Bubba Watson sticks to Travelers commitment

August 2, 2016

There never was a question in Bubba Watson's mind that he was going to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next week, even as other top players dropped out over fears of the Zika virus.

Watson also said he always was going to defend his title in the Travelers Championship this week, even though it means he will miss the opening ceremonies in Rio.

"We took that into consideration, about (how) the Olympics just throws the whole schedule off," said Watson, who also claimed the Travelers at TPC River Highlands for his first PGA Tour victory in 2010. "One week throws the whole schedule off, how they had to do things. And I was fourth in the world for the last two years, so I knew I had a good shot at making the Olympic team, so we had to prepare for that.

"It was a no-brainer never to miss (the Travelers). This was never coming off the schedule. We've always planned on being here. No matter what happened, I was going to be here. So I'm missing opening ceremonies ... so I'm just going to fly in for the golf tournament and then fly out."

Watson will be playing in the Travelers Championship for the 10th time, and he has five finishes in the top 10.

However, it wasn't love at first sight for him at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.

"You know, it started back in 2006 when I didn't like this place," said Watson, who shot 73-72--145 that year and missed the cut by five strokes. "After I missed the cut, I said, 'I'll never come back.'

"So (Travelers) came in with a different approach and with a different way of looking at the event. It's an event, and it happened to be a golf event. ... Every golf tournament is a charity event. We raise a lot of dollars for the local community, and that's all that Travelers was talking about to me.

"So I said, 'You know what, I'm going to give it another shot.'"

It was Andy Bessette, the chief executive officer of Travelers, who won over Watson.

Earlier this year at TPC River Highlands, Bessette gave Watson a shout-out for not turning his back on the Travelers Championship at media day for the tournament.

"Bubba, thank you for being a part of (the tournament) this year, and we really appreciate it because we know it kind of overlaps and flips around with the Olympics and the opening ceremonies, but thank you for being here," said Bessette, who won the hammer throw in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials.

However, he missed the Games in Moscow because the United States boycotted in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

There is a phrase in sports that there are "horses for courses," and Watson definitely has courses that suit him.

Of his nine PGA Tour victories, two have come in the Masters at Augusta National, two in what was then the Northern Trust Open (now the Genesis Open) at Riviera and two in the Travelers.

In 2010, he closed with a 4-under-par 66 at TPC River Highlands and won a playoff over Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin with a par on the second extra hole.

Last year, he led much of the way after opening with a 62 but needed a 12-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to turn back Paul Casey of England.

"I got lucky," said Watson, who also tied for second in the 2012 Travelers and finished solo fourth in 2013. "Paul, in the playoff I ended up beating him. But it's just exciting, this golf tournament.

"It's just everything else, coming here as a past champion, they treat you little different. They just treat you with more respect, even though I don't know how they can do more, but they do more, and then winning it for the second time, I can't wait to get back here again and just feel the excitement and get pumped up, get the goosebumps from all the cheers that I'm going to have this year, hopefully I'll have this year. ...

"I'm always feeling good about it around here. I get excited. This golf course suits me."

Right from the horse's mouth.