CROMWELL, Conn. – When the major championships come around each year, there’s always discussions about the best player never to have won one of golf’s four biggest events.
When it comes to the Travelers Championship, the most successful player in tournament history never to have won has to be Englishman Paul Casey.
In four starts at TPC River Highlands, Casey lost a playoff to three-time champion Bubba Watson in 2015 and then tied for 17th, fifth and second, the latter after leading by four strokes entering the final round thanks to a bogey-free 8-under-par 62, his career low on the PGA Tour. But a closing 72 dropped Casey into a share of second with two-time winner Stewart Cink, J.B. Holmes and Beau Hossler, all of whom finished three behind Watson, the author of a final-round 63 after starting the day six back, the same deficit as when he won his first PGA Tour title in the 2010 Travelers Championship.
Despite the frustrating near-misses, the leader in power rankings at TPC River Highlands this week sees the glass far more half-full than half-empty.
“I love this place. I play it well,” the smiling gregarious Casey after being a judge in the FedEx Junior Business Challenge at soggy TPC River Highlands. “I’ve come very close, and I would love to get a victory here. Bubba, one of the most enjoyable golfers to watch and great for the game, has got the better of me a couple of times, but on both occasions, I made errors and didn’t play the golf I wanted to. I would have loved to play better golf and give him more of a match, but I never think of those losses.
“You never think of the other player. In our sport, it’s always about I should have done something different. Great thing is we come back every year, and I’ve always got a chance to try and get one up on him. I’m playing good stuff. Last week it was great to be at Pebble (Beach for the U.S. Open), but I feel like my golf is right where it needs to be. We’ve got not only this, but the push to the end of the FedExCup, so things are getting very, very serious right now.”
Casey, who tied for 21st in the U.S. Open thanks to a closing 4-under 67, said he hasn’t got overly serious after coming so close in three of four Travelers Championship starts. That’s a far cry from Jeff Maggert, Mark Calcavecchia and Jonathan Kaye, who openly vented frustration when beaten at the end of Connecticut’s biggest sporting event.
“It’s a gentleman’s sport, so I’ve found it’s always been easy to be a gentleman, and I think everyone is on the PGA Tour,” Casey said. “We’ve got a great group, great membership, and it’s interesting that in this championship last year, I did not have a good warmup. I’ll give a lot of credit to my coach Peter Kostis and my caddie John McLaren because it was something we discussed. Nobody ever likes hearing kind of their faults, but we sat and reviewed it and discussed how poor the warmup was and how I went to the first tee just a little out of whack.
“I’ve worked incredibly hard on a warmup and controlling that. Now there is a timing to it, a number of golf ball that I hit. And that showed itself early this year (in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) with all the stopping and starting, and I stayed consistent and ended up with a decent result. I know I didn’t win (he was second), but I didn’t have the golf game certainly to beat Phil (Mickelson) that week. Then stuck with that, and it’s become really a key part of what I do now. Without a doubt, it very much assisted in Tampa and the victory (in the Valspar Championship). I’ve got that new warmup now, so maybe that’s the key.
“But you learn in defeat, learn in the mistakes. If you don’t, you don’t survive. So as much as it’s painful to lose, it’s when you learn and when you grow.”
Casey said there are several reasons why he has had plenty of success since he first stepped on the TPC River Highlands grounds four years ago.
“We’ve got a great golf course that tests the player and kind of every club in the bag,” said Casey, 41, who has won $1,484,890 and averaged 67.06 in 16 rounds in Connecticut. “But other factors you wouldn’t hear from a player is we’ve got great crowds and great energy around the championship. The people who run this tournament, (Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer) Andy Bessette, is right at the top of the list for us as players to interact with him, and it filters all the way through. So it’s things like that that make this championship so great.”
Casey also cited Bessette continually following his credo “the status quo is unacceptable.” Major changes started with a state-of-the-art practice facility that includes The First Tee of Connecticut headquarters, extensive course improvements and now a new $20 million clubhouse that opened three weeks ago and is four times the size of its predecessor. They’re all reasons that the tournament received the PGA Tour’s “Players Choice Award” the last two years and was named “Tournament of the Year” for the first time in 2017.
“I was amazed when I first saw the range, and it’s unbelievable that the clubhouse is such a wonderful structure,” said Casey, one of the players who took advantage of a charter flight from California to Connecticut provided by Travelers on Monday. “I like the quirky old clubhouse, but obviously times change and facilities need to always be improved. They should be proud of what they’ve done in less than 12 months. I’m astounded. I can’t get anything done around my house in less than 12 months.
