There was a time when the tournament was held in June, the week before the U.S. Open, except for the years when it was held the week after the U.S. Open. Early on and recently, the event has been anchored in August. Not that it ever has been terribly anchored to anything. It has had five homes and six names, and is going to get one more of each in 2017.
What matters most, though, is that it has kept going, 50 years in a row.
The tournament originally known as the Westchester Classic and now referred to as The Barclays (although not for long) will tee up at Bethpage Black Thursday. You could say it has come a long way since Jack Nicklaus beat Dan Sikes by a shot on Aug. 30, 1967 (a Wednesday, because the Friday through Sunday rounds had been rained out), when the total purse was a then-record $250,000. This week, the 50th playing of whatever-you-want-to-call-it will award $8.5 million in prize money as the opening round of the FedExCup playoffs.
On the other hand, you could praise the event for not having gone anywhere, having woven itself into the fabric of the New York sports scene and the PGA Tour.
“There are some tournaments that are just in the upper echelon, ones that you really want to win,” said Billy Andrade, who made history at Westchester in 1991 when he secured his second tour victory a week after his first. “This is part of that upper echelon.”
Lee Janzen, who edged Ernie Els at Westchester in 1994, a week before Els succeeded him as U.S. Open champion, said, “It was one of my favorite tournaments from the first year I got out on tour.”
Its roots go back 60 years to a one-day pro-am at Apawamis Country Club in Rye, then the Thunderbird Classic at Westchester Country Club. That is the recollection of Karan Whamond, who, with her husband Don, volunteered at the first Westchester Classic in 1967 — and at every one since. They are heading the uniform distribution unit this year. Don will double as the kilt-wearing host, introducing golfers on the Black’s 10th tee Thursday and Friday.
They have done everything from pick up golfers at the airport to typing up the pairings. They have seen the letterhead go from the Westchester Classic to the American Express Westchester Classic, Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic, Buick Classic, Barclays Classic and The Barclays. They kept up as the tournament was incorporated into the FedExCup and began rotating to Bethpage and three New Jersey courses. There is a better than even chance they will be on board next year, when it becomes The Northern Trust and is played at Glen Oaks in Old Westbury.
“I really think what has kept it going is the comraderie of the volunteers,” she said. “A number of chairmen live in Westchester County and some live in Connecticut. When the tournament moved, most of them said, ‘OK. We’ll follow.’ ”
If a golf tournament can be judged by its champions, the Westchester/Buick/Barclays can stand tall. Along with Nicklaus’ two victories, the trophy also has been won by Arnold Palmer, Julius Boros, Raymond Floyd, Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros and Els.
Then again, it has been so much of a challenge that Tiger Woods never has won it (published reports said he never liked the Westchester course, leading to him skipping the FedExCup debut in 2007).
In any case, this tour stop has produced its share of heat and color: Vijay Singh’s record four wins included three in playoffs. Bob Gilder made a double eagle in 1982, on his way to a 19-under-par triumph. Sergio Garcia won twice in Westchester and contended at Bethpage. Padraig Harrington sank a 50-foot eagle to win at Westchester and tied the Black’s course record with a 65. Steve Stricker ended a six-year drought with a win, making birdies on his final three holes. Dustin Johnson won on a Saturday morning as the tournament closed early before Hurricane Irene hit. On Sunday last year, with Donald Trump drawing a massive following along the fairways, Brian Harman made two holes-in-one.
Nothing was quite like 1990, when Hale Irwin won the U.S. Open at Medinah outside Chicago in a Monday playoff and still made it to the Westchester pro-am on Wednesday. “Once I commit, I commit,” he said over the phone this week.
Irwin was committed to playing well that week, too. He made a hole-in-one on Thursday and went on to win, celebrating by racing behind the 18th green and high-fiving fans, as he had at the Open. “I had come off 4 ½ years of pretty nondescript performances. For me, it was the thrill and hunger of having been out of the excitement for so long,” he said.
Plus, there was the energy of playing in the New York area, where he won his first Open title, at Winged Foot in 1974. “I always played better on those courses that had a height dimension. The targets were always well defined,” he said, adding that he experienced New York hospitality one year at Westchester. Convinced he had missed his Friday morning tee time, he was cleaning out his locker when someone from the club asked what the heck he was doing. He explained about the miscue and the other man told him, “You don’t play until this afternoon!”
Members of the 50-and-older PGA Tour Champions circuit regret that the tournament is gone from its original home. The tour and Westchester Country Club have blamed each other for the permanent rift. Still, former champions believe some flavor has survived.
Janzen is a fan of Bethpage, especially as a par 71, which it will be for the Barclays (rather than the par 70 for the U.S. Open). “I love playing in the Northeast. The courses are so much different than the ones I grew up on in Florida,” he said.
Andrade, a Rhode Island native, said Westchester always felt like home. He added, “I’m proud to be part of that history.”
The history still fits, regardless of the location or the tournament title. As Irwin said, in his mind, “It’s still ‘Westchester.’ ”
2007 Westchester CCSteve Stricker 268
2008 Ridgewood CCVijay Singh 276
2009 Liberty National GCHeath Slocum 275
2010 Ridgewood CCMatt Kuchar 272
2011 Plainfield CCDustin Johnson 194*
2012 Bethpage Black Nick Watney 274
2013 Liberty National GCAdam Scott 273
2014 Ridgewood CCHunter Mahan 270
2015 Plainfield CCJason Day 261