CROMWELL, Conn. — Golfers who made the cross-country trip from the U.S. Open to Connecticut to play in this week's Travelers Championship may have been enticed by the $6.4 million purse or the nice trophy, but what many really want is their face on a piece of candy.
The tournament, which begins Thursday, has become known on tour for the little perks it offers players, including providing the champion with a supply of M&M's with his face printed onto the hard candy shell.
"The first time I saw my face on an M&M, it was a little strange, but it was very cool at the same time to give them to friends and family," said defending champion Kevin Streelman, who earned his M&M's along with $1.1 million last year by making birdies on seven straight holes to close out the tournament.
Mars Inc. makes personalized M&M's for events such as weddings or corporate get-togethers, and tournament director Nathan Grube says the idea to make them part of the Traveler's Championship prize package began at one such event that included candies with the Travelers logo.
"We thought, we're not going to be able to do a Wheaties box, but we can do this," said Grube. "So, now we hand them out at media day, we use them for our sponsor prizes. Any little thing that we can show our champion that his win is very personal for us."
Ken Duke became the first golfer to adorn the Travelers M&M's after winning the tournament in 2013. Grube said Duke called to ask for extra after running out of candy to give away at various charity events, hospital visits and meet-and-greets with fans and sponsors.
The tournament also offers some bigger perks to convince golfers not to take this week off, including a free charter flight from the U.S. Open for players and their families, spa days for wives and free dry cleaning for the caddies.
But Andy Bessette, Travelers Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, said it's the candy that players want to talk about when he goes out to promote the tournament.
"Guys love that and they say 'Hey you're the tournament that puts the winner on the M&M,'" Bessette said.
Here are some other items of interest as the 2015 Travelers Championship gets underway:
WISH COME TRUE
The Travelers invited 13-year-old Ethan Couch of Alberta, British Columbia and his family to join Streelman in Cromwell this week. Couch, who has an inoperable brain tumor, received the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation to caddie for Streelman during his victory in April's Masters par-3 tournament. He also walked with Streelman during the Travelers celebrity pro-am on Wednesday. "It's pretty amazing," said Couch's mother, Jennifer. "It has really helped Ethan and it's helped our family and now we've got some great memories."
Streelman's record of seven consecutive birdies that clinched the 2014 championship has been commemorated with a plaque that has been placed at the 12th tee, where he started the tournament-ending run.
South African golfer Ernie Els, a four-time major champion, is making his second appearance at the tournament and his first since 2002, when he finished in a tie for 10th place. "I've heard from the players (Travelers) has done such a good job with the event and I thought I'd come back and give it a go," he said. "Obviously the purse is one of the biggest on Tour, that kind of grabs your attention also. It's gone from a smaller event to one of the premier events on Tour."
Two of the world's Top 10 golfers (No. 5 Bubba Watson and No. 9 Sergio Garcia) and seven of the top 15 finishers from the U.S. Open made the trip to Cromwell. No. 8 Jason Day withdrew from the Travelers after battling vertigo at Chambers Bay.