“Brilliant stuff, and it just adds to what was already here. You don’t know how the players are going to vote (for their award) at the end of season, but the improvements that they constantly make are why they stay at the top of the list. We’ve got such great crowds, such great support for this event. If you’re not excited when you stand on that first tee on Thursday, the amount of the energy that’s in the championship, then I can’t help you. I’m going to feel good. My golf game is in a good place. I don’t think (coming from a major championship on the West Coast) is going to be a factor this week.”
Casey hopes to make a strong final push in the FedExCup points race that ends with the last of four playoff events, the Tour Championship on Aug. 22-25 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga. The top 30 after the first three playoff tournaments qualify for the 2018-2019 season finale, which has a $10 million first prize and was moved ahead a month so the playoffs were before the NFL and college football seasons and the baseball postseason begin.
“The FedExCup is really important,” said Casey, who has fallen to eighth in the standings. “Seems like recently everybody who was kind of just been behind me has been winning. Patrick Cantlay and Gary Woodland (won), and Justin Rose (third in the U.S. Open) has been playing well. So I’ve been leap-frogged the last few weeks by a lot of guys, so it’s important to keep playing and make hay while you can. I’m not playing that much between now and the playoffs, so this is a really important week for me.
“Hopefully when I get to the playoffs, I’ll be happy with how I managed it and still have enough energy to push throughout the playoffs and put in a good performance and not feel like I maybe left something out there. It’s a difficult balancing act.”
Casey is ninth on the money list with $3,693,134, much coming from successfully defending a pro title for the first time in the Valspar Championship. It also was the first time that a player won back-to-back at Innisbrook Country Club, and his 8-under 276 tied for the highest winning score this year with Francesco Molinari in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Casey had been only 1-for-5 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead in his PGA Tour career, including the four-shot advantage in the Travelers Championship last year and a three-stroke edge over Michelson in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. But despite a closing 1-over 72 in windy conditions in Tampa, Casey was able to hold off Dustin Johnson, No. 1 at the time and his playing partner in the final round, and finish one ahead of Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Kokrak and two in front of Watson and Sungjae Im.
“It was close all the way, and to be playing with Dustin and get the better of him was nice,” Casey said. “Dustin is a great friend, great player, but that’s a very, very good feeling to go up against the best and come out on top. The whole week was great.”
Casey referred to surprising a local youth named Ronan during the pro-am with a pair of special glasses that helped his color blindness and allowing him to hit a drive on the 18th hole.
“It was a cool experience,” Casey said. “To be honest, it’s the things such as this, the charity aspects, that make my job one of the best jobs in the world. Not just being able to lift trophies, but a lot of the other charity work and things that go on that a lot of people don’t get to see day in and day out.”
Casey has three PGA Tour and 14 International victories and played on four Ryder Cup and World Cup teams while earning more than $30 million, far exceeding what he had expected when he left Arizona State University.
“I didn’t know I would make it on Tour, let along be this long,” said a smiling Casey, who joined the PGA Tour in 2004. “Proud to have. Proud to be still chasing my dreams. Seems like college kids now, we were seeing 16-year-olds last week competing in the U.S. Open, but I didn’t have the skill set to that physically or mentality when I was that age. They seem to be so good now, so certain of their destiny.
“I was never that way. I’m still excited to do what I do. I have to pinch myself that I’m doing this. The fact I’m doing it for as long as I’ve done it, very proud of that now. I’ve had ups and downs in my career, and I feel like I’m playing some of the best golf I’ve ever played. Nothing wrong with being proud of that, and I am.”
Casey also was proud to be part of a four-person panel, which also included Hartford native and Stanley Cup champion Nick Bonino, who judged the FedEx Junior Business Challenge, a program in conjunction with the PGA Tour to help empower the next generation of entrepreneurs. Since 1966, FedEx has donated nearly $16 million to Junior Achievement Worldwide in support of the small businesses and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. At select PGA Tour tournaments, JA students pitch original business concepts to a panel of judges for a chance to advance to the finals at the Tour Championship, where one group will earn a $75,000 donation from FedEx to their local JA chapter.
In the second FedEx Junior Business Challenge qualifying of the year, JA student company Simplex, a group from Simsbury, Somers and Granby that created a storage lanyard that doubles as a phone charger, was selected to advance to the finals.
