HARTFORD, Ct. – The upcoming Travelers Championship has arguably its best field in history and now eight more of its former winners will be at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell June 21 – 24.
The latest committed players are Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman, Ken Duke, Mark Leishman, Freddie Jacobson, Stewart Cink, Hunter Mahan and Fairfield native J.J. Henry, the only Connecticut native to win the biggest sporting event in the state in 1995. Defending champion Jordan Spieth and two-time winner Bubba Watson previously committed, so 10 past titlists will be among the 156 starts in the $7 million tournament that runs June 21-24.
“These eight players are part of the Travelers Championship family,” tournament chairman Nathan Grube said of the latest entries. “It’s always great for us and our fans to see our past champions, so we’re thrilled that so many have decided to come back and compete this year.”
Knox scored a dramatic win in 2016, rolling in a 12-foot par putt on the final hole for a one-stroke victory over University of Hartford grad Jerry Kelly, now a standout on the PGA Tour Champions. It was his second PGA Tour victory, coming off a win in the 2015-16 season in the HSBC Champions in China. This season, Knox has three top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
In 2014, Streelman set a PGA Tour record when he birdied the last seven holes, the most to close a final round by a winner, to prevail by a shot over Sergio Garcia and K.J. Choi. Streelman also has two PGA Tour victories.
Duke birdied the second playoff hole to defeat Chris Stroud and win the 2013 Travelers Championship, his first victory in 187 starts on the PGA Tour. Duke then made a $25,000 donation to the tournament’s charities.
Jacobson made the 2012 Travelers his first PGA Tour title by shooting a final-round, 8-under-par 62 to win by a stroke over Watson and Charley Hoffman. Leishman, who won twice in the 2016-17 season, has two second-place finishes and six top-10s in 15 starts this season. The Australia native is currently ranked 16th in the world.
Leishman held off a bevy of challengers to win the 2011 Travelers Championship by one stroke over Ryan Moore and John Rollins with a 20-under total of 260 for his first victory on the PGA Tour. He tied for eighth in 2012 and also has three wins on the European Tour.
Cink is one of seven players to win the tournament more than once, in 1997 and 2008. He is a six-time PGA Tour winner, including the 2009 British Open, when he beat World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson in a playoff at Turnberry. Cink was the recipient of the 2017 Payne Stewart Award for contributions to the game on and off the course.
Mahan earned his first of six PGA Tour victories in the 2007 Travelers when he opened with a 62 and then beat Trinity College grad Jay Williamson with a birdie on the first playoff hole after making a closing birdie on the final hole of regulation. Mahan’s Tour debut came at TPC River Highlands in 2000, when he was an 18-year-old amateur. He has played in three Ryder Cups and four Presidents Cups.
Henry thrilled local fans when he earned his first PGA Tour victory a four-stroke victory. He also has wins in the Barracuda Championship in 2012 and 2015. This will be Henry’s 20th start in the Travelers Championship, where he made his PGA Tour debut in 1998 as an amateur.
These past champions join a field that includes No. 1 Justin Thomas, former No. 1s Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, Masters champion Patrick Reed, two-time major championship winners Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk, Hoffman, Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, who won the Fort Worth Invitational last week for his second title in 10 months.
The event was named the 2017 “Tournament of the Year” by the PGA Tour and proudly supports the Tour’s Tradition of Giving Back by donating 100 percent of new proceeds to charity, with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford the major beneficiary.
For more information on the tournament, visit TravelersChampionship.com.
KELLY WHALEY LEADS WOMEN’S OPEN
The Whaleys are the First Family of Connecticut Golf, and the youngest member made noise on Saturday.
Father Bill Whaley played on the Australian and Asian Tours and is now the Senior Regional Director of Operations at PGA Tour after being the general manager and then Director of Golf at TPC River Highlands. Mother Suzy has a litany of achievements, most notably winning the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA Championship to qualify for the 2003 Greater Hartford Open, the first woman to accomplish that feat since Babe Zaharias in the 1945 Los Angeles Open, and being the first female elected an officer in the PGA of America in 2014. On Nov. 9, she will become the first female elected president of the national organization and host its annual meeting in Hartford in 2020.
