would be the same Rose who missed his first 21 professional tournament cuts out of the Birkdale gate, who claims he "sort of announced myself on the scene before I was ready to handle it," who called that sequence "a pretty traumatic start to my pro career." You might even know that after he vowed to "not beat myself further and further into the ground," and after he did right himself to start making cuts, he returned from a strong 11th-place showing in Germany one hopeful day only to meet his parents at Heathrow and learn his father had leukemia.
You might know Ken Rose last appeared at a major tournament in August 2002 at the PGA in Minnesota (where son Justin Rose finished a fine 23rd), that Ken Rose died in September 2002 at age 57. You might have heard or read that on the phone Sunday just after this U.S. Open, Justin and his mother Annie were in "floods of tears" as Justin put it, and that she "misses him immensely," as Justin put it. You might have heard him say this: "I think my Dad always believed that I was capable of this. He always also did say, when he was close to passing away, he kind of told my Mom, 'Don't worry, Justin will be OK.' He'll know what to do."
All of that would be the knowable, and all of us are entitled to our own views on the unknowable. Thinking of a likable, unassuming father at Birkdale who wanted his son to turn professional because he thought it ideal preparation, it can feel heartbreaking that he couldn't be at Merion. What's comforting, and not debatable, is that in every way from the course to the wait to the aftermath, the golfer who won the U.S. Open on Sunday was one magnificent reflection on Ken Rose.