It all seemed foreign to Casey.
“I had no clue what I was doing when I was a teenager in school,” Casey said with yet another smile. “They’re so far … brilliant. My focus was obviously sport when I was in high school. Great to see the enthusiasm but also the business minds that the kids have. They’ve got great futures, for sure. We saw some really great products today.
“Simplex is a product I’ve never seen before. In this day and age to see a technology product that’s a very simple concept that you haven’t seen before is something very, very cool. Great presentation. Hats off to all of them, and I feel very honored sitting there as a judge.”
Perhaps that was the perfect first warmup for Casey in his quest for that elusive Travelers Championship title.
“Fox and Friends” on Fox Network had an especially inspiring show Tuesday morning June 18.
First, it had a segment on Gary Woodland, who won his first major championship Sunday in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California. It included the personable and patriotic nature of Woodland, who wore American flag Puma shoes and a winged logo on his shirt that’s part of Puma’s Volition collection whose proceeds partly benefit “Folds of Honor,” founded in 2007 by Major Dan Rooney with the mission of raising money to provide educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen soldiers and disabled service members. Its motto fittingly is: Honor Their Sacrifice. Educate Their Legacy. Folds of Honor has raised more than $70 million and awarded nearly 10,000 scholarships.
Rooney began the project after returning home from his second tour of duty in Iraq as a F-16 fighter pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard and painfully becoming aware of the reality that families face when a loved one in uniform has died or is disabled. Since then, Rooney has raised ???? and awarded ???? scholarships to children throughout the country. And on June 3, Rooney and icon Jack Nicklaus agreed to create the American Dunes Golf Club in Tulsa, Okla., that will pay tribute to the United States military.
Meanwhile, Puma signed Woodland to be the face of their Volition golf collection earlier in the year. It is Puma’s special apparel with a patriotic design of clothing, footwear and apparel that honors the country and the men and women of the military.
“Puma prides itself in not only aligning with stellar golfers and athletes, but great people as well,” Puma Golf’s Dan Ladd said. “To that end, Gary is a wonderful addition to our Tour Team, and the perfect ambassador to lead our Volition America Collection on course. We’re excited to have him on the team and are looking forward to seeing him continue to play great in patriotic style.”
Woodland also signed an equipment contract with Wilson.
“I’m extremely excited to be joining Wilson Golf after working with them extensively the last few months,” Woodland posted in Instagram. “Their premium line of clubs and high-quality equipment will be integral as I continue to elevate my game.”
Woodland was as worthy of a champion as you could find after taking the lead Friday night and then fending off several of the game’s top players throughout the weekend, especially No. 1-ranked Brooks Koepka, who was seeking to become the first player to win three consecutive titles since Willie Anderson in 1903-05.
Woodland was the leader of a plethora of memorable hole-outs, chip-ins and overall shot-making, mixing his usual power with a short-game brilliance that hadn’t been seen in his 11-year PGA Tour career. And Koepka, who is playing in the Travelers Championship, became the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open and not win, which is only slightly more remarkable than the fact that he lost by three.
“He’s like a cockroach,” Xander Schauffele, who tied for third, said of Koepka. “He just won’t go away.”
After the Woodland segment, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was shown giving terrific advice after being given the Generation Award during the MTV Movie & TV Awards. While accepting his special trophy, Dwayne couldn’t help but recall his early days in Hollywood when people weren’t sure what to think of him.
“When I first got to Hollywood, Hollywood, they didn’t know what the hell to do with me” he recalled. “I mean, I was half black, half Samoan, six foot four, 275 pound pro wrestler. I was told at that time you gotta be a certain way. You gotta drop some weight. You gotta be somebody different. You gotta stop working out, stop doing the things that I love. You gotta stop calling yourself ‘The Rock.’
“For years, I actually bought into it because you think, oh, that’s what — that’s what I’m supposed to do. I was miserable doing that so I made a choice. The choice was I wasn’t gonna conform to Hollywood. Hollywood was gonna conform to me.”
Between his success in the World Wrestling Entertainment and on the big screen, “The Rock” certainly proved the doubters wrong.
Finally, the Fox News show had a segment about youngsters receiving a free ice cream cone if they sang the national anthem. Five kids were shown doing exactly that and then receiving those cones.
