Aug 04, 2016 | 06:31 am

Travelers Championship Remembers Bruce Edwards By Fighting ALS

When the PGA Tour says it raises big money for local charities, it isn’t kidding: In 2015, Tour events gave more than $160 million to hundreds of charities, large and small. But each tournament has its own unique stories, one of which is being told this week at the Travelers Championship, held outside Hartford, Connecticut.

Among the charities that will benefit are a number devoted to fighting and researching ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”—which attacks nerve cells until sufferers lose the ability to control muscle movement. Tom Watson’s long-time caddie Bruce Edwards (shown above) died of ALS back in 2004, and this year the Travelers is hosting a benefit dinner for the Bruce Edwards Foundation on Friday, August 5, which will feature Watson, award-winning sportswriter John Feinstein (author of a book about Watson and Edwards), and Travelers Executive Chairman Jay F. Fishman, who also has ALS.

Asked about the event, Feinstein said, “After Bruce’s death, I went to Watson with the idea of starting an annual golf tournament in Bruce's name to raise money for ALS research. We've been able to put together a group of golfers, basketball coaches, and media types every year and have raised a little more than $5 million for The Bruce Edwards Foundation.

“A year ago, I got a call from Andy Bessette at Travelers. Apparently, after being diagnosed, Fishman began doing a lot of research on ALS and read about our foundation and the fact that we donate all our money to the Robert Packard Center at Johns Hopkins because the guy who runs the place, Dr. Jeff Rothstein, is the scientist who Watson (who has also done exhaustive research on the disease) believes is going to find the cure. Fishman wanted to hold a dinner during the Hartford event—appropriate, of course, since Bruce first caddied in the old Greater Hartford Open—to raise money for ALS research.

“Bessette said their goal was to sell 100 tables at $10,000 a pop for a dinner and funnel the money through our foundation to Packard. He asked if I would come and speak and if I could get Tom to come, too. Tom and I agreed that he would if they sold 50 tables to clear $250,000 with room to spare. Amazingly, at last count they’ve sold 115 tables, which means it’s a dinner for over 1,000 people that should net close to $1 million.

“They get all the credit. Tom and I are just there to try to make the evening worthwhile enough that people will come back next year.”

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Aug 03, 2016 | 08:30 am

River Restoration

TPC River Highlands has hosted the Travelers Championship—Connecticut's largest sporting event—since 1984 when it was known as the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open, but this week will be a little different. That's because the course underwent a multi-million dollar renovation that began last fall to improve the infrastructure and playability of the golf course. The primary focus of the project was the renovation and repositioning of the bunkers, while several greens and tee boxes were also modified. The Tour, along with original architect Bobby Weed, implemented the project over the majority of the off-season in order to minimize disruption of play. Agronomic and architectural enhancements include:

  • Rebuilding, repositioning, and restyling all bunkers and incorporating new drainage and sand for improved playability
  • Minor surface modifications to the green on Nos. 10, 13, 15, and 16, plus the total rebuild of the 17th green, all of which will provide an increased number of pin positions
  • Leveling of select tournament tee boxes, including a new tee complex at 15
  • Improved routing and repair of the cart paths
  • Stabilization of lake bank edges to avoid further erosion and improve aesthetics
  • Supplementation and enhancement of drainage throughout the golf course
"We’re extremely pleased with the results of the enhancement project," said David Corrado, General Manager at TPC River Highlands. “The feedback from the members and their guests has been extremely positive. The golf course has a fresh, clean look to it, and while changes in some areas are quite significant, the integrity and strategic nature of the golf course was maintained in a way that the course is enjoyable and a challenge for all skill levels."
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Bubba Watson

Aug 02, 2016 | 09:51 am

Ryder/Olympic Irony

The PGA Championship results have produced a reshuffling of the names at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup team qualifying race. Jimmy Walker’s victory launched him from 29th place to 4th while Brooks Koepka, finishing in the top four, moved into fifth place on the list of eight automatic qualifiers. With four weeks to go, the top eight are Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Walker, Koepka, Zach Johnson, J.B. Holmes, and Brandt Snedeker. Captain Davis Love will make three of his picks the week of August 29 with a fourth pick coming at the conclusion of the Fedex Cup playoffs on September 25, the Sunday before Ryder Cup week. So who should the four be? A strong case could be made for players 9-12 on the current points list—Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, and Rickie Fowler—not just because of their point totals but because they will be the four U.S. representatives at the Olympic Games. By going to Rio, they will take themselves out of the points competition for one crucial week, when the John Deere Classic will be played and other players will be allowed to earn points and jump up the list. There’s something not only ironic but wrong in that—by representing their nation, these four have no choice but to imperil their chances of representing their nation. 

