The Greenbriar resort in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, was bought out of bankruptcy in 2009 by Jim Justice. The resort was Sam Snead’s home course forever and Justice is a West Virginia billionaire who owns a company with coal and farmland operations.
When he bought the Greenbriar, he also had the good fortune of having grown up with PGA Tour official, Slugger White. So when Justice was looking for things to revitalize the resort, he was able to take his idea of securing a Tour event to White. To be able to run that prospect by someone so intimately familiar with Tour operations and so deeply insinuated in its management hierarchy was a huge boon. It also helped that White was a native West Virginian too.
The first year, 2010, the course was relatively short at just over 7,000 yards and the “flat bellies”, beat it up pretty good, most notably Stuart Appleby becoming just the fifth player in PGA Tour history to shoot 59. In 2011, the course was lengthened by over 200 yards and the result was a crackerjack playoff with Bill Haas, Bob Estes and Scott Stallings. Stallings’ win was satisfying for no other reason than it meant that he was going to the Masters in 2012, a goal so deeply embedded in him that he literally used old pencils from the Masters to keep his scorecards over the years.
So 2010 made the splash and 2011 made the sale. The sale? Yeah, the sale to the marquee Tour players to come add some real cachet to the burgeoning event. Tiger and Stallings were paired together at the Memorial and Tiger was curious:
I was going to play in the event and I just wanted to get his opinion on the golf course and what he thought of it. He obviously liked it, he won here last year. We talked about how he won in the playoff and how exciting it was and what a rush that was. But he just liked the family atmosphere that the Greenbrier has and how it’s kind of like a very quaint place to play. He was just — he said everything was positive about the golf course and what Jim has done and the entire facility.
Tiger also explained why it was so appealing to other big names like: Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III, Steve Stricker, Vijay Singh and current brand ambassador, Tom Watson:
This tournament since its inception has been absolutely incredible. I knew about the history of it from Sam and how much he loved coming here and loved being here. He was a representative of the club for a number of years. I knew all that, but I think that what sold it to me is just watching it on TV and then seeing how much the players really enjoyed it. I wanted to play it last year, it fit in my schedule, but I was hurt. I didn’t play anything that summer, so that was disappointing. But this year again it worked out perfectly. It’s close to D.C. [site of last week’s AT&T] and a lot of guys were driving here from D.C. On top of that, we get a week off after this to get ready for the British. Some guys may go over there and play the week before the British. At least we have that option and that’s one of the reasons why the field is so strong here.
But you also have guys like Jimmy Walker in the field. I have been writing about Walker since last year when I began to notice him high on the leaderboards in early rounds. The same thing happened in the AT&T where he shot 68, 69 on a tough golf course before closing with 75, 76 on the weekend. Some of that was because he lost his momentum on Saturday when the course was closed to spectators due to the extensive wind damage:
I got to play in the final group, which didn’t feel like the final group, so that’s always a really fun experience and all three of us talked about [no fans on the course]. I don’t think we really enjoyed the day as much. There was no adrenaline at all. It just felt like you were just kind of kind of out going through the motions. I wish we could have not played that day and either done 36 the next or finished on Monday. I don’t know why we had to go out and play when the course was — they did a great job getting it ready — but there was still a lot of damage and a lot of down stuff. I didn’t see the change the next day. But, you know, I wish we could have played with fans. I didn’t really enjoy it. I know some guys did, but…
The media wanted to know if it was mentally harder to focus when you couldn’t play for the fans:
It was different. I wanted it, you know. I felt like I had kind of had a mindset going in already that, hey, I’ll be in the last two groups or last, you know, something like that. It’s going to be fun, going to be a lot of people out. And then it was just all the sudden there’s not going to be anybody out. You’re like, wow, this is a little different. So, you know, that’s my fault for not readjusting. I’m not going to say that’s why I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, but, yeah, it was just a bummer. I think we were all kind of bummed that we weren’t playing in front of anybody. I think that’s why we’re here, to play for the fans, play for everybody, not just us.
So this was a good lesson for many of the players in just how impactful it is to have a gallery cheering you on and in some cases living and dying with each of your shots. Perhaps they’ll be thinking about ways that they can give the fans some love between their periods of intense concentration.
Walker also had a real nice exposition on why players like him have trouble closing a tournament out once they get near the lead. He talked about how mentally engaged you have to be through all four rounds, but also what wasn’t going through his mind when he was playing well:
To play all four rounds solidly, you know, it takes a lot of mental ability just to stay in it for that long, I think. You need to be hitting it well that week. You’re not going to hit it great every day, but I think the weeks you play really well are the weeks you’re not really thinking about anything, when you’re just going through the motions and you can just go out and play pure golf.
You know, I can think back to the times that I have won [on the Web.com Tour, formerly the Nationwide Tour]. I don’t remember having any swing thoughts when I played. I can remember being able to play golf, see the shots, hit them, making putts. I think when you’re in that frame of mind, you’re not really out there grinding on anything, it’s easier, I think.
But, you know, being able to hang in there mentally for four days is tough. There’s a lot riding out here, so it’s tough. Some guys do it better than others, but everybody out here is good.
And finally, in the course of answering a question about his West Virginia win on the Web.com Tour, he did a good job of describing just how valuable an apprenticeship on that Tour really is:
Well, the Web.com Tour, coming out of college, you have a coach that handles all your stuff for you as far as travel and where you’re going to stay and getting the rental car. There’s a big leap, I think, from going to college and actually coming out on Tour and taking care of yourself. When you have to travel on that tour and travel all around the country driving in your car, flying, getting hotels, learning how to play golf, learning how to play against better players week in and week out, I mean, it’s a great way to get better.
So anyway with this up-and-coming tournament served up to us on a silver platter, together with the ladies grinding away in the U.S. Open on the long and tough Blackwolf Run, it’s going to be a great week for golf.
The men will be on The Golf Channel and CBS on the weekend.
The ladies will be on ESPN2 and NBC on the weekend.