With Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the field this week, the Greenbrier Classic has become a must-see event in just three years
It would be hard to find a bigger success story on the PGA Tour than the Greenbrier Classic, which will be held for the third time at the Old White TPC this week -- and for the first time with Tiger Woods in the field. Phil Mickelson will also play, aiming to redeem himself after last year's missed cut. Greenbrier and the PGA Tour just extended their partnership for an additional six years.
When you consider what's happened since resort owner Jim Justice bought the West Virginia resort out of bankruptcy in 2009, the Greenbrier Classic might well be the most high-achieving tournament in history. Justice deserves credit -- especially for keeping this week's tournament on track in the wake of last Friday's devastating storm, which knocked down trees and briefly left the resort without power -- but he had help from an old friend who may be familiar to Tour-watchers.
"Jimmy Justice, he and I grew up together," said 31-year PGA Tour rules official Slugger White, in an upcoming interview with Golf Magazine. "I was fortunate enough to be instrumental in getting the tournament up there. When he bought the Greenbrier I called him, and we were getting ready to hang up and he said, 'Hang on a minute, I'd like to talk to you about something. We'd like to get a Tour event up here.' I said, 'I think you're talking to the right person.'"
No one had a better working knowledge of both the Tour and the Greenbrier than White, who grew up in southern West Virginia and played the old Charles Blair Macdonald course every year in the state amateur. The course was only about 60 miles from White's house, but the roads were so bad it took him almost two hours to get there. White later earned $32,729 in a brief playing career on Tour.
White told Justice he'd call him back the next day, and spoke to his then-boss at the Tour, Rick George. Buick was getting out of golf, the Buick Open was coming to an end, and there was going to be an opening on the schedule. "Two or three weeks after that we flew there and got the ball rolling," White said.
It didn't take long for the tournament to make news: Stuart Appleby shot a final-round 59 to win the inaugural Greenbrier Classic in 2010, when the average score was just over 68.5 strokes per round and the course played to 7,031 yards. The par-70 course was toughened considerably for last year's tournament, when Old White TPC played to 7,274 yards and the scoring average went up to 70.6.
The announcement that Woods would play this week gave the Greenbrier its latest coup, with perfect timing. Woods won for the third time in 2012 at last week's AT&T National in Washington, D.C., giving him 74 PGA Tour wins. That's one more than Jack Nicklaus, and puts Woods second on the all-time victories list, behind only the late Sam Snead (82), Greenbrier's longtime pro.
As a result Greenbrier may be on the verge of its most buzz-worthy week yet, with a field that also includes U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson (also taking his first crack at Greenbrier), Bill Haas and Steve Stricker.
Champions Tour Notes: Jeff Sluman, who has won the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach three of the last four years, tries to make history this week. Hale Irwin and Jack Nicklaus are the only two players to win the same event four or more times on the Champions tour.
European Notes: The LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Championship isn't the only tournament where the winner risks life and limb in celebrating the victory. Thomas Levet broke his leg jumping into a pond after winning last year's French Open, an injury that sidelined him for two months. Most painful: Levet, who is back to defend his title this week, missed the British Open.
LPGA Notes: The U.S. Women's Open returns to brutal Blackwolf Run for the first time since 1998, when 20-year-old Se Ri Pak and amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn of Duke finished six over par to go into a playoff. (Pak won.) The course is 500 yards longer than it was in '98, and it's gone from a par 71 to a par 72.