The Travelers Championship is on the clock.
When the RBC Heritage Championship concludes play on Sunday, the Travelers become the third of the first four PGA Tour events on the 2020 reschedule due to the COVID-19 crisis to be played without spectators.
And, like the RBC Heritage and last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, the Travelers will benefit from its strongest field in tournament history.
After three months with no tournaments because of the pandemic, the players have been hungry to return to competition. And tournaments like the Travelers, which always battled a difficult slot in the schedule as the next event after the U.S. Open, have been the beneficiaries.
The Travelers, which starts Thursday at TPC River Highlands, will treat golf fans to the top seven players in the official world rankings and nine of the top 10 in the world.
“It’s exciting that Connecticut is part of bringing sports back to the world stage,” Nathan Grube, the tournament’s director, told The Post. “Obviously it’s going to be different without our fans. But with the field event here, you give the best players in the world an amazing and amazing stage. And let’s remember this tournament for the amazing stuff that happened. ”
The Travelers is similar to the RBC Heritage in that, on the usual PGA Tour schedule, it follows a major championship. Those are the tournaments that generally have the most difficulty drawing the top players to their field.
The RBC Heritage traditionally is the week after the Masters, and that usually leads to a mediocre field devoid of the top players in the world. The Travelers have gone to great lengths in recent years to draw stronger fields by offering an all-expenses-paid charter flight for players and caddies from wherever the U.S. Open is played straight to Hartford, Conn.
That has helped, but never produced a field like it would have this year.
Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 1, will play this week. So, too, will be Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, the 2017 champion.
“The guys are so excited to be back, ” Grube said. “The general is feeling overwhelmed when talking to players and their agents. The guys are excited about playing. I’m very fortunate how things are shaking out. ”
Fortunate yes. Deserving, too.
For years, Grube and Andy Bessette, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Travelers, have been fixtures at a number of tournaments leading up to Travelers, visiting with players and their agents in an effort to cajole them into coming to Connecticut. .
This is a regular behind-the-scenes exercise that takes place at many tournaments during the year. Some tournament directors are more successful at attracting top players than others. Grube and Bessette may be the hardest-working duo in the business, more present than many of their peers.
In the case of this current coronavirus-altered schedule, that kind of schmoozing fact is really needed. Firstly, the Travelers this year do not follow the U.S. Open, because the U.S. Open was postponed from this past week to September. Secondly, the three-month layoff has the players itching to play again.
Realistic turned into a win-win. Tournaments like the Travelers win with the strong fields. And the players win because everyone is competing against the best and get to measure their respective games.
“The fields are really good, ‘” Johnson said this past week from the RBC Heritage. “Just like any event, play all year really – especially these first three weeks. It’s too good to know where your game’s at. ‘Really great for the tournaments.’ ‘
“It feels great to look down the range and see most of the top players in the world,” McIlroy said.
“That’s what we all want,” McIlroy said. “We all want to play against the best fields week in, week out. I guess it’s silver lining to this [pandemic] – it seems like all the top guys are going to play a little more often going forward, and that’s a good thing for the tour and for us and for the people at home that are watching. ”