Masterful Performances

The first round of the Greenbrair Classic in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, is in the books and some very interesting performances came out of it.

The first would have to be Trevor Immelman who leads by one at 6-under 64. It wasn’t so much that he shot the low round of the day, it was what he had to go through to do it. The 2008 Masters winner had surgery on his left wrist to repair tendinitis in late 2009.

And it was a tedious, seven-month recovery; he only earned $422,000 in 2010 because while he came out of the box respectably, he couldn’t make a cut in the second half going 3 for 12. 2011 is much better going 11 for 16 and now this great start. We’ll see what Friday brings, but this was a very good sign.

Speaking of good signs, Billy Mayfair is one of five players just one back at 5-under. And he did it masterfully by making 4 birdies on his front side—and 3 in a row—birdying his first hole on the back, ignoring the bogey on 12 and cleaning that up with a closing birdie on his 18th hole. His is a great story because his game sort of drifted away from him last year and after all his years on Tour, he had to go back to Q-School.

And he just sucked it up and took all his experience out there and won the thing! And watching his final round, he did it with such grace and equanimity: he knew he was a seasoned Tour pro, he had no doubt about it. And he beat all the kids with his “wily old veteraness.” This year hasn’t been that dominating and he could use a nice check. Play like he did Thursday and he could earn one.

Derek Lamely is also tucked in there at 5-under and given the abysmal year he’s had, it couldn’t come at a better time. The winner of the 2010 Puerto Rico Open can’t find a Saturday this year. “Hasn’t been pretty,” he said Thursday. He’s only made 3 of 19 cuts and a paltry $143,000.

Why his performance was masterful was because he started on the back and made 9 straight pars. And then 3 more starting his back side…until he made 3 in a row on 13, 14 and 15…and then didn’t spook himself, finishing par, birdie, birdie. You know you’ve arrived as a player when you start going low and you’re not afraid to keep going.

Webb Simpson is also in the 5-under group and he did it with 7 birdies. Everybody says he could win any day now. Small wonder when you score like that right out of the starting gate. Plus he’s already made $2.6 million this year without winning. Seems like your classic “any day” indicator.

Steven Bowditch has had a better 2011 campaign than Derek Lamely, but he still needs a lot of help. A Nationwide graduate to the Tour, he’s made 11 of 20 cuts and only $431,000. So he could use a very good week in here somewhere. And with that kind of pressure, he went out and fearlessly made 6 birdies against just 1 bogey. The guy his a player.

But why this was masterful was for very human reasons: he has been battling severe depression for years now. It was so severe that he was almost a successful suicide back in 2006. And now he’s slowly pulled himself out of the abyss. His story is best understood in this 2009 profile in Golf Digest by Jim Moriarty, “Behind Closed Doors.” He is very articulate and self-aware about how the disease was affecting him and it’s well worth the read.

And the last guy in this 5-under cadre is Gary Woodland who won early this year in Tampa. The guy is a beast. On the par 5, 17th hole measuring over 600 yards, he tried to hit his typical long drive so that he could get there in two. He hit it in the right hazard instead. He took his penalty drop and then wailed on a 2-iron at the green 300 yards away. It landed short, bounced on and then raced over the back of the green. With a 2-iron! He ended up making bogey…with a 2-iron! And then birdied 18.

Our final select master is Tom Watson, not for what he shot, but for what he did. He is T143 at 5-over par. But that’s not my point.

Sam Snead was the pro emeritus at the Greenbriar for years. Tom Watson discovered the Greenbriar when it hosted the Ryder Cup and found himself bringing his sponsors there for over 30 years. When Snead died, owner, Jim Justice, asked Watson to take his place.

Watson wasn’t able to play in last year’s inaugural Greenbriar tournament because it was opposite the U.S. Senior Open, but he committed to play this year…even though the Open was still opposite the Greenbriar. But his win in this year’s Senior PGA Championship highlighted that he was still very competitive and Justice called to let him off the hook. It was, after all the U.S. Senior Open. But Watson demurred, “Jim, I made a commitment to you and I’m sticking to it.”

Would that all the world had the class and morals of Tom Watson.

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