McDaniel's wild coast-to-coast week, solid play continues at Travelers Championship
June 22, 2019
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- Chip McDaniel shot a 68 paired alongside Brooks Koepka in third round of the Travelers Championship. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
CROMWELL, Conn. – If fans didn’t quite grasp the intrigue involved in the 14th pairing in Saturday’s third round of the Travelers Championship, it’s understandable. But to study the backdrop of Brooks Koepka teeing up it alongside Chip McDaniel is to appreciate the great flavor that runs through this game of professional golf.
Koepka, of course, is at the top of the golf world, a four-time major winner who needs no introduction. McDaniel, on the other hand, is pretty much on the opposite end of the golf world, a player without status who got here via a Monday qualifier and most certainly needs an introduction.
Except to one another, because when Koepka went out for a nine-hole practice round at the U.S. Open last week, he discovered McDaniel, a local and sectional qualifier, was with him. So, in effect, they were renewing acquaintances in Round 3 of the Travelers. But dig deeper and you’ll understand there’s a reason why these two should connect.
Nothing was handed to Koepka when he turned professional in 2012, so he traveled the European minor-league circuit, worked his way up, and – cue the John Houseman soundtrack – he earned it, a PGA TOUR card for the 2015 season, that is, and the riches that have followed.
Koepka takes pride in that route, so when he heard McDaniel’s story, he smiled.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Koepka. “Hopefully, he gets his card and we see him out here consistently.”
That is the plan for the quiet and unheralded McDaniel, who outscored Koepka, 68-72, to add another layer of flavor to this recent whirlwind he’s been on. Having made the cut at the U.S. Open and here at the Travelers, McDaniel will improve his FedExCup standing for non-members and be in position to earn a spot into the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
“I know what’s at stake, what I’m playing for,” said McDaniel, who will head to the Detroit area Sunday night after the final round and tee it up in a Monday qualifier for next week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic. “But I feel pretty much in control.”
That comfort is owed in large part to his golf, which is solid, and impressed even Koepka. But as McDaniel signed his third-round card, a small crowd drifted into the area behind the TPC River Highlands clubhouse and quickly got a sense that this young man’s saga has captivated his family.
McDaniel’s girlfriend, Sara Baker, arrived Friday night, having flown from Lexington, Ky. to Hartford, Conn., via Detroit. McDaniel’s brother, Todd, and his wife, Madison, also made the trip, but the punctuation mark arrived as Chip played the eighth hole – his parents, Todd and Jennifer, arrived, having driven 14 hours through the night.
“We figured we’d surprise him,” said Todd, the father. “We mustered the energy to make the trip, but he was playing with the No. 1 player in the world.”
Understand, there’s good reason why Todd and Jennifer had to “muster” the energy to make the 860-mile drive. After all, they had only made it back home to Clay County in Kentucky last Wednesday after driving to and from Pebble Beach to watch Chip in the U.S. Open. That, folks, was about a 5,000-mile round trip.
“And we didn’t have much time to plan that one,” laughed Jennifer, as Chip had only earned his U.S. Open spot in early June. “But we can’t see him play that often, so when we can we want to take advantage.”
Todd and Jennifer worked a visit to the Grand Canyon into their trip to Pebble, then included a stop at Yosemite National Park to their return itinerary. But watching Chip play his last 11 holes in 3 under to sneak inside the top 30 through 54 holes, all while paired with a four-time major winner, was every bit the main attraction to the proud parents.
The Chip McDaniel saga is also being embraced by his traveling entourage. “I have full faith in him,” said Baker, who met her boyfriend while they were students at the University of Kentucky.
When Chip made the cut at the U.S. Open, Sara flew Friday night to be there for the weekend. “But there was a little less stress this week,” she laughed.
As for Jacob Cook, the trusty caddie who played alongside McDaniel at the University of Kentucky, where he is a redshirt junior, he knows they will be flying toward Detroit Sunday night, that they took a red-eye from San Francisco to Boston last Sunday, then drove to Ellington Ridge CC Monday to qualify at a course they had never seen.
Just don’t ask him all the intricate details of this coast-to-coast whirlwind of a golf adventure.
“I’m just along for the ride,” Cook laughed. “It’s been fun.”