Photo: Brian Ciancio / TNS
CROMWELL — “If you build it, he will come.”
The most famous line in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” referred to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella hearing a voice in his cornfield that convinced him to build a baseball field in it to attract the baseball stars of yesteryear.
Change the “he” to “they” and think of the golfers of today rather than the past and you can make the correlation to what the Travelers Championship has done on the PGA Tour.
Corny? Maybe. But think about it for a few minutes as the 2018 Travelers Championship kicks off Thursday.
First, Travelers took over title sponsorship and saved the former Greater Hartford Open from going off the PGA Tour schedule and becoming a Champions Tour event.
You need a suitable practice facility to get players to come? Travelers built one of the best around, and a decade later, TPC River Highlands still has one of the best.
You gain a reputation for granting exemptions to the nation’s best amateurs, most times they turn pro at your event — then keep coming back.
“This (event), along with John Deere (Classic), I think both of them have great reputations of giving young guys an opportunity to start their career and their professional career, and they were both tremendous to me,” said Justin Thomas, the world’s second-ranked player who played the Travelers as an amateur at the University of Alabama in 2013 and is back for the fourth straight year. “That stuff doesn’t go unnoticed.”
You bend over backwards for the players, their families and their caddies, they reciprocate by coming to the event — then coming back again, like several of the world’s top players this year.
“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament, about the golf course, you know, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out,” Rory McIlroy said. “I think Travelers was one of the first tournaments to do that, where they sent their guys on the road and they did form relationships. I had a great relationship with the guys here (Andy Bessette, the chief administrative officer and executive vice president and Nathan Grube, the tournament director) even a few years before I actually played the tournament (in 2017). And I think a lot of tournaments have followed their lead in terms of doing that.”
THREE TO WATCH
Daniel Berger: Lost in a playoff to Jordan Spieth here last year. Coming off his best finish in a major, tie for sixth at the U.S. Open. It’s his time.
Ryan Moore: Has seven top-20 finishes this year and has five top-10 finishes in 10 years at the Travelers. Due to finally win at TPC River Highlands.
Xander Schauffele: Tied for 14th at the Travelers last year to help him earn PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors. Coming off a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open.
— Joe Morelli
The Travelers kept building a profile from local to national, and last year attracted its best field and one of the world’s most popular players, Jordan Spieth, holed a bunker shot in a playoff — the Shot of the Year on tour, maybe the best shot in the long history of this event, and all of a sudden Travelers is voted Tournament of the Year on tour, the inaugural “Players Choice” award and “Most Fan-Friendly Event,” an award Travelers has won multiple times.
“There are tournaments on the PGA Tour that could be great fits for me and this is one of those. I just regret I hadn’t been playing here my entire PGA Tour career,” Spieth said. “It’s a lot of fun, and the people say it’s the players’ choice golf tournament, and that says a lot.”
So before June began, Travelers had secured Thomas (No. 2 world rankings); Spieth (No. 5); McIlroy, the first to commit, on Jan. 31 (No. 7); Jason Day (No. 9); and Patrick Reed (No. 11). Once Brooks Koepka committed, less than a week before winning his second straight U.S. Open, it became the best field Travelers has ever had.
With the victory, Koepka rose to No. 4 in the world. That gives Travelers five in the top 10, nine in the top 20 and 14 of the top 30. Also, as the PGA Tour moves closer to announcing its 2019 schedule, with several tournaments moving, changing sponsors or even possibly disappearing, Travelers will remain in the spot it covets — the week after the U.S. Open — likely until its title sponsorship expires in 2024. And once the tournament ends Sunday, construction begins on a new clubhouse that is expected to be ready for the 2019 tournament.
Yes, indeed. If you build it, they will come.