CROMWELL, Conn. — Chase Koepka, the younger brother of Brooks Koepka, has been guaranteed a spot in the field of the 2021 Travelers Championship, The Post learned on Thursday.
Chase, who at 26 years old is four years younger than Brooks, the No. 4-ranked player in the world who owns four major championships, earned a spot into the tournament this week at TPC River Highlands by Monday qualifying, surviving a five-man playoff for two spots.
But Wednesday, after it was learned that Brooks’ caddie, Ricky Elliott, had tested positive for COVID-19, both Brooks and Chase withdrew from the tournament as a precaution. For Brooks, because of his lofty status, the withdrawal wasn’t a major deal. To Chase, who doesn’t have any playing status and has played in only a handful of PGA Tour events, it was a crushing blow. One good performance on the PGA Tour for a player like Chase can change his life.
Travelers tournament director Nathan Grube told The Post on Thursday that he reached out to Chase and told him he “earned’’ his way in and that, “if he needs it next year’’ he’ll have a guaranteed spot in the 2021 Travelers.
Shane Lowry was in the thick of the COVID-19 vortex on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Travelers Championship.
On Tuesday, the reigning British Open champion from Ireland played a practice round with Graeme McDowell and the Koepka brothers.
By Wednesday, McDowell and the Koepka brothers withdrew from the Travelers when it was discovered that both McDowell’s caddie, Ken Comboy, and Brooks’ caddie, Elliott, had tested positive for the coronavirus.
While neither McDowell nor the Koepkas tested positive, all three withdrew out of precaution in case they had been infected by the caddies but weren’t yet showing it in a test.
Lowry was so concerned that he consulted with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on Wednesday evening to make sure it was safe for him to carry on and play. Monahan gave his blessing and it turned out to be a good thing, with Lowry shoot a 4-under 66 on Thursday.
“I found out on Tuesday evening about Kenny, Graeme’s caddie, and I’d spent a little bit of time around Graeme,’’ Lowry said. “But Graeme hadn’t seen [Comboy] since last week [Comboy didn’t make the trip to Connecticut because he wasn’t feeling well].
“Then obviously we played a practice round with Brooks, Chase and Ricky Elliott, who was caddying for Brooks and he tested positive [Wednesday] morning. Ricky called me himself. I couldn’t really believe it. To be honest, I thought he was messing with me, because he kind of is like that sometimes.
“Then as the guys pulled out, I contacted the Tour pretty quickly. I asked them what did they think I should do because I wanted to do the right thing. But I don’t think I was within enough contact with Ricky over the course of the nine holes we played on Tuesday. We’re just taking precautions. I spoke to Jay [Wednesday evening] here at the club and he said that I’m good to play. So, I’m here to play’’
Lowry said after two clean weeks — only Nick Watney tested positive last week — this week’s cases “have been kind of a kick in the backside to all of us and to make sure that we do the right things when we’re out there.’’
“I’ve seen a lot of media coverage that is quite negative, and I don’t like it,’’ he said. “I think the PGA Tour, Jay, everybody involved has done a great job, and I as a professional golfer am very happy to be back to work and to be providing some entertainment for some people at home. I think we’re very lucky to be back out playing.’’
Abraham Ancer had his first career PGA Tour hole in one on the 16th hole Thursday, jarring it with an 8-iron from 156 yards. And he was struck the relative silence that accompanied it when an ace generally elicits huge roars from the gallery. There, of course, are no spectators allowed on the golf course this week.
“It was very anti-climactic because there was nobody out there and we couldn’t high-five or anything, but still, it was awesome to have my first PGA Tour ace,’’ he said. “You want to go high-five or something and we can’t right now, so it was definitely different. But I’ll take it.’’
Tyler McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, didn’t get into the Travelers field until the Wednesday withdrawals. He missed the cut at last week’s Korn Ferry Tour event and was prepared to take the week off. He was on his way to the Pisgah Forest near Asheville, N.C., for a quiet week off. Then he got late word that he was in the Travelers field if he could get to Connecticut.
“I think I got the confirmation around 3 p.m. and the last flight out of Jacksonville was 5:30, so I had to pack up in about 25 minutes and head to the airport,’’ McCumber said.
He made his flight and made the most of his opportunity, shooting a 5-under 65 on Thursday while playing alongside defending-champion Chez Reavie and Jon Rahm.
“My brother-in-law drove me to the airport last minute,’’ McCumber said. “I called him, I’m like, ‘Hey, man, I think I’m going to get into the tournament, can you find me a flight and maybe give me a ride to the airport and help me pack?’ He was Superman for me.’’