HARTFORD, Conn. – It was hardly a surprise, but defending champion Bubba Watson committed to play in the Travelers Championship on Tuesday.
Watson’s three-stroke victory last year enabled him to become only the second player to win the tournament that began as the Insurance City Open in 1952 more than twice. World Golf Hall of Famer Billy Casper won four times, and Watson will try to match that record June 20-23 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
“The Travelers Championship is one of my favorite tournaments — and favorite weeks — on the PGA Tour,” Watson said. “It will always hold special meaning to me because it was the site of my first Tour victory (in 2010), but the way the entire community embraces it, and how the tournament team goes above and beyond to ensure it’s a great experience, truly makes it special.”
Watson’s connection with the Travelers Championship extends beyond the victories he has achieved on the golf course. Over the past three years, he has donated $300,000 to tournament charities, including $200,000 in 2018 after rallying from six strokes back in the final round. That enabled the tournament to provide a record $2 million to charity, with that sum going to Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the primary beneficiary. During the 2016 event, Watson pledged $100,000 toward the Bruce Edwards Foundation Benefit Dinner, a one-time special event that raised money for ALS causes, the charitable focus that year.
“Bubba has been such a wonderful ambassador for our tournament,” tournament director Nathan Grube said. “Our fans enjoy seeing Bubba play every year, and the fact that he’s the defending champion for the third time will bring even more excitement to what promises to be an incredible week.”
Watson’s first PGA Tour victory came when he beat Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank in a playoff. He added a second title in 2015, also in a playoff, beating Paul Casey. Watson is also a two-time Masters champion, winning in 2012 and 2014, a four-time participant in the Ryder Cup, a three-time winner of the Genesis Open, a two-time representative of the United States in the Presidents Cup and was a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
“We’re proud of the relationship we have with Bubba and his family, and we can’t thank him enough for all he’s done for this tournament,” said Andy Bessette, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Travelers. “He’s had tremendous success on the course and he’s helped us bring our charitable initiatives to the next level by generously contributing funds toward the tournament’s causes. He’s a great partner, and we can’t wait to welcome him back this year.”
Watson is No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking and joins five other highly ranked players — Brooks Koepka (No. 3), Justin Thomas (No. 4), Bryson DeChambeau (No. 5), Francesco Molinari (No. 10) and Tony Finau (No. 13). Kopeka repeated as U.S. Open last year and then won the PGA Championship. In between, Molinari became the first Italian to capture a major championship when he won the British Open.
The tournament has attracted a steady diet of marquee players despite being the week after the U.S. Open, which is at Pebble Beach in California this year.
“The more you get to know these guys and develop relationships with them, they know what it means to the tournament when you’re able to announce them early,” said Grube, who is in in 18th year as tournament director. ”If you have asked me back in 2007, when we first got our (post-U.S. Open) date, what’s going to happen with West Coast Opens, I would have said I’m not sure. But we’ve followed four West Coast Opens, and it hasn’t affected our fields the way a decade ago I would have thought.”
Travelers has been the week after the U.S. Open in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015, and its field has not been noticeably damaged. Travelers was named Tournament of the Year in 2017 and received the Players Choice Award in 2017 and 2018.
Why has a tournament in Cromwell, Conn., the week after the year’s second (now third) major championship been able to draw top-notch fields on a steady basis?
“It’s the details,” Grube said. “Our transportation committee, player relations committee, day-care committee – just every little step of the way we try to think of everything that the players or their families or their caddies might need. So I think our general attitude plays itself out to 100 little things. If it was one thing, you’d see every tournament doing it every week. Talking to players about what it’s like when they come to Connecticut, they say it just feels so comfortable.”
And it certainly helps that they provide a charter flight, compliments of Travelers, to the players, families and caddies from the U.S. Open to Connecticut.