WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Before Tuesday, 17-year-old Ike Judy’s most pressure-packed golf experience might have come at the Lewisburg Elks Golf Course, competing for the top spot in the Coalfield Conference East Tournament with a few parents and a couple of teammates watching.
On Tuesday, though, Judy stood on the first tee of the Old White TPC Course with hundreds of spectators lining the fairway and PGA Tour flags flying on the green. By his side was a five-time PGA Tour winner, who finished eighth at the 2003 Masters.
Judy, a rising senior at James Monroe High School, was one of four junior golfers — three from West Virginia and one from Virginia — selected to play in the Polo First Tee Scramble on Tuesday at The Greenbrier Classic.
“There were three kids in West Virginia selected to play, and they called and asked me to be one of them,” said Judy, still smiling from ear to ear while standing on the 18th hole after completing the three-hole event. “It was pretty unbelievable, honestly. I really didn’t know how to take it.”
Judy’s team, which included PGA Tour pro Jonathan Byrd and Meagan Bored from Roanoke, Va., lost by a stroke to the team headed up by Billy Horschel that included Bailey Frederick of Fairmont and Camden Moore of Spencer — Horschel’s team birdied Nos. 11 and 18 to finish 2-under, while Byrd’s team’s only birdie came on No. 18 — but the scores really made no difference.
“It was a great experience,” said Judy, who admitted he’s more motivated than ever to continue working on his game. “It was an all-around good time. (The pros) are great guys, and I have so much respect for them doing this for The First Tee.”
Byrd explained that he finds just as much enjoyment from events like the one Tuesday at The Greenbier Classic as what the kids experience.
The 2002 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year remembers getting to caddie for his father at the Hoodie and the Blowfish Monday After the Masters when he was a young golfer. The Byrd family was paired with Scott McCarron in that event, and the young Jonathan begged to hit the three-time PGA Tour winner’s driver.
When he did, he swung as hard as he could and watched his ball sail into the woods.
“When I play with these kids now, I know it’s the same thing,” said Byrd. “They’re nervous, and they want to try to impress the pros.
“I just want to have fun with them. It’s not about us when we come out here. They’ve gotten the great priveledge to come out here and play three holes on the tournament course, and it should be fun. We had a little competition, but there was no pressure to it. I think the kids had fun.”
Byrd said he’s played in the event on each of his trips to The Greenbrier Classic, and he’s played in a similar one at Pebble Beach a couple times, as well.
For him, it’s a chance to relax in the middle of a stressful situation.
“We just get to ham it up a little bit,” said Byrd, who played collegiately at Clemson. “Anytime you can get on the golf course and not count your score, it’s kind of nice.
“I was impressed. The pros didn’t do a great job, but (the kids) did awesome.”
Judy said he hopes to one day be one of the professionals giving the kids an experience of a lifetime, but he knows he must crawl before he can walk.
“I’m just trying to take it step by step,” he explained. “My next goal is to try to play college golf somewhere and then try to move on and play with these guys.”
If not, at least he can say he did once.
Greenbrier Classic Notebook:
The Greenbrier Chairman and CEO Jim Justice never hesitates to be front and center promoting the resort and The Greenbrier Classic. But sometimes the best publicity is unsolicited.
Such has been the case this week, as Bubba Watson has been the historic resort’s best spokesman.
The 2012 Masters champion has been chronicling his first visit to The Greenbrier for nearly a week on his Twitter account, and his Tweets have served as the perfect advertisement for the fourth-year tournament.
“No question, they’re tremendously beneficial,” said Justice Tuesday.
“You know, Bubba said it maybe better than anybody has said it. He said, ’I didn’t know what to expect coming here.’ To me, that’s says a lot.
“When you think about an image of West Virginia, a lot of times it’s not in a great way, and you really don’t know what to expect. Then, all of the sudden, you come and it’s unbelievable.”
Justice said he’s seen Watson’s Tweets and takes a lot of pride in their contents.
“I think his first Tweet was, ‘This place is awesome,’ and he has truly fallen in love with it. He’s been all over. I was with him at our home farm. We rode around on four-wheelers together and fished a little bit. He’s all over the property looking at properties here that he wants to buy and build a home here. He’s got a beautiful family. His 16-month-old was so precious it’s unbelievable, and (his wife) Angie’s beautiful.
“That’s what The Greenbrier is really all about. It’s family. These amenities that we have here and The Greenbrier itself — the people, the kindness, the love — that’s just so gratifying to lots and lots of players.”
• • •
Justice has become close with Phil Mickelson, who will be playing in his third-straight Greenbrier Classic this week, looking to make the weekend for the first time.
Justice and his wife, Cathy, hosted a Birdies for the Brave event with Mickelson and his wife, Amy, this fall, and Justice and Mickelson have played together on the Old White TPC several times over the last few years.
