Travelers Championship strategy: Invest in the future

By Jason SobelJune 18, 2014, 5:13 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Eight years ago, the longtime PGA Tour stop in the heart of Connecticut was on life support. Already without a sponsor, it was destined to be banished to the Fall Finish, or turned into a Champions Tour event, or even cease to exist altogether.

At the last minute – and that’s almost a literal estimation, because there was so little time to spare – Travelers swooped in to serve as title sponsor and, thanks to some intervening fate, saved the tournament from extinction.

And they all lived happily ever after, right?

Well, yes, but there’s been a lot more to the success story than simply slapping a new name on it and opening the front gates.

This was never Field of Dreams. Just because they built it, didn’t mean the players would come.

From annually offering a chartered flight for competitors traveling from the previous week’s U.S. Open to supplying gifts for their families, the tournament has raised the bar when it comes to player hospitality.

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“This one is always on the schedule,” said 2010 champion Bubba Watson. “I don't see that there's a reason for me not to be here. I'm going to be here any time I'm (eligible for) the field.”

There’s a lot of brand loyalty at play here at TPC River Highlands – and in many instances, it’s for good reason. After all, players tend to reward those who offered an early career break.

If you don’t yet know the names Patrick Rodgers, Cameron Wilson, Oliver Goss and Bobby Wyatt, chances are you’ll learn them soon – although truth be told, even casual observers of the amateur golf scene are likely familiar with this foursome.

This week, each of the four will make his professional debut as a sponsor’s exemption at the Travelers Championship, joining a list that dates back to the introductions of major champions David Duval, Justin Leonard and Stewart Cink, and in more recent years has included Kyle Stanley, Morgan Hoffmann and Patrick Cantlay.

“This all goes back to when we started looking at the date after the U.S. Open,” explains tournament director Nathan Grube. “It was like, wait a minute, let’s really start to take advantage of this. I don’t want to say we didn’t have a strategy before that, but when Travelers came on, we looked at everything strategically and exemptions were no different.

Andy Bessette, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Travelers, is a ubiquitous presence at other PGA Tour events, not only recruiting, but getting to know the players. He’s fond of saying that the title sponsor loves to invest in the future – which is only logical for an insurance company.

“You just get to know the guys,” Grube continued. “If they can’t play, they can’t play. But we get to know them and they have a cool experience here. We really try to make a big deal of it.

“They do this once, so we want to make sure that they have a good time.”

This week, the four newly minted professionals were each feted with their own pre-tournament news conference and otherwise celebrated for choosing to make their debut at this event.

And so far, the love affair is mutual.

“They do a wonderful job of being nice to young players coming out and making their professional debuts,” said Wyatt, who played for Alabama’s national championship-winning team. “I think everyone wants to play in the Travelers Championship and debut here. It's a dream come true for me. I can't tell you how thrilled I am and thankful for the opportunity.”

“[To] have a chance to start my professional career here, it's kind of another milestone week,” explained Patrick Rodgers, who was the world’s top-ranked amateur before turning pro. “We've been treated so well. They've just gone above and beyond to make me a spoiled player this week and make me feel like I'm just a regular out here on the PGA Tour.”

Those words are exactly what tournament officials mean when they talk about investing in the future.

There’s an excellent chance that of the four players making their pro debuts this week, a few of them – if not all – will become the game’s next stars. And there’s also an excellent chance they’ll return the favor to the event that first gave them a chance. Maybe not every player, maybe not every year, but it will certainly help those prospects.

“They've done everything they can to make me feel welcome,” said Goss, an Australian who played his college golf at Tennessee. “That's just how I feel. I feel part of it here. We had a great time on the charter from Pinehurst to here. That's just a little taste of what it's like being a professional, and it's a really great experience. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Just consider it all part of the tournament’s long-term strategy.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.