AUGUSTA, Ga. — As Justin Rose teed off for a practice round on Augusta National’s back nine late Sunday afternoon, he had a familiar face on the bag. Caddie Mark Fulcher is returning for this week’s Masters after being sidelined the last three months following heart surgery in mid-January.
“I could have come back at the Match Play [two weeks ago], but I thought why push it,” said the veteran looper who has spent the last 10-plus years alongside Rose after two decades on the LPGA Tour. “I’m very happy. It feels good to be back.”
Fulcher underwent a procedure to repair his mitral valve, which allows blood flow from one chamber of the heart to another.
In the interim, Gareth Lord, who had caddied for Henrik Stenson until the pair split late last year, filled in. Rose won the Farmers Insurance Open less than two weeks later, but “Fooch,” as he is affectionately known, was never far from Rose’s mind.
“Fooch, that was for you, mate,” he said following the victory at Torrey Pines. “I'm sure watching us all weekend was harder than the heart surgery.”
Eight weeks after the procedure, Fulcher’s doctors told him they liked what they saw and cleared him to return in time for the year’s first major.
“In theory, I should be fitter in six months than I’ve ever been,” Fulcher said. “There could be some soreness the next six weeks or so, but I can just take a Motrin. I’ve got to lose a bit of weight [after being out], but they think the heart is better than ever.”
The return couldn’t have come at a better time.
Rose, who moved into the top spot in the World Ranking on Sunday for the fifth time, has five top-10 finishes in the Masters, including two runner-ups. The most recent came just two years ago when he lost to Sergio Garcia in a sudden-death playoff. Rose also tied for second in 2015.