Pros get back to the grind after US Open
Cromwell, CT- The eyes of the golfing world turn to Cromwell, Connecticut, where 156 players compete in one of the sport’s hidden gems: The Travelers Championship. This tournament has been held under different names and at different locations since 1952. Since 2007, it has been held at the TPC River Highlands course, 11 miles south of Hartford, the week after the US Open. It serves as a restful challenge to the players. And after a particularly hard tournament at Shinnecock Hills last week, it’s a welcome change of pace.
Reigning Masters Champion Patrick Reed summed up the difference between the courses: “Last week was 7,500 yards, more kind of linksey style, firm, fast fairways, windy. If you miss the fairway, you’re basically hacking sideways. It can be nasty. And here you have a shorter golf course. You have to be a little more demanding off the tee. So if you’re hitting your tee ball well and you’re getting in the fairway, you’re going to have a lot of short irons and be able to attack the golf course. Last week was, how can I manage myself around here? This week it’s kind of in attack mode.” Reed finished fifth at last year’s Traveler’s with a -9 and was fourth place last week on Long Island.
TPC River Highlands is a 70 par, 6,841 yard course. That’s almost 700 yards shorter than Shinnecock Hills last week with the same par. The course offers some shorter par fours and opportunities to skip segments. The famous examples are holes 15 and 17. Fifteen is a 296 yard par four with a plateau green. It’s among the most exciting holes in golf, as eagles are very possible. Golfers beware though, falling off the green is easy and falling off the left side into the pond is a real danger. Seventeen snakes around the centerpiece pond and dares golfers to clear the drink to cut down distance. The danger of course is sailing to the right or lacking distance for the shot and falling in.
Justin Thomas, the second placed player in the FedEx Cup hunt, added his perspective on TPC’s challenge. “It rewards good golf and you can get after it if you’re driving the ball well and have control of your irons. But if you’re not driving it well, you don’t get it in the right spots around the greens, it’s difficult to get up-and-down and it’s hard to make pars. That’s something I think is rare nowadays, but it’s also hard on a golf course design to have that done.”
Thomas was also asked about the other aspect of the Traveler’s schedule placement: a gear up for the Open Championship. Rory McIlroy played this tournament last year to get himself playing again after injuries and finished -6 before going to Royal Birkdale and finishing fourth at the Open. Thomas does not see this tournament the same way. “I’m not here thinking about the Open. I’m not playing this to get my game ready for the Open. It’s totally, completely different golf. But that being said, any time you have the opportunity to get into contention, you can learn from that and use it in future events.”
Regardless of the perspective for playing, one sentiment is oft’ repeated: abiding respect for the tournament. Jordan Spieth won last year’s Travelers with an iconic bunker shot in a playoff on the 18th hole. Even before then, he had praise for the course and event. “I don’t have any bad experiences here. It’s just such a well run event, and the golf course itself has two nines that take different shapes; that always yields for an exciting finish.” That shot did put him in the good graces of Connecticut golf fans though. “It’s come up here and there a bit. There were quite a few fans from up here that also went out to the U.S. Open last week, and said ‘See you next week’, or ‘Great finish at the Travelers'”.
That sentiment held true for every returning golfer at the event. “It’s one of my favorite spots to be” said Patrick Reed. “We love coming here. We think the golf course is great. It’s always in really good, almost perfect shape every year we come. And the fans, Travelers and everyone who’s helping with the event has always been very kind, very generous, and very nice to all of us.”
Justin Thomas added: “This is one of those underrated ones that I think until people come to and play do they realize how great it is. They get an unbelievable fan showing out here.”
The tournament begins bright and early on Thursday morning in a shotgun start. First tee time is at 7 am for one of the PGA’s best kept secrets.