HARTFORD, Conn. – Golfers are among the most charitable athletes in the world as demonstrated by the PGA Tour announcing last week that it had surpassed $3 BILLION raised for thousands of entities worldwide.
Bubba Watson, who will try for a record-tying fourth victory in the Travelers Championship in June, donated $100,000 to the Bruce Edwards Foundation Benefit Dinner in 2016 that raised more than $1.3 million for research to fight ASL, which claimed the life of the Wethersfield native and longtime PGA Tour caddie who died of the dreaded disease at 49 years old. Then two years ago, Watson donated $200,000 of his $1,226,000 winner’s check to the tournament to enable it to reach a record $2 million for charity that it surpassed in 2019 ($2.1 million).
Now three of the top-ranked players in the world are showing special sentiments during the Genesis Invitational, which began Thursday at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles. The tournament also has a special tee sign on the par-4 eighth hole, honoring former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others on Jan. 26. Bryant wore No. 8 at the start of his NBA career and later switched to No. 24.
Rory McIlroy, who returned to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings this week for the first time since September 2015, is sporting several “#MambaMentality” headcovers in his bag. “Mamba” was Kobe’s nickname, and McIlroy was the first player to commit to the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell on June 25-28.
No. 4-ranked Justin Thomas, the FedExCup points leader and another early entry to the Travelers Championship, is wearing a pair of custom Kobe and Gianna shoes that feature a few of Bryant’s career achievements as well as the three members of the Altobelli family who also died in the tragic crash in nearby Calabasas, Calif.
Former No. 1 Brooks Koepka, the first player to commit to the Travelers Championship last year, has his own pair of Kobe-inspired shoes in the Genesis event.
The Bryant family had a private memorial service last Friday for Kobe and Gianna, and there will be a public memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 24. The Staples Center is where the Lakers play, and Feb. 24 represents the numbers that Gianna (2) and Kobe (24) wore.
Tiger Woods, the host of the Genesis Invitational, is taking his second shot at trying to notch his 83rd PGA Tour victory and break a tie with Sam Snead. Woods played his first PGA Tour event at Riviera Country Club in 1992 as a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, but he’s 0-for-13 on a course not far from where he grew up in Cypress, Calif.
Phil Mickelson, the only back-to-back winner in Travelers Championship history (2001-02), doesn’t have brother Tim caddying for him this week. Tim is taking time off due to “lingering issues,” mainly a back injury that flared up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last week when Phil finished third behind Nick Taylor and 2012 Travelers Championship winner Kevin Streelman. Phil will seek a fourth Genesis title with his swing coach, Andrew Getson, on his bag.
“I’m taking this week of from caddying to rest and recover,” Tim said via Twitter. “I could have caddied (this week), but it could have made it worse and then recovery may have taken longer. Gotta be healthy for the ‘majors’ stretch coming up soon.”
Tim has worked fulltime for Phil since late 2017, succeeding Caddie Hall of Fame member Jim “Bones” Mackay, who is now an on-course announcer for several television networks.
Watson and sixth-ranked Patrick Cantlay, an All-American at UCLA, are two other early commitments to the Travelers Championship, which has a record purse ($7.4 million) and record first prize ($1.332 million) this year. Chez Reavie is defending champion after ending an 11-year victory drought in 2019.