The sparkly threesome of Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson was making the turn last Thursday at Hartford. There they were, the winners of the last three majors, using towels to sop the sweat off their arms. Simpson, the newly crowned U.S. Open champ, was wearing lime-green pants and drinking pink water. Watson and Bradley were enjoying other colors. Maybe 150 people were following the trio, on the lovely TPC River Highlands course, off Main Street, down the road a piece from the Rocky Hill VFW Hall. (The old Tour is not dead yet.) The air was limp, and so was the crowd. Young Webb wasn't in San Francisco anymore.
It can't be that easy, playing golf the week after you win the U.S. Open. Or can it?
It wasn't easy for Watson to play New Orleans three weeks after he won the Masters in April. Bradley won the 2011 PGA in Atlanta last August, took off one week and came back to play at the Barclays, the first stop in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Suddenly, he was a rookie in the big leagues, and he was paired with Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson. He was introduced on the 1st tee as the PGA champion. "The highlight of my career," Bradley, 26, said last week. Never mind that he missed that cut.
The Travelers Championship has owned the week after the U.S. Open for six years now, which means it will likely never get Tiger Woods, who almost never plays the week after a major. But that spot on the Tour calendar can make for some nice surprises too. Lucas Glover won the 2009 U.S. Open on a Monday at Bethpage, read the top 10 list on David Letterman's show the next night and was playing in the Travelers pro-am the day after that.
"I never even thought about not playing," Glover said last week. "I was committed, and I was playing well. I had so much confidence. This game is all about confidence." Plus, the Travelers people made it so easy for him. They picked him up in a company plane on Wednesday morning and got him to the course. "We were in the air for 16 minutes," Glover said. "Didn't even have time to finish my glass of wine." Glover echoed Bradley's theme, saying the most satisfying moment of his professional life "was walking on that range here and having the guys congratulate me." (He finished 11th that week at Hartford.) When you hear Glover, you realize that hoisting a trophy is part of a TV show, but a congrats, dude from your peers is what it's really all about.
Simpson, a young U.S. Open champion at 26, sought advice from some of the 10 other major winners who played last week, particularly Watson and Zach Johnson. Watson told Webb, "You're going to have to be able to say no." In April, Watson finished 18th at New Orleans, then said no to the Players Championship. After missing the cut in the U.S. Open, Watson hung around the leader board on Sunday and finished in a tie for second, a shot behind Marc Leishman, who won his first event on an afternoon that was a blooper reel of duffering.
Zach Johnson, winner of the 2007 Masters, did like Webb and Glover: He won his major and kept on going, playing Hilton Head right after his Augusta victory and finishing sixth. Johnson said last week that the thing he remembers best from Hilton Head that year was signing Masters flags for the first time. In fact, that was the week he got into the Masters flag-signing business. He's been in it ever since.
Justin Leonard, winner of the 1997 British Open, had a similar experience. He won at Royal Troon, went home to Dallas to celebrate for a week, then played the Tour stop at Castle Pines, outside Denver, where he hit a wall on the weekend and finished 39th. "I remember after the first day, I was wearing a dark green shirt and the sleeves of both arms were lined with pen marks," Leonard said last week. "That's about the only thing I do remember." It was a long time ago, and a major win will turn your mind to mush.
It was quite a roster assembled last week in the Nutmeg State. You already know that Bradley, Watson, Simpson, Johnson, Glover and Leonard were there. Leonard played the first two rounds with Louis Oosthuizen (2010 British Open) and Padraig Harrington ('07 and '08 British Open, '08 PGA). Hall of Famer Vijay Singh was in the house (1998 and '04 PGA, '00 Masters). So were future Hall of Famer Angel Cabrera ('07 U.S. Open, '09 Masters) and Y.E. Yang ('09 PGA). Eleven winners of majors. Another thing to brag about, capable Travelers p.r. people.
Yang beat Tiger down the stretch at Hazeltine three years ago, took off a week, then played the FedEx Cup event at Liberty National, across the Hudson from Manhattan. He finished 20th. "I didn't talk to Tiger, but I sort of brushed by him, and we said hi," Yang said last week through an interpreter. "He seemed not too pleased with me." Which would you prefer: Tiger being pleased with you or winning the Wanamaker Trophy?