Follow Jack Kane and Rayan Vatti, Eagle Level participants in The First Tee of Connecticut as they serve as Junior Course Reporters at the 2012 Travelers Championship. Special thanks to Josh Belowich and Scott Dolch from the Travelers Championship for their work to make Wednesday and Thursday a tremendous success.
Wednesday's activities included lunch with Tom Yantz of the Hartford Courant, attendance at interviews with Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Ryo Ishikawa, a visit to the Callaway Tour Van, and a visit with PGA TOUR staff from the Birdies for the Brave program.
On Thursday, the course reporters watched the first round, toured the First Tee of CT's David & Geri Epstein Learning Center, had lunch with WTIC's Scott Gray, and watched a live taping of Golf Channel's Golf Central Pre Game.
Rayan, age 13, has been a member of First Tee of Connecticut for 4 years. Rayan lives in Cheshire, Connecticut, and attends Dodd Middle School where he is an honors student. He writes for the middle school newspaper, is a member of the Leaders Club and assists special needs students as a member of the Best Buddies club. Rayan plays basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and likes hanging out with his friends. Rayan has just completed the Birdie Level and will be participating in Eagle level programs this summer in the Waterbury area.
3 Reasons Why You Should Come to the Travelers Championship
1. The Field
As the 2012 Travelers Championship gets under way, one thing is clear: this is the strongest field of pros at this tournament in the last decade. There are 12 major winners who combine for 16 majors. Even more spectacular, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and Keegan Bradley, who are the winners of the last 3 majors, are taking part in the event. In addition, half of the top 10 FedEx Cup leaders are here in Cromwell. These players include Hunter Mahan (2), Zach Johnson (4), Bubba Watson (5), Matt Kuchar (7), and Webb Simpson (10). As Vijay Singh said, “this is the strongest group of players here in a while.”
2. The Tricky Course
If you are a fan of high scoring, action filled sports, then usually you wouldn’t think of golf. But at the Travelers Championship, there are a lot of birdies, eagles, and scoring. For example, the drive-able par 4, 15th hole might seem like an easy hole, but I have watched many people hit their drive into the water on the left side today, making it a not-so-easy hole. So even if you are trailing late at the end of four rounds, the course makes anything possible. Last year, winner Fredrick Jacobson shot a -20 and only beat the runner-up’s by 1 stroke. This course is exciting, and it will make the tournament lots of fun, whether you are a golf fan, or just sports fan.
3. The Entertainment
Even aside from golf, the Travelers Championship has great fun for anyone. The Subway Fan Zone includes miniature golf, rock climbing, and tons of family fun. When I visited the Golf Channel studio located on the 18th hole, I saw plenty of people enjoy themselves in the Fan Zone located on the old driving range between the 1st and 18th holes. Also, there are Ben and Jerry’s stands all around, so you can enjoy some delicious, chilly ice cream, which is perfect for a day like today, when the temperatures are near 100 degrees! Today and yesterday have been record setting days for heat in Cromwell.
Winners at the 2012 Travelers Championship Celebrity Pro-Am
1. The Fans
Large galleries got to watch some of the world’s best players, like Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar alongside some famous celebrities, including actor Bill Murray, ESPN star Chris Berman and UCONN Women’s basketball coaches Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey. Former UCONN standouts Scott Burrell (playing) and Ray Allen (walking with his foot in a cast) also were on the links.
2. Doug Flutie
Despite the 95 degree weather, Mr. Flutie still decided to wear a pair of pants and a shirt as black as the night. We were burning up wearing a light green t-shirt and shorts, so I can only imagine how scorched he must have felt. It looks like Doug wanted to match pro partner J.J. Henry’s dress with long pants or he got the wrong weather forecast.
3. Birdies for the Brave
A group of military veterans caddied for PGA TOUR players on the 17th hole. Winning and hitting good shots are terrific, but what’s even more important is honoring the men and women that served our country so bravely and loyally. Bubba Watson put it perfectly in two sentences. “They (the military) fight for our freedom no matter who we are. So it’s (Wounded Warrior Project) is nice to see.” Thank you to anybody that’s ever served in the military and hats off to the Travelers Championship for their participation in this initiative.
4. George McNeill and J.J Henry
Both are accomplished touring pros and each drew the honor of playing with a group of famous amateurs. Even though J.J Henry is a previous winner of this event, a native of Fairfield and a member of TFTCT’s Board of Directors it seemed that a large part of the gallery was there to see the rest of his team, which consisted of former NFL players Andre Tippet and Doug Flutie, and ESPN analyst Chris Berman. George McNeill had UCONN women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, singer Michael Bolton and wrestler Booker T.