TRAVELERS NUTS AND BOLTS
Fans will have to be out early Wednesday to see many of the top players in the Celebrity Pro-Am. Play begins at 6:50 a.m. off the first and 10th tees, and the pros in the first few groups off No. 1 are Bryson DeChambeau, Koepka (7:00) and Mickelson (7:10) with Tommy Fleetwood (7:30), Vermont native Keegan Bradley (7:50), Patrick Reed (8:40) and Jason Day (8:50, the last time in the morning group). Those starting first off No. 10 are Justin Thomas, Watson (7:00), Francesco Molinari (7:20), Casey (7:30) and Padraig Harrington (7:40). Those last off the 10th in the morning are Marc Leishman (8:40) and Cantlay (8:50). Notables off the first tee in the afternoon are Freddie Jacobson (noon), Brandt Snedeker (12:20), Fairfield native J.J. Henry (1:00), Russell Knox (1:20) and Louis Oosthuizen (2:00, the last starting time). Notables off the 10th tee will be Tony Finau (noon), Jordan Spieth (12:10), Hunter Mahan (12:20), Kevin Kisner (12:40), Kevin Streelman (1:20), Peter Uihlein (1:50) and Daniel Berger (2:00). … Ryan Moore, a frequent challenger but never a winner in the Travelers, went from first alternate to the first starting time off the first tee in the first round on Thursday (6:45 a.m.) The featured groupings the first two rounds are Cantlay-Molinari-Thomas (7:35 a.m. 10th tee-12:50 p.m. first tee), Koepka-Watson-Thomas (7:45 a.m. 10th tee-1 p.m. first tee), Casey-DeChambeau-Day (12:50 p.m. first tee-7:35 a.m. first tee), Mickelson-Leishman-Spieth (1 p.m. first tee-7:45 a.m. 10th tee), Henry-Robert Streb-Ryan Blaum (1:10 p.m. first tee-7:55 a.m. 10th tee), Fleetwood-Knox-Cameron Smith (12:30 p.m. 10th tee-7:15 a.m. first tee), Streelman-Oosthuizen-Bud Cauley (1:10 p.m. 10th tee-7:55 a.m. first tee) and Mahan-Scott Langley-Sam Saunders (1:10 p.m. 10th tee-7:55 a.m. first tee). … The tournament, which began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield Country Club, has a record purse ($7.2 million) and a record first prize ($1.296 million). … Television coverage will be 3-6 p.m. Thursday and Friday on Golf Channel; and 1-2:45 p.m. on Golf Channel and 3-6 p.m. on CBS on Saturday and Sunday. PGA Tour live online will be 7 a.m.-6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. … The primary beneficiary of the tournament is again The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, founded in 1988 by the late Paul Newman. The camp provides “a different kind of healing” to more than 20,000 seriously ill children and family members annually, all free of charge. For many children and families, Hole in the Wall provides multiple camp experiences throughout the year. A year ago, the tournament raised a record $2 million thanks to Watson donating $200,000 of his $1,260,000 winnings to the final total.
HALL OF FAMER FRED KASK DIES
Fred Kask, one of the most accomplished amateurs in the history of Connecticut golf, died Saturday at age 84. Kask, inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 1995, began playing golf at Goodwin Park GC and Keney Park GC in Hartford, imitating the swings of people he caddied for at Wethersfield CC. At other times, Kask would practice behind the Glastonbury Academy or at East Hartford GC.
“You learned by yourself,” Kask, a 1953 Bulkeley-Hartford graduate who never attended college, said before his Hall of Fame induction. “I loved to hit golf balls because it was so peaceful. And playing tournaments has always been fun because you find out what you can do.
“Getting into the Hall of Fame is a great honor that I never thought would come. I don’t know who chooses these things, but I’m very appreciative.”
Kask, who played out of Wethersfield CC, won the Connecticut State Golf Association Amateur Championship four times – second to Hall of Famer Dick Siderowf’s five titles – the 1971 New England Amateur, the CSGA Senior Championship in 1995 and 1999 and other regional individual and best-ball events. He played in three U.S. Amateurs, three U.S. Senior Amateurs and in three ICOs at Wethersfield CC.
Kask, who lived in East Hartford with his wife, Patricia, was a computer analyst for the State of Connecticut for 35 years before retiring in 1993. He was a scratch player most of his life and played in four Society of Senior Golfers tournaments nationwide in 1995, finishing second in the U.S. Senior Challenge.