Tiger Woods is at home with his new baby. Phil Mickelson is home babying an injured wrist, and Angel Cabrera is back home in Argentina celebrating his U.S. Open win.
Despite the absence of those names, there was a feeling of optimism as the first Travelers Championship prepared to tee off on Thursday in Cromwell, Conn.
Dropped from the U.S. PGA Tour schedule a little more than a year ago, the Hartford tournament now has a four-year commitment from a local title sponsor (Travelers), a bigger purse ($6 million, euro4.5 million, up from $4.4 million, euro3.3 million a year ago), and a spot on the tour during the same week every year, giving top golfers an incentive to show up and earn points toward the tour championship.
“There is a sense of stability that just hasn’t been here in the last few years,” tournament director Nathan Grube said.
The event, which began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open and later became the Greater Hartford Open, was on the verge of extinction when Canon dropped out as title sponsor after 2002.
A group of local sponsors kept the tournament going the next year, and then Buick stepped in as a stopgap. After the company announced that 2006 would be its final year, the tournament was scratched from the 2007 schedule.
When 84 Lumber decided not to continue sponsorship of its tour event in western Pennsylvania, Travelers stepped into the slot and brought the Hartford tournament back.
Since then, officials have been working on upgrades at the TPC at River Highlands designed to lure the tour’s top golfers — everything from a $5 million (euro3.7 million), 22-acre (nine-hectare) practice facility that is under construction to free laundry service for caddies. The tournament even sent a charter jet to the U.S. Open to ferry golfers and their families to the tournament. Players have noticed.
“I think it’s phenomenal,” said J.J. Henry, last year’s champion and a Connecticut native. “It’s another piece to the neat puzzle here, maybe one of the final pieces.”
Mickelson committed before having to withdraw with his left wrist injury and Vijay Singh agreed to play here for the first time since 2002. Even the pro-am got big names, such as actors Paul Newman and Joe Pesci.
Henry called it the best TPC course on the tour and said the timing of the tournament is good too. Golfers are looking forward to shooting under par again after last week’s gantlet at Oakmont.
Winners here typically shoot between 12 and 16 under par.
Grube said the tournament is very happy with this year’s field, and believes things are only going to get better.
“In the past we’ve had reasons for someone like a Tiger not to come,” Grube said. “What we’ve done is try to attack every one of those things for every player, not just Tiger. But it’s going to be very soon where there is going to be no reason for someone like Tiger not to come.”
It just won’t be this year.
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