Cromwell, Conn. — Some of the biggest names in golf are giving up what for many is normally a week off after a major championship to play at the Travelers Championship.
Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson are among those in Connecticut this week, giving the tournament an unusually strong field.
“I just haven’t played the week after the U.S. Open, and thought, why don’t I?” said Spieth, who along with McIlroy is playing at TPC River Highlands for the first time. “You play a U.S. Open and any course you play right after should seem a bit easier and should be fun because of that. Then what put me over the edge was other players’ recommendations.”
Also helping is a new PGA Tour policy this year that requires players to add one tournament they have not played in the last four years, provided they played fewer than 25 events last season. McIlroy and Spieth both met that requirement by signing up for the Travelers.
“I like what the PGA Tour is doing with — not making us — but it’s nice to be able to play an event you haven’t played the last few years,” McIlroy said. “It makes you go to different places.”
The players, of course, still get to choose which place.
Jim Furyk, who shot a tour-record 58 during the tournament’s final round a year ago, said he’s not surprised that players are recommending this course.
It’s a 6,841-yard, par 70 that allows players to shoot for the pins, with the winner usually in the high teens under par. It also has a big risk-reward element on the closing holes, which has made for some exciting finishes around its signature lake.
And it doesn’t favor any particular style.
“This golf course — you go back to 2010 — had Bubba Watson and Corey Pavin in a playoff. I mean, that’s pretty cool,” Furyk said. “Corey was probably one of the shortest guys on tour at the time and Bubba one of the longest, yet this golf course played, so it’s not really a factor. I think it gives everyone a chance to win.”
Tournament officials do a lot of leg work to woo players, understanding they must go the extra mile because of the Travelers’ spot on the calendar.
They provide free day care for players’ children and family outings to places such as amusement parks.
They even run a charter flight from the U.S. Open.
“Out of Milwaukee, you’re probably not going to get a direct flight probably to Hartford,” Day said. “So to be able to get something like that to here, the little things like that go a long way.”
The Travelers has become known as the event where in addition to the more than $1 million in prize money, the champion gets a large supply of M&Ms with his face printed on them.
Russell Knox, who won last year, said that may be the coolest thing of all.
He hands out the boxes of candies to his friends and sometimes his rivals.
“David Lingmerth’s wife was recently over to the house, and I sent her home with some, just to make sure he had some M&M candies with my face on them,” Knox said. “It really is kind of a big deal.”
Fowler stays positive
Rickie Fowler had arguably his best chance yet at a major in the U.S. Open, mainly because of his experience. He was two shots out of the lead at Erin Hills. He was one shot out of the lead at the Masters two months ago. He was in the final group at Royal Liverpool and in the penultimate group at Valhalla in 2014.
Sunday wasn’t his best day off the tee on the front nine and holing putts on the back nine. It resulted in a 72, and what figured to be a big disappointment. But it sure didn’t sound like one.
“If you look at the negatives too much, I mean, you’re going to be stuck doing that the whole time,” Fowler said. “You have to measure success in different ways, not just by winning, just because that doesn’t happen a whole lot. I think Tiger had the best winning percentage of all time at 30 percent, and you’re lucky to even sniff close to 10. You have to say, ‘Hey, it’s a major. We played well this week.’
“Even though the scores were lower than a normal U.S. Open, to finish in double digits under par at a major, especially the Open, it was a good week.”
Grant Haefner, who is entering his sophomore year at Wayne State, took medalist honors at the Michigan Amateur by shooting a 70 for a 36-hole total of 6-under 138 at Egypt Valley in Ada.
Jake Kneen and Andy Matthews are tied for second, two strokes back at 140. Kneen shot 67 ansd Matthews, the first-round leader, shot 74.
The low 64 begin match play today.