Ironically, just as in his first Travelers Championship victory, Bubba Watson rallied from six strokes back entering the final round of last year’s event to win by three shots. It enabled him to surpass his original goal of 10 PGA Tour victories, and he’s now only three wins and one major from qualifying for the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“Bubba is a personal champion for us,” tournament director Nathan Grube said. “We have really got to know him over the years, and it has been a joy and a privilege.”
Last year, Watson donated $200,000 of his $1,260,000 winnings to the tournament, enabling it to reach a record $2 million for charity in a single year. He suddenly decided to make the donation after he heard it had raised $1.8 million.
“I told them, ‘Kids are big on my heart. I’m doing this because of what you do for them and what you mean to the community, how you help around the world. I want to be a part of this.’ It sounds better at $2 million than $1.8. .….It was just that I’m part of Travelers now and this area and community, so I wanted to show my love and support. As we can see with the voting of the PGA Tour players that Travelers is the best tournament (the past two years). Just everything about the tournament is growing, and everybody sees that, players see that, and they hear the buzz. They know the buzz, and now more and more people are just going to get bigger and bigger.”
“Bubba is phenomenal and such an important part of the tournament,” Andy Bessette, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Travelers, said. “We can’t thank him enough for (the donation) and for all that the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp does for so many children who have different afflictions and fight the battles of their lives. It’s just terrific to be able to partner with all of our charities, more than 150 last year, and since we’ve been title sponsor we’ve given more than $16.7 million to charity and over 750 organizations that have benefitted from it. Bubba has been the target of my questions and saying, okay, so how do we make this better, what are we missing, because you guys play a lot of other tournaments. What can we do to make it better?”
“My affinity, the love for this place, is just the communication between player and sponsor, the communication of my family, my family loves this tournament now because of my situation,” Watson said. “The situation with my dad, and that’s why Ryder Cup means so much to me. Every year that I make the Ryder Cup team or as a vice captain, I tell them why it means so much is because the only event my dad ever saw me win was the Travelers. The last event he ever watched me play in from his hospital bed was the Ryder Cup.
“So the affinity is just coming back here because of what it means to my family, my mom, my first time winning but then on my dad’s side of him. So this city, this town, this community has been great for me and my family, and that’s really why the love started. It’s just one of those things when you get here, the energy you feel from the fans and the people around the event. You get energized, and there’s certain places you show up you’re just energized. No matter how good you play or how bad you play you’re still energized at those places.”
Eight of Watson’s PGA Tour titles have come in three events; the Travelers Championship (three), Genesis Open (three) and Masters (two). Watson, who spoke at the tournament’s annual Media Day, said he was also energized for this year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., that he considers the hardest he has ever played under normal conditions and where he tied for 18th behind winner Lucas Glover in the soggy 2009 U.S. Open, which ended on Monday, and a few Barclays, a FedExCup playoff event.
“The key around that golf course is hitting the fairways because the iron shots are going to be longer, the holes are longer, so you’ve got to hit the fairways so you can play to the green,” Watson said. “Somebody is not going to shoot 30 under par because the golf course is that difficult, so you’ve just got to play steady and focus on hitting the fairways, and then like every golf tournament, you’ve got to make the 10-footers.”
Beyond the defending champ this year’s field looks strong, with luminaries such as four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, Major winners Jason Day and Justin Thomas, Masters champ Patrick Reed, and two-time Travelers and Masters winner Bubba Watson among those slated to tee it up.
The Travelers Championship is one of the longest running tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule. The tourney was founded in 1952 as the Insurance City Open and in 1967 it was renamed the Greater Hartford Open, a title that was retained through 2003. From 1973 to 1988, the GHO also bore the name of the late entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., who would often play in the pro-ams and bring in some of his big-name friends, such as Bob Hope and Flip Wilson. Canon, the camera giant, was a title sponsor from 1985 to 2002, the car company Buick was title sponsor from 2004 to 2006, and The Travelers Companies, a Connecticut-based insurance provider, took over sponsorship in 2007.
The tournament was played for its first three decades at cozy Wethersfield Country Club. In 1984, after the PGA Tour bought and redesigned Edgewood Country Club, the event moved to the new TPC of Connecticut in Cromwell. In 1991, the course was redesigned with a completely new back nine holes and renamed the TPC at River Highlands.
The Cromwell facility was the third PGA Tour-owned/managed golf course in what would grow to a network of over 30 TPC clubs. The purse for the first tournament, won by Ted Kroll, was $15,000. In 2006 tournament, under Buick’s sponsorship, the purse grew to $4.4 million, with $792,000 going to the winner. From 2007 to 2010, the purse under Travelers’ sponsorship was $6 million, with $1,080,000 going to the champion. It is up slightly this year to $7.2 million, with $1.296 million going to the winner, along with 500 FedEx Cup points.
The tournament has seen a who’s who of professional golf claim the title over the years, from Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper to Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and Spieth. Its position on the calendar has varied. Part of the FedEx Cup, the Travelers Championship is now played in June, the week after the U.S. Open. The Travelers is one of the most attended events on the PGA Tour and the tournament set a record attendance in 2002 with nearly 400,000 fans for the week.
The Insurance City Open was founded by the Greater Hartford Jaycees as a means to raise funds to support their philanthropic causes. The Jaycees are international leadership development organization for men and women ages 21 and 40. In 1971, The Greater Hartford Jaycees Foundation, Inc. was established as a grant-giving entity by the Greater Hartford Jaycees, Inc. with the help of PGA pro Bob Murphy, who donated part of his winnings as 1970 Greater Hartford Open champion. The event raises more than a million dollars a year for local charities.
Where: TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Ct.
When: June. 17-23.
Purse: $7.2 million.
Winner’s Share: $1.296 million.
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the winner.
Defending Champion: Bubba Watson
Recent Champions: Jordan Spieth (2017), Russell Knox (2016), Bubba Watson (2015), Kevin Streelman (2014), Ken Duke (2013), Marc Leishman (2012), Freddie Jacobson (2011), Bubba Watson (2010), Kenny Perry (2009), Stewart Cink (2008, 1997), Hunter Mahan (2007), J.J. Henry (2006), Brad Faxon (2005), Woody Austin (2004), Peter Jacobsen (2003), Phil Mickelson (2001 & 2002)