Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

June 28, 2014

Column: Greenbrier Classic and Old White: A perfect match

— One week from today, the winner of The Greenbrier Classic will be determined on a Sunday afternoon at The Old White TPC.

The field has been announced, and while it doesn’t include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and World No. 1 Adam Scott, there is still plenty of firepower.

“There is no question the field will be unbelievable,” said The Greenbrier Chairman and owner Jim Justice, during a press conference earlier this month. “This is a popular spot and the field will be unbelievable, that is for sure.”

A total of 156 players will take part in The Greenbrier Classic beginning on Thursday and playing through to Sunday.

Past winners have included Stuart Appleby — who fired a final round 59 to win the inaugural event in 2010 — and he has been followed by Scott Stallings, Ted Potter Jr., and Jonas Blixt.

Anyone could finish on top in 2014, from major winners like Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Bubba Watson, Angel Cabrera, Webb Simpson, John Daly, Vijay Singh, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III and Keegan Bradley, along with those who have come close, including Jason Day, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney, Charles Howell III and Ricky Barnes.

Day was at The Greenbrier for a press conference earlier this month, and is anxious to play in the event for the first time.

“It is the caliber of play that is put in front of you and just the amount of people that are out there watching,” Day said. “I have heard you can get 20,000 people out here watching every day so that sort of fan base, that amount of eyes that are watching you, you definitely don’t want to go out there and make a fool of yourself.

“It is definitely a grind and this course is tough. I definitely like tougher courses, I like to compete against players that you know is going to make it hard on yourself.”

The Old White has proven to be quite a challenge in the four years of The Greenbrier Classic, with Mickelson twice missing the cut and Woods missing out on the weekend during his one visit to West Virginia.

“This being 2,000 feet above sea level, there is definitely some tricks to the course, obviously there is a lot of slope here, you look out and around yourself and there are a lot of hills here,” Day said. “There has to be some sort of tricks to the greens, I have the best guy right here to tell me all about it..

“When I come into town to prepare for it that is something I am definitely going to come to the locals that know the course well to really get as much knowledge as I can. The more knowledge I have about this course it is better for me to maybe compete, play well and win.”

That ‘best guy’ Day speaks of his Justice himself, who has played on the Old White for years, having accumulated 29 holes-in-one in what he calls a ‘long career.’

“I have played here 500,000 rounds, I played 500 times with Sam Snead here,” Justice said. “I can tell you about this course and this is way I think the personalities maybe like Phil struggle, and it is just this simple; just let the course come to you.

“The course looks like it is so inviting and you feel like you can just get at it all the time... I would say let the course come to you and don’t ever get in a situation where you are stressing over your second putt.”

Apparently, that isn’t something Mickelson has figured out.

“We will miss Phil, Phil has a tough time here, his personality is so-Type A and he just thinks I can do it,” Justice said. “’I can make this shot, I can make every shot’ and this course will bite you, it really will.

“He just can’t figure the riddle out, but that is the riddle...He will be back, Phil is a great friend and Phil will be back.”

Every golf tournament comes down to the putter. As the old saying goes ‘you drive for show and putt for dough’, and Justice seems to imply that it  definitely applies to the tricky, undulating greens that await the pros.

“What happens is you will knock it there 12 feet and you will say, ‘I will just ram this right into the back of the hole’ and you knock it five feet by,” Justice said. “Then you look, you have got a double-break, 5-footer coming back and you miss it coming back.

“Then you go to the next tee and you are so mad at yourself that you are ready to eat nails, and then before you know it you have the wheels coming off. That to me is the secret to this course, this course invites to attack it and then it eats you, really, that is what I think it does.”

Some skeptics would have disagreed during the inaugural event when low scores were the norm, none lower than Appleby’s 59, but Day has noticed that it has gotten tougher with time.

“The field, every year is tough, the course is tough,” Day said. “I know when Stuart shot that 59, they wanted to come in and toughen the course up a little bit and they certainly achieved that the next year.”

That was by design.

“The course was 6,800 (yards) and change as it was before, and these guys are so talented it is unbelievable,” Justice said. “We could have played it at 6,800 and change, but the greens had all been sodded and not really seeded and so the softness of the greens and 6,800 yards, these guys could just throw darts and just eat it alive.

“We had to really re-do the greens to get to the firmness that they like so that was a big thing, the other thing is we had to add some length to get us above 7,000 yards.

“We have done that, I would say that is pretty much it. We have strategic bunkers and all kinds of things like that, but this course offers enough problems.”

There is more that could have been done to make the Old White TPC even tougher, but Justice didn’t want to make it like a U.S. Open course.

“Really and truly, if we were able to let the rough grow out just a little bit more and speed the greens up just a little bit more, we could make it to where it would be a food fight out there with everybody,” Justice said. “We don’t really want that though.

“We want to see birdies and we want them to enjoy themselves. We want it to be fair, but to be a test and that is what we have got today.”

If Day listens to what Justice had to say at that press conference on June 3, he should be on contention on Sunday.

“I think Jason may have the riddle solved already before he even starts, being patient, letting this course come to you is the whole secret, I will promise you that,” Justice said. “Hit it into the middle of the green, putt that putt to die at the hole, never stress on the second putt, if it goes in, great, if it doesn’t, tap in and just go on to the next one and keep at it.

“Keep grinding and before you know it you are 2-or-3-under, you post 3-under here four days in a row and you win, you win going away.

“This idea of going out here and scoring 60, you can go out and shoot 60 maybe or 62 or something like that, but the next day you are liable to shoot 78 if you are trying to do the same stuff again.”

The Greenbrier Classic was created by Justice, who also felt the PGA and the Old White TPC could be a perfect match.

“Our goal is real simple, we were ‘best in class’ a year or two years ago after we started the thing,” Justice said. “We love the PGA, we love the great players and love all the dynamics of all that is going on here.

“Especially the neat stuff that it brings to our region, whether it be West Virginia, Virginia and the whole area. We love The Greenbrier and we want it to be the best of the best, we want you to love it.

“That is not just a blanket statement, we mean it. You will find the people here, one thing that is really different here is the people really care and they do appreciate it, they really do because it is a special place.”

Day is excited to find that out for himself.

“I am really looking forward to coming and competing against the best players in the world,” Day said. “Jim Justice has really wanted to turn this tournament into one of the best tournaments on Tour and he is certainly trying his best and I am pretty certain he is going to get there...

“It is amazing, I am looking to seeing the final field come out in a few weeks. I am looking forward to competing against the best players in the world and hopefully I can hold the trophy on Sunday.”

*****

Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com / Twitter @bdtwoodson

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