In less than 24 hours, the 2020 Travelers Championship will be underway at the Tournament Players Club at River Highland. Nine of the top 11 players in the world are here in Cromwell but reality intruded into the sports world on Wednesday with five players withdrawing from the tournament, including No. 5 ranked Webb Simpson, who won Sunday’s RBC Heritage in South Carolina in a playoff.
One player and two caddies tested positive for COVID-19, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. Golfer Cameron Champ tested positive for the virus along with caddies Ken Convoy and Ricky Elliott. Convoy is the caddy for Graeme McDowell and Elliott is the caddy for No. 3 Brooks Koepka.
Koepka and McDowell withdrew from the tournament along with Chase Koepka, who was one of two qualifiers out of a five-man playoff on Monday at Ellington Ridge.
Simpson was not positive for COVID but said that a member of his family has tested positive in the last 24 hours. “While my tests were negative, I feel like it is my responsibility to take care of my family and protect my peers in the field by withdrawing,” Webb said. “I am going to return home to Charlotte and quarantine under CDC guidelines.”
“I haven’t tested positive but I am taking this very seriously,” Brooks Koepka said. “I don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize the health of any player in the field or his ability to compete.”
Chase Kopeka bowed out after playing a round of golf with his brother, Brooks, who was accompanied by Elliott. “I was in close contact with someone who was positive,” he said.
Yes, professional golf is back in Connecticut but COVID-19 hasn’t gone away.
Due to the pandemic, there will be no fans at TPC-River Highlands outside of those residents who live in the homes that overlook the course. The tournament will be broadcast on Golf Channel on Thursday and Friday, beginning at 3 p.m. Full tournament coverage will be online at the PGA Tour website beginning early Thursday morning. The third and fourth round will be on CBS on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
It will be a different experience for the golfers. There will be no roar from the crowd after a big drive or a sharp-looking putt finds the bottom of the cup. The course will look different without the portable grandstands and skyboxes that are built each summer. No celebrations, handshakes or high fives between players and caddies are allowed for health reasons to minimize the spread of the virus.
“Everybody needs to do their part (to stay safe), said Justin Thomas, currently ranked No. 3 in the world. “Sometimes able to get away with some things because of maybe who you are. But at the end of the day, just you can’t be selfish. It’s a big-picture thing, and you need to do not only what’s best for you but most importantly what’s best for the tour, because one mistake that someone makes could end up ruining other guys or potentially suspend the tour again.”
In three weeks since the PGA Tour has been back, there have been 2,757 tests and just seven have come back positive, Monahan said.
“I think we all need to remind ourselves that we’re all learning to live with this virus, and we all need to learn to live with this virus, both as individuals, as family members and certainly within our businesses,” Monahan said. “It’s pretty clear that this virus isn’t going anywhere. “
Monahan said he will take action, if needed, to keep players safe.
“Everybody knows and needs to know that our future, our ability to sustain this business and to impact the communities where we play and to create so many jobs is contingent on our ability to follow those protocols,” he said. “So, when we have instances where someone hasn’t, they will be dealt with, and as I said, the consequences will be significant.”
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Professional J.J. Spaun knocked his shot 19 inches from the pin, close enough to win the 11th annual The Umbrella at 15 ½ Challenge, the highlight of Tuesday’s Travelers Championship practice round at TPC River Highlands.
Spaun’s shot earned $10,000 for the charity of his choice on behalf of Travelers, and he selected the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to receive the donation.
Thirty of the 63 players who chose to participate landed a ball on The Umbrella at 15 ½, the 40-foot-long floating green in the shape of the Travelers red umbrella logo. The Umbrella at 15 ½ is located in the pond at TPC River Highlands between holes 15 and 16.
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Jon Rahm is the No. 2 player in the world behind Rory McLlroy and Rahm will be making his first start in Cromwell since 2016. He played here as an amateur in 2015.
“I’ve had a lot of fun here,” he said. “Love the golf course, love the people around the event, love the new clubhouse, as well. And it’s just a fun place to come to.
“ Like a classic TPC golf course, you need to play really good tee to green, which should fit my strength hopefully, and then it’s just a fun golf course to play. Always in great condition, always in great shape,” Rahm said.
“The only bad thing is usually so good for the fans. The atmosphere here is usually so much fun, especially on the last four holes. We’re going to miss that for sure, but still, that doesn’t take from the beauty of this place.”
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This story was first posted on Wednesday, June 24, 2020