So watching Mickelson come in second in the U.S. Open for a record sixth time two weeks ago at Merion Golf Club was hard for The Greenbrier owner to watch.
“(There were) maybe a few little tears — maybe a lot of tears to tell you the truth,” said Justice. “Because Phil wanted that really, bad and he’s a true gentleman.
“He is such a class person. He’s got endless energy, and he just touches all the right bases to me. He’s a really special man.”
• • •
Seemingly everybody involved in the game of golf has faced questions about the PGA Tour’s ban on anchored putters, which will go into effect in 2016. Justice was no different, and he was candid about his feelings.
“I think it’s a good decision,” he said. “I played a million rounds almost with Sam Snead, and I played when he was in his early- to mid-50s, and he was still quite a player.
“At one time, he developed a little croquet stroke between his legs and they said, ‘No, no, we’re not going to do that,’ and they outlawed that. Then they went to where he could sidesaddle it and putt on the side.
“I believe we don’t need any gimmicks,” he continued. “We just need the game, the time-honored game that brought us to where we are today. And gracious Lord above, do we need an honored sports game today.”
Justice drew plenty of laughs when asked if he’s ever used a belly putter.
“No,” he said with a chuckle. “I use a belly, but I don’t use a belly putter.”
• • •
Among the celebrities playing in today’s Pro-Am will be Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. The 66-year-old 1999 Associated Press Coach of the Year, who has won 216 games in 26 seasons as the Hokie head coach, said The Greenbrier has long been one of his favorite places.
“I really enjoy this place,” said Beamer, who played cornerback for the Hokies in the late ’60s. “The golf course is one thing, but Mr. Justice has done a great job with the entertainment and all the things that can happen.
“This is one of my all-time favorite places. Everything that’s here is kind of what I like. We drove up today in a little less than two hours, and it’s something I always look forward to.”
Beamer’s Hokies, who won at least 10 games every season from 2004 through 2011, suffered through a rare struggle last year, finishing 7-6 overall, but he said he’s ready to hit the field again and get things back on track.
“We’ve got a good football team that’s got to put things together to be a real good football team,” he said. “In some ways, what happened last year makes you appreciate those years that we won at least 10 games.
“We were sitting 4-6, and I’m proud of the way the kids didn’t point fingers. We won our last two ball games, we won our bowl game, so, it some ways we overcame adversity that we really hadn’t faced in previous years. So, in some ways, it was a very gratifying year.”
• • •
Pairings for the Thursday and Friday rounds were released Tuesday, and there are several groups sure to draw huge crowds.
A trio of left-handers will probably be the most watched, as Phil Mickelson, Ted Potter Jr. and Bubba Watson will hit the first tee at 1 p.m. for the opening round. They’ll be followed by another star-studded group that includes Ben Curtis, Ryan Palmer and Tom Watson.
• • •
Nick Faldo’s home overlooking The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC Course is nearly complete. When it is, he wants to bring part of his life into his new backyard.
The golfing legend — who has won six Major Champi-onships and is now a golf analyst for CBS — announced Tuesday at The Greenbrier Classic that he’ll be bringing the Faldo Series Grand Final to The Greenbrier this October.
“My biggest goal was to bring this series to America, so we could stretch almost across the globe,” said Faldo.
“After some negotiations with (Greenbrier chairman and CEO Jim Justice) we’ve put it all together. We’ll bring all our winners from Europe and all our winners from Asia here. We’ll be here for almost a full week and have a three-day tournament.”
The Faldo Series hosts more than 7,000 golfers from ages 12 to 21 at 40 events in 31 countries. Previously, the events had been held in Europe, Asia and South America, and the United States will now be included.
“It’s my way of giving back to the game and creating opportunities for kids,” said Faldo of his charity series. “To now have the PGA TOUR of America involved is huge. I’m very excited for me and for the series. The real long term goal is to make this a worldwide amateur event.”
Founded in 1996 to provide opportunities for young golfers, the Faldo Series has seen the likes of Rory McIlroy and Yani Tseng come through its ranks. Guan Tianlang, who at 14 years old became the youngest player to make a cut in a Major Champonship when he did so in April at the Masters, was also part of the Series.
Beginning in 2014, American players will be eligible for the Grand Final.
“The Faldo Series is an incredibly impressive effort,” said Justice. “In giving back to golf through the Series, Nick has seen two players rise to World No. 1 in Rory McIlroy and Yani Tseng.
“The Greenbrier looks forward to providing a setting for history as tomorrow’s champions include a championship visit to The Old White TPC Course in their journey with golf.”
Faldo said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has expressed interest in holding qualifying events at TPC courses throughout the U.S.
For more information on the Faldo Series, visit www.nickfaldo.com.
Cam Huffman is sports editor of The Register-Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.