CROMWELL – The “Exalted” Travel Championship was every bit of that word. By all measures, Connecticut’s PGA Tour stops were back to their pre-pandemic levels and beyond due to its new status as a designated event, with a higher purse and the best golfers drawn to participate.
The only letdown came in the form of Rory McIlroy’s take after he finished tied for seventh. By calling TPC River Highlands “outdated” and saying that modern golf technology had overtaken the course, he drew attention away from the winner, Keegan Bradleyand an interesting finish.
Keegan Bradley’s long-held dream of winning The Travelers unfolds in unforgettable fashion
With the outspoken McIlroy, ranked No. 3 in the world, one takes the positive with the negative. He stood firm and tall, loyal to the PGA below mass dropout for LIV Golfand was a sympathetic figure when the surprise deal was announced.
Here he hurled a grenade into the peaceful platform from which tournament directors have always been able to tout the Travelers as one of the most popular stops among players, who not long ago voted it their favorite stop. It has received 15 awards from Tour players, and players expressed their desire for the Travelers to be one of the designated events. Incidentally, it was at McIlroy’s suggestion that a coffee shop, which also served ice cream from UConn’s dairy, was added to the driving range.
So is Rory right? TPC River Highlands is not a US Open course, everyone knew that. The weather this year, no wind to speak of and enough rain to slow the greens on Saturday and Sunday without disrupting play, was conducive to low scores. With 70 of the top 77 players in the field, there were eight rounds of 62 or lower and 1,844 birdies, 70 more than ever before in this tournament, breaking the record in 2020, amid the pandemic. The cut was 4-under.
Although Bradley’s winning score of 23 under par was a tournament record, it was only one stroke above Kenny Perry’s 2009 mark. Things just weren’t as out of whack as all that. After all, it is the course where Jim Furyk shot a record round of 58 in 2016and Patrick Cantlay shot a 60 as an amateur in 2011.
Rory McIlroy not thrilled with record low scores at Travelers; says technology has ‘passed the course’
Until Travelers hand out checks like Bradley’s $3.6 million to win, or $1.78 million to fellow Brian Harmon and Zac Blair, golfers will come and join the birdie party. McIlroy earned $650,000 for his finish.
Here are some other takeaways from 2023 travelers:
The crowds are back
Officials don’t like to divulge numbers, but they indicated that ticket sales were high, especially in the day category. From the looks of things around the pitch, packed stands, long queues and crowds moving about, it’s safe to say the crowds were well into six figures, especially on Saturday and Sunday. Director Nathan Grube said fans came from 36 states. And it was an enthusiastic crowd, especially when Bradley, a New England guy, went to the 18th green to finish it off. You could say it was golf, but louder.
“I can’t even describe what it felt like,” Bradley said. “I dreamed my whole life of playing in Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, and this feels pretty close to what it would feel like. You know, I’ve had a lot of people say they’ve never heard the 18th hole sound like that.”
What it means
Bradley, in addition to the big payday, earned his sixth PGA win, second of the year, and moved from No. 15 to fifth in FedEx Cup standings. Blair, with his best ever finish, moved up to No. 90.
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) 25 June 2023
How the big names fared
Scottie Scheffler, currently ranked No. 1 in the world, is tied for fourth, his 14th top-10 finish of the season. Jon Rahm, No. 2, missed the cut. McIlroy was tied for seventh at 18 under, and No. 4 Cantlay, who made a late run at Bradley, finished 19 under, tied for fourth, his first ever top 10 finish at the Travelers. Last year’s winner, Xander Schauffele, finished 19th at 14 under. US Open champion Wyndham Clark, finished 12-under with a final-round 66.
RORY MCILROY ACE 🔥 pic.twitter.com/VapXu6M6z3
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) 22 June 2023
McHighs and Lows
McIlroy made first hole-in-one of his career great during the first round, on the 218-yard 8th hole. The next day, the same hole was not so easy for him. McIlroy hit his tee shot into the water and made double bogey. This is McIlroy’s relationship with River Highlands. In 2022, he shot an opening-round 62, but then quadruple bogeyed the 14th hole on day two and dropped out of contention.
Organizers set a goal of raising $3 million for local charities and announced Sunday night that the goal had been reached. This is a 20 percent increase from the previous high of $2.5 million. Since 2007, the travelers have raised more than $28 million to benefit more than 900 non-profit organizations.
Dom Amore: Despite changing landscape, Andy Bessette remains confident Travelers will remain in the rarefied air it has served as high event
Details of the agreement between LIV Golf and the PGA are still to be worked out, so there is no way to be sure what the PGA Tour, or “designated status” will look like in the future. Travelers executive VP and CEO Andy Bessette said he is close to a deal on elevated status in 2024 and hopes to keep it during the current Travelers deal to be the title sponsor, which runs through 2030.
For elevated tournaments in 2024, the fields will shrink by about 50 percent, with 70 to 80 of the world’s best golfers out of action.
“That’s just the tip of the tip,” Bessette said. “A lot of the guys that left and didn’t make the cut, and I say ‘goodbye,’ and it was sad. … and they know they can’t say ‘see you next year.’ But they tell us, ‘I know I have to play a lot harder next year so I’ll be here next year.’ That’s where The Tour’s strategizing comes in. It’s incredible to think that if a guy who’s otherwise ranked 100 in the world is going to be here, they’ve got to up their game.
Between his final putt and his press conference, Bradley received hundreds of congratulatory texts from many friends. He dropped four names: Michael Jordan, Aaron Rodgers, Tim Wakefield and Gary Dell’Abate, producer of the Howard Stern radio show known as “Baba Booey.” It’s an interesting group.
“When you get a text from an athlete, it hits home differently because they know what goes into doing something like that, and that means a lot,” Bradley said. “… Baba Booey from Howard Stern texted me. It was probably my favorite.”