Travelers Championship to provide US Olympic golf preview
CROMWELL, CONN. >> Three-quarters of the U.S. men's Olympic golf team will be playing together in Connecticut this week.
Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar are scheduled to go out as a trio Thursday and Friday for the first two rounds of the Travelers Championship.
The fourth member of the team, Rickie Fowler, is skipping the PGA Tour event to attend Friday's opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.
The other three expect to fly out after Sunday's final round, putting them in Brazil well before the Aug. 11 start of the Olympic golf competition.
All three say they are focused on this week and this tournament. But they also acknowledge that the excitement for the first Olympic golf tournament in 112 years is building.
Much of their Team USA gear was waiting for them when they arrived this week at the TPC River Highlands course.
"I opened that up and was like a kid at Christmas, just showing every piece to everybody," Reed said.
Reed and Kuchar made the Olympic team after two-time major champion Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson opted not to go, citing health concerns including the threat posed by the Zika virus.
"I had my fingers crossed that some golfers would bypass the Olympics to be honest," Kuchar said. "I had fingers crossed that they would so that I'd have a chance to accept."
Watson, the defending Travelers champion, said he prepared his schedule with this tournament and the Olympics in mind, taking some time off earlier in the year to be fresh for what he knew would be a grueling stretch of golf.
"Who cares if I finish dead last," he said. "Just to be part of the Olympics is a big honor and a thrill."
Besides the Americans, three other Olympians are playing in Cromwell — Germany's Alex Cejka, Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and Ireland's Padraig Harrington.
They will be competing with the other golfers on a newly renovated course.
The TPC River Highlands, which has hosted the Connecticut stop on the PGA Tour since 1984, underwent a $3.5 million face-lift over the past year.
Officials removed about 50 bunkers that were no longer in play for the longer-hitting pros, repositioned others, added some viewing areas and reconfigured some greens to allow for tougher hole placements.
The course remains a par-70 and is still 6,841 yards.
"It's all about appeal," Watson said. "I don't know if you'd call it modernization or something, but it looks newer, fresher."
Watson announced Wednesday that he would donate $100,000 to the Bruce Edward's Foundation for ALS research. Edwards, who was from Wethersfield and was Tom Watson's long-time caddie, died of Lou Gehrig's disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The fight against ALS became the charitable focus of this year's tournament after former Travelers chief executive Jay Fishman announced he had been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease.
At Fishman's behest, New Britain's Hospital for Special Care, which treats most of the ALS patients in Connecticut, became the tournament's primary charitable beneficiary.