5. Webb Simpson
Even though he won the U.S Open last week and has had a dramatic increase in requests for his time, Webb showed his strong character by honoring his commitment to participate in the Travelers Championship. “I’ve always loved this event. My wife and I never thought about not coming,” he said when asked about not withdrawing. I believe that shows tremendous respect for the game, his peers and the Travelers Championship. Every golf fan in Connecticut should be glad to have such a fine player, but more importantly such a fine gentleman in the field.
Jack Kane is an 8th grade honor student at McGee Middle School in Berlin, CT. Jack plays soccer, basketball, baseball and golf, and has participated in The First Tee program since he was nine years old. Currently playing on the Eagle Team, Jack has also participated in several Connecticut Junior PGA events where he won the 2010 Junior PGA Championship – Connecticut Section for the 12 & Under division. He has enjoyed volunteering in assisting the instructors at The First Tee Par classes, at the PGA Travelers Championship, at the Walmart Classic for The First Tee of Connecticut, and at The First Tee of Fairfield County Charity Classic. His involvement with The First Tee program has most recently afforded him the opportunity to play in the 2012 Premier Limo First Tee Classic at the TPC in Cromwell. Jack will be attending Xavier High School in the fall and hopes to play basketball and golf at the next level.
Well the 2012 Travelers Championship is officially underway in Cromwell, CT. First and foremost, I would like to personally thank Scott Gray of WTIC News Talk 1080 for taking us under his wing today and really showing us what it is like to a journalist in the sports field. Sharing his personally experiences, Mr. Gray really sparked an interest in a career as a sports journalist. Conversing over lunch, we discussed everything in the world of sports. Not only did he tell us why he enjoys covering golf, but also about his personal friends in the baseball world including Ted Williams and Johnny Podres, and his take on the adoption of a playoff system in college football. He had a strong opinion about the future of college sports and I strongly agreed with him. I really enjoyed his stories and look forward to staying in touch with him. Later, we had the opportunity to visit Golf Channel’s studio on the 18th hole. We watched a live taping of Golf Central Pre Game, and met anchors Todd Lewis and Tripp Isenhour after the show. This opportunity gave us a new understanding of the dedication and hard work that it takes to put on a live show such as the one on the Golf Channel.
As we learned as we watched Golf Channel Pre Game, the Travelers Championship’s field of different major championship winners has not disappointed! The par-70 TPC River Highlands has certainly laid out well for the players with the majority of players in the field at even par or better. The current leader as I write this is David Mathis who is -6 through 12 holes of golf. Defending champion Fredrik Jacobson is very much in the chase for the lead, currently in a four-way tie for second. Bubba Watson recently holed out from the primary ruff on the 10th hole, moving to -5 and into a now five-way share for second. The marque grouping of the past three major winners, Watson, Bradley, and Simpson has toted a hefty crowd this afternoon as expected.
As I think back to these two days, I can’t help but smile. The opportunities that I have been blessed with are truly remarkable. I’d just like to take a second to thank two organizations of people that made this day possible. Josh Belowich and Scott Dolch from the Travelers Championship did an amazing job organizing each of the events we attended, and The First Tee of Connecticut's Mark Moriarty and Meghan Doherty who guided us through much of the past two days. The First Tee has done a fantastic job in attracting young people to the game of golf and I look forward to many new opportunities that could only be given to me through The First Tee.
My personal highlight from Day 1 at the Travelers Championship was definitely the visit to Birdie for the Brave on the 17th hole. Phil Mickelson established Birdies for the Brave, committing to donate $100 for each birdie he made during the 2005 season. From there, the PGA TOUR has expanded the charity. Currently, a rapidly growing number of PGA TOUR players support this initiative, which now provides local military veterans with the chance of a lifetime at numerous PGA TOUR events, such as the Travelers Championship. An all-veteran group teed off with PGA TOUR player Tommy Gainey today in the Celebrity Pro-Am, and local veterans had the chance to caddy for PGA TOUR players on the 17th hole. During our visit with Alexis Layhiff, she really gave us a good idea what it’s like to be involved with such a noble program and talked about her team’s travel to many of the Birdies for the Brave events on tour. She works hard behind the scenes to make sure that everything goes smoothly on the day of each event.
One participant in the Travelers field who supports Birdies for the Brave is 2012 Masters Champion and 2010 Travelers Championship champion Bubba Watson. When asked how he felt about the program he responded, “It’s good anytime Birdies for the Brave and the military are involved in something like that. I feel bad for them carrying our bags when they’re protecting us and letting us play golf for a living. I feel bad saying, ‘Hey, give me this club, carry my bag, or clean my golf ball for me.’ But they enjoy it, so it’s fun. It’s fun to be around the military. They let us do what we want to do for free. They let us do our jobs, and they support us. They’re fighting for us, even though they don’t know who we are. So it’s nice to see.”
As the initiative expands, the ultimate goal is to be involved with every PGA TOUR stop, giving every local hero a chance to shine. Today, the common man had the chance to meet real heroes, United States Military Veterans.