Travelers notebook: Schauffele tardy but on target

journalinquirer.com 9 days ago
Travelers Championship Golf
Xander Schauffele reacts after putting on the 11th green during the first round of the Travelers Championship golf tournament at TPC River Highlands, Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Cromwell, Conn. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

CROMWELL — Xander Schauffele began his opening round at the Travelers Championship Thursday with a miscue, arriving at the TPC River Highlands practice range late because he thought his 7:35 a.m. tee time was at 7:50.

It was his only blunder of the day.

Schauffele, ranked No. 15 in the world, carded a bogey-free 7-under-par 63 to share third with Martin Laird after the first round.

“For whatever reason I really thought I was teeing off at 7:50,” said Schauffele, the current Olympic gold medalist. “My tee time tomorrow is 12:50, so maybe that was the mix-up. That was a pretty big rookie move on my behalf. But when I'm at home, I'll show up for an eight o'clock tee time at 7:55, maybe hit two putts and then start swinging. So, take advantage of the youth, I guess.”

Schauffele and Laird were one stroke back of co-leaders Rory McIlroy and J.T. Poston after the event’s opening round.

Schauffele hit all 18 greens in regulation and ranked second in the field in strokes gained tee to green on Thursday.

“I've done it in practice back at home, but it's a totally different thing, obviously, with the wind kind of being a lot of crosswinds," said Schauffele of hitting every green in regulation. “Sometimes, it's OK. I think nine is a good example, if you go just over the green on the right it's not that hard of a putt, so there's spots out here where it's OK to miss the green and be on the fringe.”

Schauffele has made 10-of-12 cuts on the year but has only three top-fives and has slid outside the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in more than a year. He has not won an individual stroke-play event since the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Schauffele reached the green in three on the 523-yard, par-5 13th hole and sunk a 12-foot birdie putt to move to 1-under.

After a 248-yard drive on the 296-yard par-4 15th, Schauffele chipped his second shot to five feet and rolled in the birdie to improve to 2-under.

Schauffele sank birdie putts of seven feet on No. 17 and three feet on No. 18 to make the turn at 4-under 31.

Schauffele added birdies on the second, fifth, and sixth holes to finish at 7-under.

“It's been really solid,” Schauffele said of his game. “I've just been talking to my dad. He thinks I'm tinkering too much. He wants me to do what I did today … focus a lot on land numbers, just numbers in general versus me trying to tinker with my golf swing too much. It kind of made me hone in on targets. I've been playing pretty solid, just haven't really gotten over the hump this year in terms of putting a string of tournaments together that are really good.”

Family affair Henry

J.J. Henry got off to an inauspicious start to his first round at the Travelers Championship, bogeying three of his first 10 holes.

His caddy pulled him aside and admonished him.

“Be a man,” said Henry’s son, Connor, who is caddying for him this week. “Get up there and hit a shot, stop steering it around.”

Henry, 47, from Fairfield, regrouped after his son’s pep talk and birdied the 11th, 12th and 16th holes to finish at even-par 70.

“(Connor) did a great job. We got off to kind of a rough start. … We had a great time. This is what life is all about. You get to my age at 47, to still have an opportunity to come home and play in front of a lot of hometown fans here is great,” Henry said.

Henry turned pro in 1998 and has three wins on the PGA Tour, the first at TPC River Highlands in 2006 when it was known as the Buick Championship. His most recent win on the tour was the Barracuda Championship in 2015.

Henry has received a sponsor’s exemption into each of the last two Travelers tournaments due to his limited playing schedule.

“I played first here as an amateur in 1998 and ironically my dad caddied for me,” Henry said. “Here I am 24 years later still kind of hanging on playing, obviously winning the tournament here in 2006 and being from the state kind of carrying the flag, if you will, for the last two decades. So to have my son now caddying for me is something — talk about life coming full circle, it's special.”

Connor, 17, a rising senior in high school, has committed to play college golf at the University of Oklahoma.

“He's become a heck of a player himself,” Henry said.

Simpson feeds of McIlroy

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy went on a birdie binge at TPC River Highlands Thursday, firing an 8-under 62 to share the lead with J.T. Poston after the first round.

But he was not the only player in his threesome racking up birdies.

Webb Simpson carded six birdies and shot a 6-under 64 to sit in a tie for fifth place with Charles Howell III and Patrick Cantlay.

“It was a great start. Yeah, we had a great group. Rory played great, Kevin (Kisner) played great. We kind of fed off each other. I think the holes started looking bigger and bigger to us. A lot of putts were made. … I can't remember the last time I had a bogey-free round, so it feels nice.”

Simpson, the 50th ranked player in the world, is looking to win his first title on the PGA Tour since the 2020 RBC Heritage.

Simpson birdied the 13th, 17th and 18th holes to make the turn at 3-under 32. He added birdies on the 2nd, 5th and 7th holes to finish at 6-under and vault into the top five on the leaderboard.

“This is a golf course where if the wind lays down a little, scores will be low,” Simpson said. "You certainly feel like if you shot 1- to 2-under today you might be playing catch-up the next few rounds. But feels great to get off to a great round like that.”

Smalley earns $10,000 for charity

The Duke Children's Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units will be receiving a $10,000 check curtesy of Alex Smalley.

Smalley hit a shot 11 inches from the flag to win The Umbrella at 15½ Challenge Tuesday during the Travelers Championship practice round at TPC River Highlands.

Smalley’s shot earned $10,000 for the charity of his choice on behalf of Travelers, and he selected the Duke Children’s Hospital-Birdies for Babies initiative to receive the funds. The program raises money for Duke Children's Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units in Durham, N.C.

Twenty-seven of the 78 players who chose to participate in the 85-yard shot landed a ball on The Umbrella at 15½, the 40-foot-long floating green in the shape of the Travelers red umbrella logo located in the pond between holes 15 and 16.

Rafa Guerrero, the caddie for Luke Donald, won the prize in the caddie closest to the pin competition.