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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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.