The Travelers Championship was once an afterthought on the PGA Tour schedule. With the tournament annually taking place the week after the US Open, top players often chose to skip the event after a grueling major championship.
The tournament failed to surpass the OWGR threshold of 350 until 2017 but the event has had significant improvements to their field the past few years. The event’s strength of field was 446 and 436 in 2018 and 2019 and jumped to 623 last year. The 200-point bump last season was likely due to the COVID layoff that shutdown the PGA Tour for several weeks.
The list of former champions certainly shows how strong the field has gotten in recent years. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson has won in Hartford three times. Jordan Spieth took the 2017 title and Dustin Johnson defeated the event’s toughest field a year ago.
TPC River Highlands is a trademark PGA Tour venue. The par 70 layout measures just 6,841 yards, giving bombers and short hitters a chance at the title. The rough is typically four inches long and the greens roll at 12 on the Stimpmeter. As far as the individual holes, it is the risk-reward back nine that intrigues most players.
“I think one of the cool things about here is really the back nine, and then the final stretch of holes coming in,” Rickie Fowler said. “Being so close together, a lot of stuff can happen with the reachable par-5 and you've got the drivable par-4 on 15. It's an exciting golf course, and like I mentioned, the final stretch coming in. I'm excited to be coming back.”
The run of tournaments that surround the US Open and The Open Championship tend to blend together. TPC River Highlands is an interesting golf course but the John Deere Classic and 3M Open are both played on nondescript TPC courses, with the Rocket Mortgage Classic played at forgettable Detroit Golf Club.
But player after player has said that Travelers is one of the best sponsors on Tour and goes the extra mile to give players, their families, and caddies the best treatment possible. Recognizing that the championship comes at an inconvenient place on the schedule, the tournament organizes charter flights to fly players from the US Open site to Hartford and provides better conditions for caddies than most other events.
“They do a great job throughout the whole experience here,” defending champion Dustin Johnson said. They do a good job with the dining and taking care of the players and make it a good experience for not just players but the families too. I enjoy playing here and it's a great event. They do a good job with it.”
Unlike most other tournaments, Travelers doesn’t let the players come to them. Organizers spend lots of time at other events taking feedback from players and their teams about how they can improve the event to recruit the best players in the world.
“They listen to us. At least we feel like think listen to us,” Brooks Kopeka said. “You can see year after year that they make tiny changes that players, the input we've had on different things. And not always on the golf course. How the tournament is run and set up.”
It certainly helps that the event had many standout moments over the years. Jim Furyk shot the lowest round in PGA Tour history when he fired a 58 in the final round in 2016. Jordan Spieth had a walk-off bunker shot to defeat Daniel Berger in a playoff. And hometown favorite Keegan Bradley made a run on the back nine on Sunday but ultimately fell short as Chez Reavie took the title in 2019.
The tournament is annually the largest sporting event in Connecticut. And there is great fan turnout every year.
I think the fans up here are so supportive,” Koepka said. “I think it's one of the best atmospheres for a regular PGA TOUR event we can play, and you see that with everything that they've got going on. This golf course lends a lot of birdies so we can hear a lot of applause and kind of know what going on around the course.”