HARTFORD, Conn. – The latest blog from Ken Green arrived via email last week, and, as usual, the fun-loving, straight-shooting Danbury native offered yet another round of interesting and entertaining thoughts.
Green is a five-time winner on the PGA Tour and member of the 1989 U.S. Ryder Cup Team who also competed on the PGA Tour Champions before and after having the lower part of this right leg amputated following a horrific recreational vehicle accident in 2009.
The rebellious free spirit was fined 24 times, believed to be a PGA Tour record, after numerous run-ins with commissioners Deane Beman and Tim Finchem. He also is famously/infamously known for sneaking relatives into Augusta National Golf Club in the trunk of his car and drinking a beer with playing partner Arnold Palmer as they walked down the 15th hole in the final round of the 1997 Masters.
The 61-year-old Green began his latest prose bemoaning how he had to leave his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., because courses in his area had been shut down. But on his ride north to Connecticut, he and four friends stopped to play TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, home of The Players Championship, which he called “such a great golf course.” It was designed by Hall of Fame architect Pete Dye, who renovated Edgewood Golf Club in Cromwell into the TPC of Connecticut that is now TPC River Highlands, which hosts the Travelers Championship.
“Pete Dye gets no credit because it took so many redos to get it right,” Green said.
Four of the five players in Green’s group hit the famous par-3 island 17th green, and he facetiously said he’s going to have a plaque made that says, “Here lies Ken Green, the most loved golfer of all time by PGA Tour commissioners.” Green also wants plaques around the course where spectators walk showing players who had won on the PGA Tour, quipping his would be next to “a great Green Porta John and certainly at the bottom of the toilet.”
Green said not allowing fans on the course when the PGA Tour resumes with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 11-14 is “clearly an opinion-related subject.” The Travelers Championship, scheduled for June 25-28, is the third of the first four events slated to be played without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Green said the Ryder Cup between the United States and Europe, scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisc., should be canceled if spectators aren’t allowed.
“It’s not the end of the world if they just push it to next year because without fans, that event just won’t be the same,” said Green, inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2006. “Many may have forgotten that the Ryder Cup was canceled after 9/11 (in 2001), and we all survived. I get that the sports world seems to think that sports must go on because it will give people something to watch and root for and maybe forget the death of so many unfortunate souls.
“I personally believe no event should be played without the fans. I’m also very skeptical that all the athletes want to get out there to help our country get through the COVID-19 virus. I feel it’s more about them making money. With all the lives that are going to be destroyed or dramatically changed, it just doesn’t quite seem right that the athletes will be going out there making millions.”
But Green is “all in” if the PGA Tour gives 50 percent of the purse to the people who most need it in the town where an event is being played. He said it could be “juicier” with an “out-of-the-box” idea of having each tournament draft five players for a team competition. The Travelers Championship has a $7.4 million purse with $1.332 million going to the winner, so he and the tournament would each receive $666,000. Then the top team for the year would get a $5 million bonus.
“It would be a perfect way to show the country we care, and then you put so much pressure on all the other sports to do the right thing,” Green said. “This is a once-in-a-century disaster, and it should be turned into an US vs. greed. Kind of like me, once a century.”
As I said, Ken Green is never lacking for interesting and entertaining commentary.
TRAVELERS CHAMPIONSHIP SCENARIOS
Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube told Golfweek that he and his staff considered several scenarios after a dozen tournaments were postponed or canceled.
“Once we felt that shockwave of many events actually getting canceled, all of a sudden we went, ‘Holy cow, what if we get canceled?’ ” Grube said.
After working on different plans and seeing where the event stood with its vendors, contractors and charity partners, options were played out.
“We worked back from canceled to limited build to no build,” Grube said. “From just fans on the property to limited fans to this made-for-TV situation. We joke that we’ve got about five versions of the Travelers Championship that if anybody wants that, we can pull it out of a drawer.”
In an April 16 teleconference call, Grube and Andy Bessette, executive vice president and chief executive officer at Travelers, announced the decision to play the biggest sporting event in Connecticut that annually draws more than 200,000 fans without spectators. The PGA Tour hopes to resume two weeks earlier after not playing since the first round of The Players Championship on March 12, and fans could visit TPC River Highlands if COVID-19 subsides enough almost two months from now.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, said improved testing to maintain safety for the players, caddies, tournament officials, television and media personnel and a handful of volunteers holds the key to paying customers being allowed on the premises. Since the pandemic started, Grube has talked frequently with Gov. Ned Lamont, honorary chairman of the 2019 Travelers Championship who has backed the idea of playing the tournament without spectators.
“If it’s not safe (in June), we’re not going to do this,” Grube said. “We are being, I would say, very aspirational that all of this is going to be possible to do in mid-to-late June. We’re going to work closely with the PGA Tour on testing. We are a PGA Tour event, and we are going to 100 percent take the lead from the Tour on what to do with that, how to do that. And then we’ll take the lead from the state with the rest of the people on the property.”
So if testing improves and Grube & Co. can work out the logistics, the PGA Tour will continue a run in Connecticut that began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield Country Club with spectators. Let’s hope so for the sake of the hundreds of local charities that have received more than $42 million thanks to the tournament, including nearly $20 million since Travelers became the title sponsor in 2007. Especially with early commitments being No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy, No. 4 Justin Thomas, No. T7 Patrick Cantlay, No. T7 Patrick Reed, No. 13 Bryson DeChambeau and Bubba Watson, who will try to tie Hall of Famer Billy Casper for most tournament wins (four). Chez Reavie is defending champion after ending an 11-year victory drought last year with a four-stroke victory over Vermont native Keegan Bradley and Zach Sucher.