Following Bill Haas’ win at Congressional in last week’s AT&T Classic, golfers have arrived at White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., knowing that The Greenbrier Classic is one of the more stress free weeks on tour.
“Any time anybody asks me about it, I recommend they play,” Webb Simpson said. “There’s a lot of weeks where we play where it’s high stress, there are certain courses that demand a lot of attention, big crowds, big atmosphere. This is more catered towards a small feeling, even though a lot of fans come. It’s a laid back week. You wake up, take a shower and get a little shuttle down to the golf course. I think those details make it where it’s easy to talk players into coming here.”
Bubba Watson is one of those who understands this as he brought his family with him to the Greenbrier Resort last Wednesday and has taken advantage of all it had to offer.
“We’ve been playing at the pool, we did the falconry, we did a helicopter ride, we fed the donkeys, fed the horses, so we’ve done it all with my little man,” Watson said. “We love it here. Obviously this is going to be a stop for a few years now after I got here and saw how great it really is.”
The course that will be used is the Old White TPC. The course measures out to 7,287 yards. Defending Champion Ted Potter Jr. notes that this course is shorter which means different club selections while providing opportunities for more players to succeed.
“I think it’s because it’s not a real long course, it’s tight, it’s got a lot of treeline out there,” Potter Jr. said. “If you drive the ball well, you’ve got a lot of wedges, 8 irons, lower irons, and most events you’ve got 4 or 5 irons for me. I’m not one of the longer hitters on TOUR. Last week at Congressional I’m hitting 4 irons, 5 irons on a lot of those holes where this week I’ll be hitting 8 irons and 9 irons, so this week I feel I have a chance of making a lot more birdies.”
Two of those players that have opportunities this week are Tom Watson and Kenny Perry. Last week both were playing on the Champions Tour where Perry won the Constellation Senior Players.
Perry has been represented by Greenbrier for the past three years and as a result has enjoyed competing even if he doesn’t expect to win.
“They had a lot of miner accidents from the mining, lost a lot of people and I kind of stayed in touch with that area. I donated some money to the cause and all, so to me it’s just great to go back. They’re great people. Being from Kentucky West Virginia, same type of people, easygoing, laid back, and to me I just enjoy going there,” Perry said.
“I’m going to have my wife, my son’s going to caddie for me next week, his new bride’s coming with him, so we’re just going to have a good time, kick back. I’m just going to enjoy the week. I’m not going to put any expectations that week. I played last year, did okay there, but I kind of — you know, my goals and aspirations on the PGA TOUR are not like they used to be. I’m just enjoying, like I’m telling everybody, I’m smelling the roses now along the way. I’m really not too worried about my results out there on the PGA TOUR anymore.”
For Watson, the event is a chance to compete but also to be ‘just like a baseball scout’ as he will be captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup. The event will be held in Perthsire, Scotland from September 23-28 2014.
In a press conference Watson revealed that Andy North will be his Vice Captain for the Ryder Cup.
“Andy has always been the type of player that I’ve enjoyed to play golf with, I’ve competed against, and although he didn’t win a lot of tournaments out there, he won a couple U.S. Opens, which when you win a couple U.S. Opens, that means you can really play,” Watson said. “He knows what it takes to close the deal and that’s what we need on the Ryder Cup team. We need players who can close the deal.”
In addition North has been a golf analyst for ESPN since 1993 and much like Watson has had ample opportunities to scout players. North has been friends with Watson for decades and described the moment he was asked.
“We had gone to a basketball game, my wife and I had driven down,” North said. “We usually get down to Kansas City two or three times a year. We’re sitting around at dinner and Tom says, ‘Hey, I’ve got something to ask you. Would you want to be my assistant?’ Of course … it took me maybe a second and a half.”
During his practice rounds, Watson has played with some of the newer players on tour including James Hahn and Seung-Yul Noh. It is this youthful vibe that Watson wants on his team.
“I hope we have some young blood on this team,” Watson said. “Players that will not only play in 2014 but will continue to play in Ryder Cup teams in ’16 and ’18 and ’20. Those are the types of players that you want. You want to give these players some experience and get them … throw them into the fire and see how they react to it.”
Ryan Palmer has a familiar face on the bag
If you notice a familiar face caddying for Ryan Palmer, that’s because it is New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. Payton planned to stay at The Greenbrier for vacation and one thing led to another. Palmer and Payton are friends and have golfed together in the past.
“It’s pretty cool to hear the mindset of one of the great coaches in the game, Super Bowl-winning coach,” Palmer said.
Payton is taking the week seriously even though he did provide a little humor to reporters.
“I know what game week feels like for me in the fall, and I know what it will feel like for him and what it does feel like for all these golfers,” Payton said. “Just to be invisible as a caddie and do your job and be supportive, those are the things that I look at as being important for me this week.”
Three lefties make a win?
When the pairings came out for the first two rounds, one of the more noteworthy ones was that of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Ted Potter Jr. All three swing left-handed and have found various levels of success on tour.
The last time fans saw Mickelson was when he fell just short of the US Open, finishing as a runner up for a sixth time. Still after a few days and a family vacation to Big Sky, Montana he maintains a positive attitude about his golf game.
“My putting hasn’t been this good in four or five years,” Mickelson said. “My driving is off the charts. I mean, I’m hitting fairways at the U.S. Open and I’m moving it out there a decent amount. So I’m excited to keep playing, because I keep putting myself in good positions and I’m playing better than I have in a long time.
Bubba Watson was last seen in a disagreement with his caddy over club selection at the Traveler’s Championship but the two are on great terms and even poked fun at the skirmish at a Pro-Am.
“In that heat of the moment, I might have gotten a little upset, but Teddy knows I love him, Watson said. “I have no disrespect toward him. It was a heat-of-the-moment thing. In that situation, it would be like LeBron James missing two free throws to win the championship, He’s not going to be like, ‘Man, I can’t wait till next year.’ He’s going to be upset. I was upset.”
After a positive finish at Congressional, Potter Jr. looks forward to defending his title, even if it means larger galleries.
“I’m definitely not used to seeing that many people spectating out there in the group,” Potter Jr. said. “So it will look like a big old wall down both sides of the fairways with people, so that’s going to be a little different but I’m basically going to focus on what I’m doing and not pay attention to what’s going on around me.”
I will go with Webb Simpson. He had a good final round of the Traveler’s Championship and has held the lead in the final round the past two rounds. He also is a great advocate of the course and I think good karma will win out this time.
Jerry West the NBA Hall of Famer played in Webb Simpson’s group during Wednesday’s Pro-Am.
“It was cool,” Simpson said. “I’m a huge basketball fan, I met him before, but to walk with him and hang out and talk a little bit about some players. We talked about Seth Curry, I know Seth from Charlotte, we played golf together. It was fun just to be out there with him.”
Chris Harrison host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette on ABC also was among the celebrities that played the Wednesday Pro-Am.
The 13th hole at Old White TPC has been the hardest each of the past three years. During that time only 127 birdies have been recorded. Also the par-5 17th hole tops out at 616 yards.
Chris Dazen also contributed to this report