PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club



Travelers

Hero attempts, fails to get Travelers Championship to make floating umbrella green a playoff hole

June 23, 2023
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Jared Wickerham

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt.
- Also Me, at TPC River Highlands

Like most terrible ideas, it started with a tweet.

Well, technically it started with an article that listed 23 predictions for the 2023 season, and one of those visions was the Travelers Championship turning their floating umbrella into its playoff hole. I guess it wasn’t so much a prediction as it was a dare, considering I wrote, “Do it, you cowards” after said forecast. Apparently things are pretty slow in Hartford during January—no more professional hockey, we’re told—because the good folks at Travelers saw the piece and took to Twitter to respond in kind:

We’re no cowards! The Umbrella at 15 ½ WOULD be a great playoff hole. How about we host a closest to the pin contest for you and your Golf Digest friends?

As a writer I stand by what I write. I’m also a man, and like most men, there is nothing more enticing than competing in a beautifully stupid and futile endeavor. Which is why I accepted the challenge, to be held during the Travelers Championship media day. If I hit the green, Travelers would move a potential playoff at this year’s tournament to the floating umbrella in the pond between TPC River Highlands’ 15th, 16th and 17th holes. If I didn’t, I’d donate to one of the charities attached to the tournament. Win-win, right?

The lesson, as always: Never tweet.

All due respect to Sawgrass, the tour’s true island green resides at River Highlands. Beginning in 2010, the Travelers Championship began holding a contest during Tuesday’s practice round, turning the floating Travelers logo into a makeshift green. The 15 ½ hole, as it’s known, weighs in at just 85 yards, but while the red umbrella is 40 feet long it’s only a few feet deep. It’s a small target, which explains why just 25 percent of PGA Tour players are able to hit the 15 ½ green during Tuesday’s contest. (That, or the modern tour pro isn’t putting in enough time on their wedge game.) For the player who is closest to the pin, Travelers donates $10,000 to the charity of his choice. It’s a cool little wrinkle for a tournament that has gone from the brink of extinction to one of the more beloved spots on the summer schedule.

Such a cool wrinkle that, during the famous eight-hole playoff between Harris English and Kramer Hickok in 2021, I wondered if the only way to bring an end to that seemingly forever battle was to move sudden death to the 15 ½. Ever since, I’ve peppered Travelers officials to embrace the chaos. Alas, request after request was turned down. Because they were on their high horse, sure. Also, Travelers is an insurance company and chaos isn’t their jam.

However, no one enjoys being called out, so Travelers laid the gauntlet down. Myself and my colleague Alex Myers would get a shot during the tournament’s media day at the 15 ½ to bring the dream to fruition. Considering we’re both low handicappers—with Myers a self-proclaimed short-game virtuoso—and that we were fighting for a greater good, I liked our chances.

What I didn’t enjoy was reaching the 15th tee and being greeted by a 15-mph wind. Or that it had rained most of the day and our gear was wet. And that the balls we were given were not the brand I usually play. Also, I’m fairly certain there was a scuba diver underneath the floating umbrella who was surreptitiously moving the green everytime a ball went into the air.

What I’m trying to say is I bladed the hell out of my shot and came nowhere close to hitting the green.

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Grown man does his best not to cry.

I don’t think my club had even made contact with the ball before I shouted, “Oh no.” For all I know that shot is still rising somewhere against the Cromwell horizon. I had choked like a dog, and I know this because Myers said, “Oh boy, you choked like a dog.” Myers didn’t hit the green either, but how close I do not know, because I was too busy staring into the ground doing my best to not break into tears. I could live with my own failure, but knowing I failed the game—knowing I failed every kid who watches the Travelers at home if only for the hope that a super pulled drive at the 15th or a mean slice at the 17th finds its way to the umbrella, meaning a player would have to taxi in a rowboat to the umbrella and hit his second shot—was a burden too heavy for these shoulders.

I suppose there was a good chance Travelers wasn’t going to keep its end of the bargain, what with it being an actual PGA Tour event and everything. Nevertheless, we have held our end, donating $100 to The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, one of the many charities that benefits from Travelers’ patronage. But let it be known our voice won’t be silenced; we will continue to fight for the 15 ½ to be a playoff hole, because there are some hopes that a bladed 58 wedge can’t sink.