The Travelers Championship is center stage on the PGA Tour this weekend.
For me, it’s one of my majors.
Yes, I was born in Hartford, so I grew up with the ICO (the Insurance City Open), SDJ-GHO (Canon Sammy Davis Junior Greater Hartford Open), GHO (Greater Hartford Open), and now the Travelers Championship.
But it’s more because as a kid from West Hartford who really was you typical wanna-be, I was able to witness this golf event first-hand thanks to my years as a reporter-anchor at WFSB-TV and when I hosted Real TV, the first all video news magazine show.
And I learned some lessons about golf and this tourney while holding onto some incredible memories I replay each year at this time.
Charlie Sifford Makes History
It all started in 1967. I attended the ICO as a 12 year old to witness history.
I was there when Charlie Sifford became the first African-American to win a PGA event.
This was a defining moment in sports because the civil rights movement was gaining momentum in the turbulent 1960s. Racial tensions were high throughout the US as there was backlash from the recently signed voting, rights act in 1965 that removed state voting barriers for black citizens.
I can’t say how observant I was at that time, but my recollection was that Sifford received loud cheers from the crowd and no racist remarks.
Not only was his victory symbolic, but Sifford became a trailblazer decades after until his death in 2015 at the age of 92.
And I was there.
Chief Mike Green
Another legend, a local legend in Connecticut, I was able to meet and become good friends with was Cromwell Police Chief Mike Green.
Mike was a legend to Cromwell, CT and to me.
The GHO pre-tourney events allowed Teri and me to meet Mike and his wife Lilly, and their son Mike Jr., who turned into longtime, heartfelt friends to this day.
Unfortunately, Chief Green left us too early. He died suddenly in 1992. We mourn still years later.
A big reason was the fun he extolled while being a professional cop. Granted, watching over the GHO wasn’t exactly like controlling a mob.
Mike was there each day and reporters would also ask him the most idiotic question: what is the crowd size?
How would a police chief have the exact number of fans?
So, when I asked Mike that for the crowd count, he said, “60-thousand.”
I said, “What?”
And then he said, “Well, what do you want it to be.”
That was Mike’s humor – that is so missed.
Sammy Sees Me As A Downer. LOL
Next, I spent time with another historic figure: Sammy Davis, Jr.
Not only was Sammy, gracious and fun, he gave me one of the funniest moments in my life.
At the time, I was the morning anchor at WFSB. After the morning show, the assignment desk sent me to the River Highlands course to do segments all week for the Sammy Davis, Junior Greater Hartford Open. Not only was my work schedule perfect for the assignment, but they also knew I was an avid golfer.
When I got there on Monday morning, I had to find some stories.
Fortunately, John Shulansky, who had married one of my life-long friends Debbie Clark, worked with the Jaycees, a local non-profit that helped run the event while raising lots of money for charity.
While asking John about possible story ideas, the assignment desk contacted me and said, “Fred Astaire just died.” That was Monday, June 22, 1987.
John arranged an interview for me with Sammy about Fred Astaire.
An hour later, I was in the clubhouse restaurant with my photographer, sitting across from Sammy.
It was one of the best and one of the easiest interviews I ever did. Sammy spoke so eloquently about Fred Astaire’s career.
When I got back to the station, I was able to put together a segment with just Sammy speaking, nothing from me, with video clips of Fred‘s great career accentuated by Sammy’s remembrances.
The next day, Tuesday, I have no idea what story I came up with.
On Wednesday, I knew I had to find something else since this was the Celebrity Pro-Am day — that a decade later I would play in.
But it would turn out to be another celebrity remembrance.
Before I could find any news scoop, the assignment desk called again.
“Jackie Gleason just died.”
Are you kidding? Two days after Fred Astaire passed?
“Can you get another interview with Sammy?”
Again, John Shulansky came through.
In the same restaurant, Sammy and I talked about Jackie Gleason.
This was even more heartfelt for Sammy and for the region.
Jackie had played in the celebrity pro-am years before. In fact, he appeared there with Sammy. And it was those appearances where Sammy fell in love with the tournament and the area, leading him to lend his name to the event – something you don’t see anymore.
Again, Sammy gave me another incredible interview about Jackie and his career.
Again, I produced a piece with Sammy’s eulogy-like reflections complementing video clips of Jackie’s career, his time on the popular show The Honeymooners, and his playing time in the GHO Celebrity Pro-Am.
I am still very proud of those two pieces; as a reporter, I got out of the way of a great segment.
The next day, which was the tourney’s first round, I had to find another story.
