By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
CROMWELL, Conn. -- The interviews are complete. The top-10 list is delivered and the morning show smiles never looked better.
Now it’s time for Justin Rose to return to being a golfer.
Only now, he isn’t just a golfer. He’s a U.S. Open champion. That is such a prestigious title, but it also carries responsibility and expectations.
The responsibility part will never be a burden for Rose. I can’t think of another player who acts more professionally. He always dresses well and accommodates the media. Even in the hectic post tournament confusion last Sunday, his wife, Kate, was thoughtful enough to call Travelers officials to confirm his participation this week and advise the tournament of his revamped schedule.
Nope, Rose will be a wonderful ambassador for golf and our national championship.
Now, what about expectations?
For the rest of his life, Rose will be announced on the first tee as a U.S. Open champion. People will expect him to play like one. After wayward shots or bad rounds, someone will raise their eyebrow and comment, “He won the U.S. Open?”
The title does come with expectations.
A player, who once reached No. 1 in the world, once told me he put so much pressure on himself that the ranking hurt his game for a short period.
There was an LPGA U.S. Open champion who was so overwhelmed by the title that she became nauseous before teeing off the remainder of the summer.
Once again, I don’t think that will be a problem for Rose.
This is a player who is so mentally tough. He once missed 21 consecutive cuts at the start of his professional career and rebounded to eventually lead the European Tour Order of Merit.
If you watch Rose hit golf balls, you can easily identify his talent, but I became enamored with his game at the BMW Championship during the FedExCup Playoffs two years ago in Chicago.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, Rose struggled early but regained the lead by the 71st hole.
His approach into the 17th had came up just short, in the tightly mown entrance to the green. He selected his putter and walked up to the cup to do some surveying and I remember thinking, "That’s the wrong club."
The ground was wet and the fringe was sticky. The putter was a safe play that would probably leave a 3-footer for par, but the correct play was to chip.
I could see why Rose wanted to putt. Under the pressure of the FedExCup Playoffs with a grainy tight lie, the chip was the much more difficult shot.
When Rose returned to his bag, he returned the putter, pulled out a wedge and chipped it into the cup.
Twenty minutes latter, Rose won the BMW Championship.He went from worrying about losing a tournament, to learning how to win.
I made a mental note at the time: Rose’s game had progressed to the point where it was polished enough to win a major title.
Some people struggle with the burden of expectations. That won’t be a problem for Rose.
It’s great he’s playing this week so we can enjoy his abilities.
Conditions: TPC River Highlands always gives up lots of birdies, but I think it has some of the more difficult green complexes on the PGA TOUR. There are so many little plateaus and knolls that chipping and lag putting become exacting. Holes are cut on the edges of ridges and short putts usually contain break. Watch players success rate on 3-footers this week. There will be few tap-ins. Players study short putts at TPC River Highlands because there is inordinate break and very little area to miss on the through line.
Green speed: We always seem to get rain this week and that usually leads to greens that run a bit slower than what players expect. The weather forecast is promising with no severe threat of rain, but the greens are receptive. The slower speed tends to favor aggressive putters.
Finish: TPC River Highlands lends itself to a great finish. The 15th hole is a drivable par 4, the 16th is a par 3 over water and the 17th has water down the entire right side. The final hole is a blind, uphill drive. It’s the 17th hole that gets players’ attention. It’s a “fish hook” par 4 that curves to the right, around a lake. Charley Hoffman had last year’s tournament won before splashing on the 17th and followed up with a bogey on 18. It’s an easy drive with a utility wood, until the pressure of Sunday afternoon.
Caddies: As a former looper, I always take note of which tournaments treat caddies well. This week borders on luxurious for the bagmen. An air-conditioned suite by the first tee features a large television and buffet. There’s even an omelet station. It’s wonderful to see caddies be treated with the respect they deserve.
Winner, winner: I like to look past the competitors from the U.S. Open and look for some fresh legs at the Travelers. Like John Rollins. He has a solid track record at TPC River Highlands with a second place in 2011 and a T4 last year. Rocket is also playing well, having finished in the top 10 at both the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Rollins in ninth on TOUR in Greens in Regulation but 119th strokes gained-putting. With slower green speeds and lots of opportunities, this could be a big week for Rollins.