CROMWELL, Conn. -- Justin Rose was sitting at the bar at Lake Nona putting together a mental game plan for the U.S. Open when his sport psychologist, Gio Valiente, said something that suddenly registered with Rose.
The message was simple: Rose wasn’t going to be perfect at Merion, but so what?
Expectations have been with Rose ever since that July day in 1998 when he holed out from the fairway at Royal Birkdale to tie for fourth at the British Open. He was just 17 years old.
Reality can be humbling. But fast forward 15 years and through the all ups and downs of a career that has included 21 straight missed cuts, five wins on the PGA TOUR, his first career major championship and everything in between, and Rose is in the right place. Literally, and figuratively.
Valiente always knew Rose was talented enough to win a major, but until this year “I wouldn’t say he was ready.”
Rose could have very well skipped this week’s Travelers Championship after winning at Merion and the whirlwind media blitz through New York City that followed, but it was always part of the plan, so why change?
“The whole thought process has been a three-week run,” said Rose, who will also play in next week’s AT&T National. “I figured I won't interrupt that.”
Given his current form, that’s probably a good idea even if lack of sleep has gotten in the way.
Besides, it was at this tournament three years ago when Rose nearly racked up his second straight victory.
After having come from behind to win at Muirfield Village, Rose was in contention at TPC River Highlands when he shot a final-round 75 to nearly tumble out of the top 10. It was a big piece of humble pie for Rose, who found out the game isn’t as easy as he was making it look.
“You think you're good enough, you can tell yourself you're good enough, you can tell yourself you're ready and you can believe you're ready, but until it really happens, you just don't know,” he said. “Having had that experience (of winning a major now) and having had that confidence in myself, I feel like I can stand up, put one foot in front of another, make good swing after good swing in that environment.”
This week’s environment will be much easier than that of last week. For one, it’ll be a lot easier for Rose and everyone else to find and play their ball out of the rough. For another, it’s a birdie-friendly golf course.
Not that Rose is expecting it to be easy, especially since he is mentally and physically fried after landing here Tuesday night.
But he’s also not letting that stand in the way.
“I'm still hoping -- hoping is the wrong word,” Rose said. “I'm expecting to go out there and put in a good performance. I still think that the same discipline I showed at the U.S. Open applies this week.”
As Valiente says, it's just another way of Rose learning to let go. In other words, being detached from the results can often lead to better results. The Travelers Championship might be everything the U.S. Open is not, but winning tends to beget winning.
For Rose, that process began in 2010 at the Memorial. He’s won five times on the PGA TOUR since and with each passing victory has come another mental building block.
That included at the Ryder Cup, where he beat Phil Mickelson on the way to helping Europe secure the win, and at the World Golf Final in Turkey, where Rose beat, among others, Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood.
“Around that time I started to think that I could do this,” Rose said of winning a major.
If he needed any reminding, Adam Scott gave it to him, telling Rose earlier this year that this was “their time.”
Scott then won the Masters, and Rose has since followed.
“We've in a sense, paid our dues and we've had a lot of experience under our belt,” Rose said. “It's now or never in a way. It's our time to go and get it done.”
The same holds true for this week.
It also doesn’t hurt that this tournament is a welcome respite from the grind of a major championship, which is something Rose has come to appreciate.
“It's a perfect week for the week after a major,” he said. “It's a good atmosphere to keep you up, but at the same time it's a really fun course to play.”
Fun wasn’t a word tossed around too much at Merion. At TPC River Highlands, though, that won’t be the case. In 14 of the last 15 years, the winning score has been at least 14 under. On three occasions, it has been at least 20 under.
“It's got its challenges out there, but the challenge is can you go low when you need to go low?” Rose said. “It's fun to be able to shoot in the low 60s, if you play really, really well.
"But you've still got to put four good rounds of golf together around here. So, yeah, looking forward to the slight breather from scoring point of view, but at the same time, that presents its own challenges.”
More than ever, Rose is ready for them.