I went to John and I asked, “Would Sammy do an interview with me about the concert he’s putting on for the volunteers tonight?”
Sure enough, John came back with an affirmative from Sammy.
I ended up in a hotel parking lot where the outside arena was set up – hearing Sammy’s rehearsal for the show that night. I was one of a dozen people as Sammy performed Candyman.
When he was done, he came down to the two chairs and camera to start the interview.
Sammy greeted me like an old friend.
Then he asked me the question that led to one of the funniest remarks in my life.
“So, what’s the weather looking like for the rest of the tournament?”
I said, “our weather guy Hilton Kaderli says it looks like rain.”
Sammy looked at me with a pain look on his face.
“Don’t you ever have any good news?”
I tell that story a lot.
I never had a chance to interview Sammy again, but I felt connected to him. He died in 1990 just as I was arriving in Las Vegas as the new lead anchor at KTNV TV 13 in Vegas.
My first month living there, I stayed in an apartment on the Las Vegas Strip – fun at first, but not permanently.
The second day I arrived; the Las Vegas strip was honoring the life of Sammy by dimming the lights – a touching accolade that Sin City only does for the greats.
I was able to stand out there and watch the ceremony.
I’m sure Sammy was saying, “Of course, bad news Daly is there.”
Six years later, I became the host of Real TV. That led me to Hollywood, and also national recognition.
Scruffer On The Bag
I was also fortunate enough that my golf game improved in the desert which helped the show, leading me into many celebrity golf events. I was asked to be one of the celebrities in the GHO celebrity Pro-Am.
The memories were incredible for me, my wife, Teri, and one of my best buddies, now going on 55 years together as brothers from another mother, Ken “The Scruffer” Hyne.
Scruffer was my caddy. You can actually see a picture of us contemplating a putt together. That photo has led to wild remarks from many friends.
He was an obvious choice. Ken was one of the best fielding third basemen in the history of Hall High School. For nearly a decade when I pitched, he was my third baseman. So, it was appropriate that the player who had to defend himself from the rockets off the bats of hitters I was pitching to, should also be the one to carry my golf bag while I acted like a pro golfer.
I can’t remember how well I played. All I remember is the fun and the nervousness about playing in front of big crowds.
What most people don’t realize is that this golf tournament was the event for central Connecticut each summer.
Remember, this event brought together Yankees (like Scruffer) and Red Sox fans (like me) to share. I always tell people that Hartford is the DMZ for Yankees Red Sox fans because the state is split over this incredible rivalry.
In addition, the GHO has given millions of dollars to charities, making it even more enduring to the citizens.
The professional golfers, who attended the event, some of whom weren’t that well-known, came out and played in the celebrity pro-Am. They felt it was their duty. They did it for the charity and the game of golf.
I was fortunate enough to play with Billy Ray Brown. Billy Ray had actually won a Greater Hartford Open 6 years earlier. He’s currently an on-course TV commentator for a number of telecasts.
What I will remember about him is midway through the round, he came up to me and apologized. He suffered a wrist injury and wouldn’t be able to play to help the team. But he stayed with us and he coached us even though, he couldn’t hit the shots we would need. I always remember that, and have always been a big fan of his on television as well.
Yogi and Fuzzy
After one of the rounds of the celebrity pro-am, the scruff, her, my wife, Teri, and I were in the Celebrity tent. We sat at the same table with Fuzzy Zoeller and Yogi Berra.
We all had drinks, but Yogi had milk. I’m not kidding.
Yogi was as sweet and quiet as Fuzzy was funny and loud.
I remember in the middle of the gathering, Scruffer leaned over to me and said, “Can you believe this?
It’s something we still talk about today.
My wife, Teri recalls, what a sweet and kind man Yogi was.
As we watch the tourney this weekend, other memories will flood forward.
Also if you are at the Travelers Championship, here are two great towns to visit. The first is nearby Middletown.
The other is Madison, Connecticut along the Connecticut Shore.
John Daly is the co-host and co-creator of Undercover Jetsetter, along with his partner Susan Anzalone. Undercover Jetsetter is a show on travel, food, wine, mixology and, of course, golf. They show you how to jet set the world and at home. They also co-authored the book, The TV Studio In Your Hand: How to Shoot, Edit & Deliver the Easy Way on Your iPhone. Join them for tips and hacks on the road, at home, or in the kitchen. Yes, as you will see, all on the iPhone. John has played in many celebrity golf events and was a member of the Celebrity Players Tour for 3 years.