Featuring a strong UConn presence, the return of annual celebrity pro-am welcome dose of normalcy for Travelers Championship

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Bryson DeChambeau swung his 3-wood in front of the first tee at TPC River Highlands on Wednesday, an ear bud in one ear while the other listened to the murmur of spectators who had gathered to watch the notoriously big hitter tee off.

“Driver!” one fan to his right yelled.

“I’ll hit driver on two,” DeChambeau chirped back.

“I’ll be there,” the fan responded.

DeChambeau took a few more practice swings before looking back at the fan.

“You want me to hit it into the bunker?” he joked, referencing the sand trap to the left of the green.

For the first time since June 23, 2019, spectators were on the grounds. The tournament will allow roughly 10,000 fans per day through Sunday’s final round, but it began on Wednesday as fans followedtheir favorite professionals and celebrities throughout the annual celebrity pro-am day.

“We’re here today — we’ve been waiting 365 days for this moment,” tournament director Nathan Grube said at Wednesday’s opening ceremony. “And the magic is back.”

As fans return, so do traditional tournament activities such as the pro-am. UConn football coach Randy Edsall, women’s basketball associate head coach Chris Dailey, field hockey coach Nancy Stephens and men’s hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh teed off, as well as ESPN personalities Chris Berman, Michael Eaves and Dan Orlovsky, also a former UConn quarterback.

Kevin Kisner, paired with Berman, former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and Boston College great Doug Flutie, ripped a tee shot down the dead center of the fairway. Berman, a pro-am regular, shouted “We’ll use his [ball],” then proceeded to hit a straight drive of his own. He flipped his club in the air, threw off his hat and bowed to the crowd.

“I remember, two or three months ago, thinking, ‘Are they have going to have [the pro-am],” Orlovsky said. “Then I got the email from Andy [Bessette] and I was like, ‘Yes.’ It’s a day that, not only I love, but my family loves. My wife, my kids come, they love the day as well. It’s a blast.”

Orlovsky played with Edsall, Eaves and Mark Hubbard. The Shelton native claimed he refused to lose to his former coach. Edsall remarked that he still has a leg up on his quarterback.

“As long as I can continue to beat him and keep bragging rights, that’s alright with me,” Edsall said. “He’s one of those young guys that can hit the ball, but he doesn’t understand that it’s not just driving. That old saying, you drive for show and putt for dough.”

Friendly rivalries aside, the return of the pro-am is a return to normalcy.

“It’s good to see, it’s like things are back to normal so to speak” Edsall said. “It’s just nice to have fans out there, and everyone can do the things they like to do. Just to get out here on a day like this, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Edsall talks recruiting

Since Friday, five players in the class of 2022 have committed to UConn: tight end Sean Sallis, safety Jeremiah McGill, offensive lineman Brady Wayburn, defensive end Donovan Branch and athlete Kareem Lewis.

The Huskies held official visits for recruits over the weekend, and welcomed freshmen onto campus for the first time Sunday. After a year spent recruiting and speaking with incoming players virtually, an in-person experience is a welcomed change for Edsall.

“It’s different from that standpoint, being able to see guys in person,” he said. “We had the freshmen come in, and it was the first time we were able to see them in person when they came in on Sunday. Having the official visits, getting kids in on campus. Even for the recruits, it’s good for them, because they can see things in real life instead of virtually and on video. Our facilities, what we have, it doesn’t do it justice unless you see it in person. You can walk in a building and see how it’s laid out, you can see see the campus this time of year, everything. It’s good to be able to get back doing that again.”

Paige Bueckers update

UConn women’s basketball rising sophomore Paige Bueckers underwent right ankle surgery in May. Dailey summed up the star guard’s status quite simply.

“Paige is Paige,” Dailey said. “Whether she’s injured or not, Paige is Paige.”

Shawn McFarland can be reached at smcfarland@courant.com.

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