Travelers Championship Golf Notes

Bruce Berlet, longtime sports writer for the Hartford Courant and freelance golf writer, received a gift commemorating his 50th year of covering the tournament that included a signed card and framed Travelers Championship flag signed by 36 players who competed in last week’s historic tournament.

CROMWELL, Conn. – Bubba Watson certainly didn’t have the finish he wanted in his bid for a record-tying fourth Travelers Championship title on Sunday.

But the charitable long hitter from Baghdad, Fla., seemingly never stops giving to Connecticut that he considers his second home. His latest gift of generosity was a $10,000 donation to First Tee-Connecticut, whose headquarters are located adjacent the TPC River Highlands practice facility.

“The Travelers Championship and greater Hartford area have always been special to me and my family,” Watson said on his Facebook page.. “I always look forward to coming here. I know the First Tee of Connecticut does great work, and I am honored to help their mission of helping children through the game.”

First Tee-Connecticut executive direction Mark Moriarty was mighty appreciative of Watson’s donation that will be used toward positively impacting 70,000 youngsters in the program across the area.

Bryson DeChambeau signs autographs after completing his first round at the Travelers Championship, although the PGA Tour has a policy (and signs) prohibiting autographs.

“Bubba’s charitable spirit is evident through his continued support of this community,” Moriarty said. “We are grateful for his and (wife) Angie’s incredible kindness and will definitely put their support to good use building game changers across our chapter.”

Watson made his initial contribution to the community in 2016 when he donated $100,000 to the Bruce Edwards Benefit Dinner that raised more than $1.1 million in honor of the Wethersfield native and longtime caddie of Tom Watson who died of ALS. Watson then gave $200,000 of the $1,260,000 that he earned for the last of his three Travelers Championship wins in 2018 so the tournament would have a profit of $2 million that “sounded a lot better than $1.8 million,” a smiling Bubba said at the time. Then in February, he gave $25,000 toward the $1 million being raised by Travelers to help rebuild The Hole-In-The-Wall Gang Camp for kids with serious illnesses in Ashford that burned down. Amazingly, it took only four days to reach the goal.

Watson helped raise more than $2 million for charity and continued to show his class despite his disappointing finish Sunday when he made four bogeys and a double bogey in the last six holes to shoot a closing 3-over-par 73 and fall from a one-stroke lead to finishing six behind Harris English and Kramer Hickok. English won on a 16-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole of a playoff, which was the longest in the 70th edition of Connecticut’s premier sporting event and tied the second longest on the PGA Tour to the 11 holes in the 1949 Motor City Open in which Lloyd Mangrum and Dr. Cary Middlecoff were declared co-winners when play was halted by darkness.

“Not quite the ending I was hoping for and working towards this week but still a great week as always, Travelers Championship,” Watson wrote on his Facebook page Sunday night. “I love this tournament, the fans, the sponsors, the tournament team and volunteers who make it an event we want to come back to. Y’all are amazing!!! See ya next year, CT.”

The 2021 Travelers Championship was a resounding success with about 10,000 fans turning out each day ending with Harris English beating Kramer Hickok in a thrilling 8-hole playoff.

Watson, who is working diligent to revitalize Pensacola, Fla., also showed class with how he lauded Hickok, his playing partner in the final round who made a 9-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff. Both are playing in this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club, and Hickok was quickly put into a featured TV pairing with Cameron Chase and defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, who split from his caddie for the second round but said it wasn’t permanently.

“I saw steady. Didn’t really rush,” said Watson, who continually chatted with Hickok until the last few holes. “Looks like he stays to his game plan, stays to his routines. When I saw game plan, I don’t know about attacking the golf course. I am just talking about his routine, his mental preparation. And it was fun to watch him. It’s fun to watch a young guy just keep grinding. I didn’t think he was doing anything (special), you know, hitting the greens or getting up and down. It wasn’t like attacking and missing a lot of putts. It was just steady golf.

“Then coming down the stretch he knew what he had to do, so it was awesome to see a guy like that do that. I was in the group when Chris Stroud made a (51-foot birdie) putt on the 18th to force a playoff (that Ken Duke won in 2013.). So, yeah, it’s cool to see that. If it’s not me, might as well be him.”

Meanwhile, Hickok, who had caught eight fish when he went fly fishing on the Farmington River twice earlier in the week, was playing with a new caddie because his previous looper ditched him for Sungjae Im, believing that would be a more profitable job. Billy Spencer left Hickok, who hired William Lanier, who had been working for Wesley Bryan before Bryan injured himself and is out for the year.

“Honestly, that gave me a lot of motivation to prove (Im) wrong and say I’ve got what it takes,’’ Hickok told The New York Post. “That happens in golf. We fire caddies, caddies fire players.’’

Spencer must have had some second thoughts Sunday when Hickok earned $806,660 for his second Top-10 finish in 68 PGA Tour starts. And he would have been really upset if the guy whom English called “one tough competitor” had pocketed the $1,332,000 first prize, 10 percent of which usually goes to the caddie.

“I just looked at it like it was a privilege,” Hickok said of the lengthy and memorable playoff. “I just wanted to enjoy it and just take it like it is. I was just so happy to be in the situation, and I’m just going to draw on this going forward in my career and just hopefully learned a lot from it.”

Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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