By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
HUMBLE, Texas -- Yes, John Rollins has tickets. He’s going to the semifinals, but, no, he doesn’t know what he’ll do if he makes the Masters field and Virginia Commonwealth makes the NCAA finals.
And finally? He’s as surprised as anyone about the Rams. Didn’t even pick them in his own bracket.
"What does that tell you?" Rollins said. " You know, I mean, like you say, on Selection Sunday, you kind of understand where everybody came from, but, at the same time, you know, they've played great basketball. They beat quality teams and beat them easily.
"So, you know, you can argue until you're blue in the face both sides of the coin. I'm glad they got picked. The guys were excited. They weren't even watching the show from what I heard. They were all doing their own thing. Now they were getting text messages and phone calls, what's going on?
"You know, I think they've really used I think the negative comments to their advantage. They really used to it inspire them and really get them motivated to play."
They’ve also inspired Rollins, who, like so many other players in this field – 112 of the 144 to be exact – who need to win the Shell Houston Open to get one final invitation to the Masters. He’s off to a good start after an opening 5-under 67 at Redstone.
"I actually said that at the game against Kansas on Sunday, my caddy (Heath Holt) came and met me down there," Rollins said. "We're watching the game, and I was hoarse for like a day and a half after the game from all the screaming. This could be exactly what I needed for my golf game. I'm sitting here watching my school, they're beating Kansas, one of the best programs in the country and they beat them pretty easily.
"And I'm like this is -- this could be something that I need to kind of get a little bit of spark under me to get me going and, you know, just kind of maybe wake me up or whatever. To be in the same town is pretty ironic, pretty cool to do that for me to be able to play and them to play.
"So, you know, I'd like to be able to double-dip this week."
Rollins’ best finish at the Masters was a T20 in 2007. But even a really solid week here would be a boost for the VCU alum (class of ’97, Communications), who may have some of the Rams basketball fans following him Friday.
He’s made just three cuts in eight events this year, but things could be changing after some hard work with coach Pat O’Brien. Specifically, they’re trying to free up his putting stroke.
"I've always been sort of a I guess you would call it a hitter of putts, not really a smooth, like a Steve Stricker style, real smooth and rhythmic stroke like he's got," Rollins said. "We've really been working trying to get more into that mindset, trying to see the ball, you know, maybe rolling on the greens better, rolling in the hole kind of on a dying -- dying balls into the hole rather than being so aggressive like I've been in the past.
"It's been a little difficult. You know, we've done okay at times, but the consistency hasn't been there. I've devoted more time to it since it's been killing me over last year or so. So I've really devoted more time to it recently and starting to see some signs."
Kind of like VCU and those three-pointers hitting nothing but net.
Rollins teamed up with the school for a charity pro-am years ago and knows athletic director Norwood Teague well enough that he hit him up for Final Four tickets with a minute to go in the Kansas game. And coach Shaka Smart has come to Rollins’ event.
If he keeps up the current pace, it’ll be seriously tight timing to get to Saturday’s VCU-Butler semifinals since the course is thirtysomething miles – in Houston traffic – away from Reliant Stadium, but ... he’ll be there.
"I will be at the game," he said. "I'd like to play well, obviously be leading the golf tournament, but hopefully tee times won't interfere. Worse case I'll be coming in sideways for the second half. By the time I get there, maybe the traffic won't be as bad. I hope I keep playing well tomorrow and put myself in that later tee time for Saturday and just let everybody get there and get in their seats and I can just kind of stroll on in."
As for Monday’s finals?
"I'd like to be heading to Augusta, but, you know, we're obviously going to have to win here to do that," he said. " But if I don't and they make it there, you know -- it's the first time ever, so I kind of feel like I should be there.
"I've been the last -- I've been to the Kansas game. If I go to this game and they win, I kind of feel like I got to ride this out now. I don't want to break anything up, break any streak that they've got. I may. It would be fun to stick around and watch a National Championship game. But they got to get through Butler first."
So how does he size up the game?
"I really don't know much about Butler," he said. " I know they've got a great defense. If we can continue to shoot the 3-pointer the way we've shot the 3-pointer, I don't really know that anybody can beat us.
"Our defense is good. They're playing good. I think our key is still shooting the 3 well to open up the inside game for us. If we can do that, we're going to be alright."