U.S. Open Souvenirs Include Frazzled Nerves, Battered Egos

CROMWELL — He doesn't have it yet, but Justin Rose expects it soon enough. Yes, the wicker basket from Merion will be in the mail.

"Obviously, everyone gets a flag [for winning a tournament]," Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner said Friday after the second round of the Travelers Championship. "To have a basket sitting in the house, that's a nice, unique keepsake."

It isn't the only keepsake from the U.S. Open, of course. Some of the finest golfers in the world bring all sorts of stuff to Cromwell from the national championship. They bring frazzled nerves. They bring battered egos. They bring scorecards ballooned by hellacious rough and unforgiving greens.

They limp into Cromwell with bandages around their heads like the Revolutionary War fife and drum corps. They come here to return to a sense of golfing normalcy, to heal, treating the birdies TPC River Highlands can offer like the healing waters of Lourdes.

Yet here's the thing. The healing takes time and those who have survived the worst of the U.S. Open do not steal the show here in Connecticut. Since the Travelers Championship found its place on the calendar in 2007 one week after the Open, in fact, only four golfers have finished in the Top 10 at both events.

Rose finished tied for 10th at Oakmont before tying for ninth at Cromwell in 2007. Hunter Mahan finished tied for sixth at Bethpage and Ryan Moore finished tied for 10th at Bethpage before tying for fourth at Cromwell in 2009. Heath Slocum finished in a ninth-place tie at Torrey Pines in 2008 before finishing fourth at the Travelers.

That's it. It's tough. And it's also fitting the last guy to follow a U.S. Open championship with a victory the next week on the PGA Tour was Ernie Els in 1997. He won at Congressional and won the Buick Classic. There are few more resilient golfers in the world than the Big Easy.

Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco, crossed the continent and finished in a tie for 31st at the Travelers. Lucas Glover arrived from Bethpage as the U.S. Open champ and gave it a good row for an 11th place tie at Cromwell. Six of the Top 10 finishers from Merion came to Cromwell, however, and half of them, Jason Dufner, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Nicolas Colsaerts, missed the Travelers cut.

Over and over the guys who played in the Open have been questioned by the media this week about how they feel. We push them. We prod them. We look into their eyes. We break out our stethoscopes. What is the key to recovery?

Mahan, who won the 2007 Travelers after tying for 13th at the Open, said it's not necessarily in the X's and O's. He says a lot of it is in the Z's

"You can't underestimate how tired you get that week, how much of a grind it is mentally," said Mahan, who shot 62 Thursday before beating himself up over a 71 Friday that left him in a tie for fourth place. "Every single day and even at night you're still thinking about the next day and what you have to do. You've got to get enough sleep so when Thursday comes around you're totally focused on this week and not last."

With a 7:40 a.m. tee time Friday, Rose, who's in a tie for 12th at 5-under, dozed off long before the completion of Game 7 of the NBA Finals he really wanted to watch.

"I do feel tired, but there are times today when I felt back in a zone and in my rhythm," said Rose, who had a slew of media commitments after the Open. "One of my goals this week was to make sure I eat as much as I can to keep my energy up.

"I also haven't had a chance to do much gym work and stretching, some physio, maybe a workout. Just work out a few kinks. I feel a little bit stiff and tight in the back and tight in the hips."

Yeah, after you've been scared stiff by the Open, it takes some stretching.

Padraig Harrington, whose back-to back-66s leave him in a second place tie behind Bubba Watson, is the hearty Irish soul who can handle the rough, the weather, the difficult circumstances better than anyone. He also has never shot better than a 64 at Cromwell.

"I'd like to play the U.S. Open every week," Harrington said. "It suits my game. In terms of enjoying it, this is certainly nicer, but I won't say easier. You've got to face the pressure of continuing to make birdies when you're on the lead."

Good ol' Bubba Watson made it sound like he forgot the torture as soon it was over.

"As soon as I putted out on Sunday, I was done with it," Watson said. "You can start all over. You can miss every cut and win one tournament and you think you've had a good year. So it's a brand new tournament. Fresh start. Take Monday off and then start getting ready on Tuesday. We're all so-called athletes. We can all recover. So it's not that big a deal. The [U.S. Open] is just another golf tournament with higher rough."

It should be pointed out, though, the year Bubba won at Travelers in 2010 he didn't play in the U.S. Open. And two of his other top performances at Cromwell, a second last year and sixth in 2008, followed missing the Open cuts, maximizing disappointment, yet reducing four days of agony by half.



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