HARTFORD, Conn. – Except for one Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, the PGA Tour’s annual stop in Connecticut has been blessed to have had about all of the marquee names in professional golf since the Insurance City Open was first played at Wethersfield Country Club in 1952.
The tournament has had eight name changes and three title sponsors, the most notable being Travelers, which has been handing out the checks since 2007. And winners have included World Golf Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, Phil Mickelson, Billy Casper, Greg Norman, Lanny Wadkins, Curtis Strange, Nick Price, Hubert Green, Ken Venturi, Bob Toski, Tommy Bolt and African American Charlie Sifford, as well as notables such as Bubba Watson, Paul Azinger, Peter Jacobsen, Stewart Cink, Rhode Island native Brad Faxon and Fairfield native J.J. Henry, the only Connecticut product to take home the first prize.
But despite that Who’s Who of Golf, young Jordan Spieth accomplished something that none of them – or anyone else in the history of the PGA Tour – had ever accomplished last June. Spieth holed a 61-foot bunker shot on the first playoff hole to beat Daniel Berger and join Woods as the only players to win 10 PGA Tour titles by the age of 24. When Spieth’s shot disappeared, he swears he felt the ground shake from the crowd’s roar in the amphitheater surrounding the 18th green and then had arguably the most memorable celebratory club toss/rake toss/chest bump/hip check with caddie Michael Greller.
Heck, who could blame Spieth and Greller for such a display of emotion? After all, it was the first time in PGA Tour that someone holed a bunker shot in a playoff to win. The only others to pull off such histrionics on the final hole of regulation are Bob Tway (1986 PGA Championship) and 1994 GHO winner David Frost (1990 USF&G Classic), with Norman the victim both times.
The tournament had its best fields in the 1990s and early 2000s and regularly drew 250,000 or more fans each year. But the 2018 Travelers Championship, to be played June 21-24 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, could arguably have the event’s all-time top field with five weeks before shots are hit in quest of a $7 million purse, the largest in history.
Aussie Jason Day, seventh in the World Golf Rankings, is the latest to add his name to the list of top players. Day’s 12 PGA Tour victories include the 2015 PGA Championship, and he won the Farmers Insurance Open and Wells Fargo Championship this year after an injury-riddled 2017.
“Adding Jason to our field is fantastic news for the tournament and our fans,” Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube said. “Jason is one of the world’s best players, so having him return to TPC River Highlands reflects our mission of bringing the world’s greatest golfers to Connecticut every year.”
Day, 30, joins a loaded field that includes Spieth, Watson, Masters champion Patrick Reed, new World No. 1 Justin Thomas, former No. 1 Rory McIlroy and major championship winners Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk, who shot a PGA Tour record 58 in the final round in 2016. Among the upper echelon in the World Golf Rankings are Thomas (1), Spieth (3), Day (7), McIlroy (8), Paul Casey (12), Reed (13), Watson (18), Charley Hoffman (30) and Bryson DeChambeau (40).
The event has a tough act to follow after Spieth’s dramatic shot and receiving four major awards from the PGA Tour: Tournament of the Year, Most Fan-Friendly Event, Best Sales and the inaugural Players Choice. It also generated $1.72 million for 165 local charities, the largest core amount raised in the history of the tournament. It has generated $14.7 million for more than 750 charities since Travelers became title sponsor, with The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp founded by the late Paul Newman in 1986 the primary beneficiary.
“We were incredibly honored and humbled to be named ‘Tournament of the Year,’ which reflects the selfless work by our volunteers and the support of the Tour, its players, our sponsors and fans,” Grube said. “What took place at TPC River Highlands this year will go down as one of the most exciting in tournament history.”
Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer Andy Bessette also felt pride in what has been accomplished.
“We work hard on making sure everyone who attends or participates in our event has a world-class experience, so no detail toward that goal is too small,” Bessette said. “We are proud to associate our brand with the PGA Tour and this event and are honored by this tremendous recognition. The best part is that any success we have means more money and attention raised for so many local charities that partner with the tournament.”
For more information on biggest sporting event in Connecticut, visit travelerschampionship.com.