The Travelers: Friendly course, confines ease players out of U.S. Open drudgery
CROMWELL, Conn. -- In playing a game that’s incredibly difficult, golfers can have wild mood swings. Oddly, we can feel sheepish if the game is too easy. It’s the nature of the golfer to feel we must continually suffer, only to experience a respite when we hit that great shot at the end of a round “to make us come back again.” Perhaps the desire to excel in tough conditions is the reason so many golfers choose to play from a set of tees that’s too difficult for their abilities. That makes us mad at the game for being too hard, but if we could just be satisfied with playing from a shorter set of tees we’d end up in a happier state of mind.
The equivalent for the tour player is no more obvious than the week after a major championship. Tour courses are generally toughened up to be a strong challenge to the professional player, but the toughest courses are those played at a major. Most other tour courses still can’t quite keep the expert player in check, thus we have winning scores under par, sometimes ludicrously low.
The week at a major certainly causes a pro to suffer hardship. The “cure for what ails” a player who puts up with tough playing conditions and challenges is to get back to a tour event that is more inviting, both in ease of play and a cozier atmosphere.
Which brings us to this week’s Travelers Championship. Professional golfers at The Travelers, especially those who made the short trip across Long Island Sound and into central Connecticut from torturous Shinnecock Hills, know exactly what will cure what’s ailing them after the hard playing conditions they faced in the U.S. Open: The friendly Tournament Players Club River Highlands and its award-winning atmosphere.
This week marks the 12th straight year The Travelers is being held the week after the U.S. Open and it’s sure to be the 12th consecutive time the Travelers field will experience the euphoria of making many birdies, few bogeys, and playing a bit stress free. The tournament has done very well as the backup event to the National Open. Pay particular attention to the following 50 players at River Highlands. They played at Shinnecock and it will be interesting to see if they all play well as a sort of bounceback from playing a tougher layout than what they'll see in Cromwell: Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Si Woo Kim, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Russell Knox, Marc Leishman, Bryson DeChambeau, Aaron Baddeley, Daniel Berger, Patrick Cantlay, Paul Casey, Emiliano Grillo, Adam Hadwin, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman, Mackenzie Hughes, Satoshi Kodaira, Graeme McDowell, Pat Perez, Ted Potter Jr., Brandt Snedeker, Kyle Stanley, Brendan Steele, Brian Stuard, Jhonattan Vegas, Jim Furyk, Doug Ghim, Dylan Meyer, Bill Haas, Chez Reavie, Keegan Bradley, Luke List, Ollie Schniederjans, Patrick Rodgers, Harold Varner III, Scott Stallings, Richy Werenski, Chesson Hadley, Trey Mullinax, Matt Jones, Tyler Duncan and Lanto Griffin. U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka is also playing, but he might be the only one who fares worse at Cromwell!
The contrast in course severity is quite evident in the 36-hole cut. Counting Shinnecock last week, the average cut line at the U.S. Open the last dozen years has been six over par. At the last 11 Travelers, the cut line has been seven shots lower at one under par.
The winning score, by and large, at the National Open in the last 12 years has been around even par or a little under. I consider three winning scores of 16, 16 and 9 under par during those years aberrations, so I don’t factor those in. The 2007 to 2017 average winning score at The Travelers is 264.4, nearly 16 under par.
When you add in the appreciative galleries and the tournament’s historical place on tour, it makes sense that the Travelers field has been improving steadily in quality. Marquee players are finding The Travelers a nice stop after the U.S. Open to unwind, decompress and still compete hard enough to win the tournament. It is no wonder then that, under the leadership of tournament director Nathan Grube and the Travelers group, the event was named PGA Tour Tournament of the Year in 2017.