Hokies feel at home at Old White
By a matter of mere miles, The Greenbrier resort resides in the state of West Virginia.
But the state line with Virginia is just that - a line. And when The Greenbrier Classic commences, Virginians cross that thin line in good number, making themselves at home on the Old White TPC grounds.
The tournament's Alumni Tent, situated between the 11th green and first fairway, welcomes those tied to West Virginia, Marshall, Virginia Tech and Virginia who parted with $495 for special badges.
Mountaineer fans are numerous, but their school lacks a golf team. Marshall has a team, but no alums on the PGA Tour.
Virginia Tech? Bingo.
So is Old White a home of the Hokies, with the Blacksburg campus just 76 miles away? Well, when Johnson Wagner or Brendon de Jonge walks down a fairway, you'll see a sudden horde of Chicago maroon and burnt orange.
You almost expect Metallica's "Enter Sandman" to echo through the trees.
"That's definitely our home tournament," de Jonge said. "Virginia Tech fans are avid about their sports - loyal, loyal fans. I guess you grow up in Blacksburg, there's not much else to do.
"But it's fun. It's nice hearing, 'Go Hokies!' and getting the crowd behind you."
Wagner and de Jonge were roommates for three years in Blacksburg, and both won Big East individual championships, in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
Both landed on the PGA Tour full time in 2007. They arrived from different directions - Wagner by finishing second in the 2006 Nationwide Tour money list, and de Jonge by tying for 25th in the final "Q School" tournament.
Combined, they have earned roughly $12 million on the Tour. De Jonge's best year was 2010, when he earned more than $2.1 million with three third-place finishes. That included a stand-alone third at the inaugural Greenbrier Classic, where he was only topped by Stuart Appleby's historic final-round 59 and tough-luck runner-up Jeff Overton.
Wagner, a 32-year-old native of Amarillo, Texas, is enjoying a breakout season this year.
Winning the 2011 Mayakoba Classic in Cancun, he was able to start the season at the Tournament of Champions. Staying in Hawaii, he recorded his third career win at the Sony Open.
He followed that with a runner-up finish at the Humana Challenge (the former Bob Hope Classic) and finished fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March.
Since then, it has been a bumpy ride, with four missed cuts and nothing better than a 29th-place finish. He also failed to qualify for the U.S. Open.
Still, he has topped the $2 million mark, qualified for the British Open and PGA Championship, and is 13th in the FedExCup standings. A run to the Tour Championship would open a number of doors, as would a small jump from 66th in the world rankings.
Also, Wagner is 17th on the Ryder Cup list, and needs to climb nine spots to clinch a spot on the U.S. team.
"He's having a wonderful year," de Jonge said. "He put in all the work in the offseason and it's definitely paying off.
As for de Jonge, he has an enviable record in making cuts - 61 of 80 since 2010 - and is 50th in the current FedExCup standings. But his fourth-place finish at the 2011 Greenbrier is his best finish in the last two seasons, so he is looking for a big break.
"I feel like I'm playing a lot better than I'm scoring, at the moment," de Jonge said at the Memorial Tournament. "I feel like I can contend, just not getting quite the results at the moment."
Wagner sees that day coming. Get those two in a late Sunday pairing at Old White, and the place could turn into a mini-Lane Stadium.
"He's great. He's been in that position so many times, he's better for it," Wagner said of de Jonge. "Once he breaks through, I think he'll win a lot."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
Brendon de Jonge