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Youngest Walker Cup player off to shaky start

August 9, 1997

SCARSDALE, N.Y. (AP) _ Justin Rose stepped onto the first tee at Quaker Ridge Golf Club, took a deep breath and peered down the fairway. Then the youngest player ever to compete in the Walker Cup hit his first drive out-of-bounds.

Rose, just 10 days past his 17th birthday, made a shaky debut in international competition Saturday. His wild slice on No. 1 was closer to a maintenance shed than it was to the fairway.

On the third hole, he missed a 12-foot birdie badly on the low side of the hole. He left his approach on the fourth hole short and it buried so deeply in the bunker that all his alternate-shot partner Michael Brooks could hope to do was dislodge it.

And Rose closed the front nine by spinning a 4-foot par putt out of the cup, giving the U.S. team of Jerry Courville Jr. and Buddy Marucci a 3-up lead that eventually became a 5 and 4 victory.

``It’s something you never experienced before,″ Rose said about the pressure of the Walker Cup, the premier amateur team competition in the world.

Rose proved he belonged, however, when he won a tough afternoon singles match against Joel Kribel 1-up.

``I was just trying to go out and get some points,″ Rose said after the team from Great Britain and Ireland finished the day trailing badly at 8 1/2-3 1/2.

Rose likely will experience Walker Cup pressure again. He said he will remain an amateur another two or three years and perhaps attend college in the United States _ if he gets an offer.

``I prefer American-style golf courses,″ he said, looking back across the immaculate 18th green and down the lush, tree-lined fairway at Quaker Ridge. ``Everything is done properly here.″

Rose, who comes from Hook, England, about 50 miles south of London and dropped out of school at 16 to concentrate on golf, first captured attention when he won the English Boys Championship at 14. This year he took home the prestigious St. Andrews Links Trophy.

``I’ve seen pictures of me swinging when I was 11 months old,″ said Rose, who plays with sunglasses resting atop the bill of his cap. ``I had my first handicap when I was 8. It was a 13.″

He got his handicap down to 5 when he was 12.

``That’s when I got serious,″ said Rose, who became a scratch golfer when he was 14 and got to plus-1 that same year. He now plays to a plus-3 handicap.

Rose made his first hole-in-one when he was 10 years old and his second when he was 12. His lowest round in competition was a 63.

Near 6-feet tall, with a slender build and a strong, graceful swing, Rose carries his tee shots about 270 yards and on No. 7 on Saturday displayed his ability with a beautiful high right-to-left draw over the tree at the corner of the dogleg to perfect position in the middle of the fairway.

He also displayed a constant composure as he never once appeared rattled by poor shots and was thoughtful and articulate in answering questions.

``He doesn’t act like a 17-year-old,″ said Gary Wolstenholme, a 36-year-old member of the team from Great Britain and Ireland. ``He acts more like he’s 22 or 23. But we still keep an eye out on him.″

Rose, who is visiting the United States for the first time, has his mother, father, sister and brother with him.

``So far it’s been golf, hotel, golf, hotel,″ Rose said with a laugh about his trip to America.

When he is not on the golf course at home he likes to play soccer and tennis and listen to music.

``I’ve always got the old CD on,″ he said, adding that the Spice Girls are among his favorite groups.

Rose will apparently get plenty of opportunity to prove himself at the Walker Cup. Team captain Clive Brown gave the teen-ager a vote of confidence by selecting him to play in both the alternate-shot and singles matches on Saturday.

The youngster may not win a lot of points this weekend as his team tries to keep the Walker Cup, but he will gain a lot of experience he seems capable of using down the road.

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