Scott Gray Sports Commentary, Monday, August 25th, 2014
TAKING ON THE OPEN
Thinking of the Travelers Championship invokes a number of indelible images. Corey Pavin sitting on a golf cart behind the 18th green at the TPC River Highlands, casually talking with the media about a spectacular four wood shot at Shinnecock Hills two days earlier, still very much wearing the glow of the moment. Young Lucas Glover, following his final round at the Travelers in 2009, politely engaging well wishers while patiently waiting through an extended commercial break to be interviewed live on WTIC. Justin Rose’s appearance in the practice area the morning of the 2013 pro am, confirming the announcement that he would keep his committment.
All three had something in common when they arrived in Hartford, all coming off U.S. Open wins the previous weekend, all good to their word. The “Open effect” can be detrimental to the tournaments that immediately surround it, many players taking off the week before to prepare under Open conditions, many taking off the week after to come down from a week of intense pressure. In the cases of Pavin, Glover and Rose the logistics worked, the Open was within a four or five hour drive of Cromwell. But it’s a changing venue and Travelers officials can be confronted with the prospects of luring premier names through time zones.
Andy Bessett and Nathan Grube hit on a winner, reserving a private jet and offering free transportation for players and their families. It doesn’t always succeed in attracting the Open champion, particularly if he hadn’t previously committed, but this year the Travelers had a much more impressive field than the tournament a week later, hosted by none other than Tiger Woods, who had to accelerate his own return from back surgery to give the field some oomph for his sponsors, which probably impacted the rest of his season.
Close geographic proximity to tennis’ U.S. Open, which is always played less than an hour and a half away, has less impact on the Connecticut Open in New Haven than scheduling proximity, the U.S. starting two days after the Connecticut ends. The impact of players chosing their own ways to prep for the Open has to be considered in light of the smallest turnout ever for the final in New Haven on Saturday. Admittedly the top two names in New Haven, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniaki, failed to break through their brackets and that had an impact, but the impressive New Haven fields of 20 years ago, when the Volvo International moved from Vermont, have become a thing of the past.
The event isn’t likely to get a rescheduled date, even with new sponsorship committment, and it’s hard to sit on the outside and come up with a solution, but it has to come from taking the same approach as the Travelers. Look the U.S. Open in the eye and take it head on. Find a need for the players and fill it.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.