Published June 04, 2012
CARMEL, Ind. – Justin Rose still can't believe his name appears on the same winners' list as Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Tiger Woods.
So imagine the thoughts racing through Rose's mind as he tries to become the ninth golfer to win consecutive BMW Championship/Western Open titles. Each of the eight previous back-to-back winners won at least three majors and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Four of the eight are ranked among the PGA Tour's top-10 all-time winners, and now Rose has a chance to join them, too.
"It's overwhelming to think that you grew up watching the Western Open and that you're a part of that tournament and that heritage," Rose told The Associated Press. "When I won last year, they gave me two trophies, and you know, it's not often that you win a tournament and you get two trophies."
For Rose, this year's tourney will be a whole new experience.
It is temporarily leaving the familiar setting of suburban Chicago, where Rose won last year, for the PGA Tour's first stop in Indianapolis in more than two decades. Ticket sales for the Sept. 6-9 event have been brisker than organizers anticipated.
Few of today's players, including Rose, have played in Indiana as professionals.
Sunday night's short flight from the Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio, to Indy marked the first time Rose had even been to the Circle City.
About 15 hours later, the South African-born golfer got his first glimpse of Crooked Stick when he, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard hit ceremonial tee shots in misty conditions.
"These Brits hit all their best shots in lousy weather," Daniels said. "So it was perfect today for Justin."
Oddly, Rose, who has homes in London and Orlando, Fla., already feels like he knows this course.
He remembers every vivid detail from Crooked Stick's last PGA event. From the tale of John Daly's late-night arrival at the 1991 PGA Championship to the to the roaring crowds that followed the ninth alternate all weekend to Daly's fist-pumping stroll down the 18th fairway, Rose recites the details like he was there in person.
"It was the whole story, him driving through the night, getting there late," Rose recalled. "I think it shows you that sometimes expectations, or the lack thereof, is a mindset that brings out the best in us. I feel like sometimes, I've played my best golf when I was really sick. When you talk about the FedEx Cup and the playoffs, sometimes, I think it's important to not believe your own words and to simplify it to just golf."
This year's challenge will be more difficult.
The defending champ will now be the barometer — and the target — of 69 other players vying for a winner's purse of nearly $1.5 million. The winner will have a legitimate shot to win the FedEx Cup title the following week in Atlanta, Ga. Two weeks after that, comes the Ryder Cup, and Rose said that will require some serious planning to do well at all three tourneys.
While Rose acknowledges he's playing consistent golf this season, winning the Cadillac Championship in March and producing four top-10 finishes since then, he understands it will take more than Daly's grip it-and-rip it philosophy to win at Crooked Stick.
Especially with Woods back in the mix.
"What we hadn't had in recent years was Tiger competing for the FedEx Cup," Rose said. "With him being up there, he's going to want to come here and play well and that's good. But it's a case of beware of what you wish for."
Rose's wishes are simple.
He wants to meet Pete Dye and maybe even see him riding around Crooked Stick with his dog in the golf cart.
He wants to fine-tune the putting stroke that led him to last year's title.
And, of course, he dreams of joining one of the world's most prestigious back-to-back winners club.
"The history is what really makes tournaments great. The list of names on that trophy — Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus and Tiger — is really great," Rose said. "I've never done it (won back-to-back), and it would be one of those ticks on the to-do list. As the defending champ, you want to come back and do yourself proud, but you don't want to put too much pressure on yourself."