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Aug 01, 2016 | 06:39 am

Lessons From The PGA Championship

First Time’s A Charm. So it was for all four major-championship victors, all first-time major winners, this year. But to be honest, Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Henrik Stenson (Open Championship) were on that “best to never win a major” list, meaning their wins were somewhat expected if not now then soon. But Danny Willett and PGA champion Jimmy Walker (above)? Both were big surprises.

Although the Masters was Willett’s fifth victory since 2012, he hadn’t done much in the majors until this past April, and since then he went T37, T53, and T79 in the two Opens and the PGA, and he missed the cut at The Players. In Europe, other than a third at the BMW PGA Championship, his other half-dozen or so finishes were well down the leaderboard.

As for Walker, he had a couple of top-10s on Tour earlier this year, a few finishes in the 20s, and some missed cuts. He was a long way from his three-win season in 2014, when he climbed as high as 10th in the world. If he gets back in the zone he rode in a few years back—is a wire-to-wire PGA an omen?—his first major could be the start of something big.

Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. A good crew can beat bad weather. The team taking care of the Lower Course at Baltusrol did an amazing job getting the course ready for a round-and-a-half on Sunday. Honestly, we're surprised the tournament got finished before Monday.

No Re-Shuffle. Because of the bad weather, which meant nearly half the field had to finish the third round Sunday morning, the PGA of America made the decision not to stop after the third round and make new pairings based on where players stood. If they had, Walker and Jason Day would have played together in the final group; instead, Day was in the penultimate group, one ahead of Walker. Would it have mattered had they gone head-to-head? Would we have had another Stenson-Mickelson-type finish? We'll never know.

The Rules Rule. Jordan Spieth and Rules official Bruce Gregory did everything properly on the 7th hole Friday when Spieth’s ball came to rest in casual water. After all the other brouhahas this summer, it’s almost possible to excuse the Rules ranters on Twitter and elsewhere. Almost. But sometimes—no, make that most of the time—the Rules experts get it right.

The Hole Truth. However, it is harder to understand—and excuse—the incorrect pin sheet given to the first group to play the 10th hole on Friday. Let’s hope that never happens again.

If The Ryder Cup Were Held Today… The U.S. team would seem to have a slight edge, based on the PGA results. Even though Dustin Johnson, currently number-one in Ryder Cup points, missed the cut, there were solid performances from Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Zach Johnson, and Phil Mickelson. And Walker, who went into the PGA in 29th place in points, is sure to get at least a close look from Davis Love III as a captain’s pick. For the Europeans, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer played well, as did Justin Rose, Soren Kjeldsen, Tyrrell Hatton, and Paul Casey. However, with the strong performances of Jason Day, Branden Grace, and Hideki Matsuyama, it’s a good thing the Presidents Cup is more than a year away.

Pro Golf Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint. Walker is 37 years old, turned pro in 2001, and had three wins on the Nationwide Tour between 2004 and '07. He first played the PGA Tour in 2006 but it took him a few years to settle in. He had five Tour victories between 2013 and ‘15, including two at the Sony Open in Hawaii (winning the second, in 2015, by 9 strokes). Before yesterday, his best finish in a major was a tie for 7th in the PGA in 2014; in fact, he’d had only three top-10 finishes in 17 appearances. And he’d missed the cut in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship this summer. (He was T29 at Augusta.)

Wiki Leaks? If you happened to be online while the leaders were playing the last few holes yesterday, you might have noticed that with four holes to play, Wikipedia had already awarded Walker the PGA title. You might want to check there first before you place your next golf bet.

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