And so begins another tournament on the PGA Tour with the Travelers Championship really anticipated by the players.
First of all, it follows the pressure cooker of the U.S. Open where you dare not breathe during your swing for fear of dumping your tee shot into the seemingly foot-long rough bordering the fairways. The TPC River Highlands, on the other hand, gives you plenty of room off the tees and if you hit it even halfway decent and in the right spots, you can make a bunch of birdies.
That’s what happened to first round leader, Charlie Hoffman, who shot a scorching 9-under par 61; second place finisher, Hunter Mahan, in with a 62, and third place finisher, Bubba Watson, 63. Hoffman was in position to win the tournament last year finishing 2nd, Mahan won it in 2007 and Watson in 2010. It was the first win for both of them.
The other reason the tournament is anticipated is because Travelers came on as the title sponsor in 2007 — the year Mahan won — and they have continued to make the week more and more enticing to the players.
What began as the Insurance City Open in 1952, was won by Ted Kroll that first year. Kroll would go on to win 8 Tour events and topped the money list in 1956 (with $72, 836). He was a decorated veteran of World War II receiving the Purple Heart three times. Following Kroll, the tournament was won — in this order — by a veritable who’s who of the biggest stars of the time: Bob Toski, Tommy Bolt, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gardiner Dickinson, Jack Burke, Jr., Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer and Billy Maxwell (Kroll finished 2nd that 10th year).
With his 62, Mahan was the poster boy for leaving the past behind, last week that is:
Yeah, I felt when I stepped on the first tee today, I felt mentally ready to play the Travelers Championship, and I was into it from the first shot. I thought that was the key for me today. Just good attitude, mentally focused on what was in front of me, and I really wasn’t thinking about anything but the next shot and trying to hit good, quality shots and give myself some opportunities. I was able to do that.
The putter was strong today. Made a lot of really good putts and made some putts that were really easy and they were kind of tricky. So I feel really very pleased with how I played, but how I got into the day I think was my biggest key.
He had a really hot week last week and that seemed to carry right into this week:
Yeah, I don’t see any negatives with playing in the last group [at the Open] and being in there all day. A tough finish or whatever, but I mean, we’re all going to make bogies. You just don’t know where. I took all positives from last week. I made sure I got a lot of rest between Sunday and today and made sure I got mentally prepared for this week. You know, that’s what gave me the opportunity to show up today and be focused and be into it, you know? Because it’s pretty easy to be flat after last week. I felt good right from the git‑go, and that was important.
It helped that the scoring conditions were about as good as could be:
I think the course is in fantastic shape. The weather, I don’t know if I’ve seen better weather. It’s cool in the morning, kind of warms up gradually, the greens are rolling great. The speeds are a little different from last week, and that’s probably the biggest adjustment. But, yeah, it’s a great opportunity out there to shoot a good number, and so happy that I did right now.
So too was the course in wonderful condition and that allowed Mahan to play much more aggressively than he was able to play last week at Merion:
Yeah, for sure, for sure. Like I said, the course is in perfect shape right now. The fairways are a little damp, so they’re not running out. But the greens have a good amount of kind of roll out to them. But like I said, the biggest adjustment I have to make this week is just getting used to that. I can be aggressive off the tee, which I did with today, a lot of drivers, and I gave myself some short irons. When you have short irons on some of these pins, you can be aggressive. You know, it’s usually about making the putts, so I was able to do that.
So being a very good player, does his success at Hartford come from innate confidence or does it have more to do with the course?
I feel like I’m a ball striker. I can hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. You know, it usually comes down to just making some putts. I feel like I have a good sense of these greens. I feel like I can read them really well. When you have confidence in what you see, it makes your stroke a lot easier. If you don’t know quite what you think the putt is doing, it’s hard to make an aggressive stroke.
So, you know, this is a golf course where you can be aggressive off the tee, if you want to be, but you can also play it safe. But I choose to be mostly aggressive, and it gives me some short irons. I’m happy to take on pins with my short irons. So it’s a combo of things, but all I know is when I step on that tee, I feel like I can hit any shot out here. Sounds like manifest confidence to me.
And his good mindset gave him the freedom to sort of roll out his week in the way that was most comfortable for him:
Like I said, I think it had to do with just the prep going into today. It wasn’t quite just today, it was taking Monday, Tuesday off, doing a little bit of work yesterday, but not too much. Just making sure I had a good sense of the greens, good feel.
Don’t over-analyze the pro‑am or anything. If I made a few bad shots or whatever, don’t really worry about it. Just know I knew that I’m swinging well and I’m doing all the right things, be confident in what I’m doing. Got a lot of rest yesterday. I woke up refreshed and ready to go and that was the key. I could have tried really hard today, but if I didn’t have the energy, it just wasn’t going to do me any good.
So that’s sort of the “week in the life of Hunter Mahan” and how he got himself ready to play at a very high level right out of the box. Sometimes the energy crash isn’t until the second or third day. If you can get to Sunday still intact, normally it’s the adrenaline that will get you to the finish line.
As always, we’ll see how the rest of the week unfolds. It’s always interesting.