Jenn Whaley, 23, was among the top amateur players in Connecticut in the late 2010s and captain of the Quinnipiac University women’s golf team her last two years and now works in Hartford for Aetna in their FDLP program in finance. Younger sister Kelly, 21, won the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur Championship three times and just finished her junior year and season at the University of North Carolina, her mother’s alma mater before she played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993.
Kelly moved into position to win yet again on Saturday, when she birdied the first three holes and shot 2-under 68 for a one-stroke lead over Jordan Lintz in the first round of the Hartford Women’s Open at Goodwin Park Golf Course in Hartford.
Kelly, 21, a Farmington native who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., bogeyed the seventh hole and turned in 2-under 33. She birdied No. 14 and bogeyed the 18th for an incoming 35 while her father caddied for her and mom was in the gallery. Suzy won’t be able to watch the final round Sunday at Keney Park GC in Hartford because she has to fly out early to California for a PGA of America event.
But Suzy did see Kelly make some history earlier in the year.
“I was fortunate to watch her win this year at the Briars Creek Invitational,” Suzy said. “She set an all-time school record at 12 under. A tournament that I won’t ever forget! Her team won, too, so all around glad to be there.”
Lintz, of Stratford, had three birdies and two bogeys as the only other player to finish under par. She won the 2011 Connecticut Women’s Open and finished second in the inaugural Hartford Women’s Open in 2016.
Amateur Linda Wang (Fresh Meadows, N.Y.) was third at 70, one ahead of Nathalie Filler (Flourtown, Pa.). Tied for fifth at 74 are four amateurs: Mia Grzywinski (Farmington), Angela Garvin (Feeding Hills, Mass.), Krystal Knight (Groveland, Mass.) and Sarah Houle (Sandy Hook).
Garvin is a four-time Junior Connecticut PGA Champion who tied for second last year after losing a three-way playoff to Brooke Baker, who isn’t defending. Garvin will be a senior in high school this fall and has already committed to play the University of Maryland.
Autumn Surreta of Avon, the defending Connecticut State Women’s Amateur champion who won the Connecticut Women’s Golf Association Championship on Friday, shot 75 and is a five-way tie for ninth that also include 2017 Connecticut Women’s Open champion Kayla Lawrence of Deland, Fla.
Pros are competing for an $8,000 purse that awards $3,000 to the low finisher thanks to sponsors The Hartford, Mohegan and PGA Tour. Amateurs are playing for merchandise prizes thanks to supporting sponsors Srixon, Skechers and Par Bar.
Cink and Phil Mickelson, two of the seven multiple winners in the PGA Tour’s annual stop in Connecticut since 1952, were paired together in the third round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic on Saturday in Memphis, Tenn. So both witnessed some histrionics when Cink made his fifth career hole-in-one with a wedge on the 143-yard eighth hole on his way to a 7-under 64 that vaulted him into contention for his first win since beating Watson in the 2009 British Open. Cink is third at 10-under 200, five behind co-leaders Andrew Putnam (64) and Dustin Johnson (65), who could regain No. 1 in the world rankings with a win on Sunday. Mickelson struggled to 74 and fell out of contention in a tie for 49th at 209. On his scorecard he registered a 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
The No. 1 conversation starter among golfers in the next few days: Who do you like in the Open?
And as usual, the U.S. Golf Association put together some intriguing pairings for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y. The marquee of all marquee groups is Thomas, Tiger Woods and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who is now No. 2. Other notable pairings are defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, Watson and Day; Spieth, McIlroy and Mickelson; Reed, Johnson and fellow Masters champion Charl Schwartzel; Leishman, Ricky Fowler and Hideki Masuyama; Furyk, Ernie Els and Steve Stricker; Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer; and the all-Spanish tandem of Garcia, John Rahm and Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Rowayton native Cameron Wilson will play with amateurs Will Grimmer and Philip Barbaree.