Justice fortifies his Classic castle
JIM JUSTICE spent Wednesday where any self-respecting West Virginian would in the month of June.
As the head boys and girls basketball coach at Greenbrier East High, he was shepherding his players through tournaments.
One week from today, though, The Tournament will begin at The Greenbrier. The resort owner is ready to frolic in what sets up as the most spectacular sporting event ever to be held in the state of West Virginia.
"It's the place to be," Justice said of next week's Greenbrier Classic.
Like a kid playing in the sand, Justice built the Classic into a castle. First, he landed the event and watched Stuart Appleby shoot a 59 to win in Year One. In Year Two, Appleby, Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson walked the course together and Scott Stallings walked off with the trophy following a playoff. Mickelson didn't make the cut, but landing him was a step forward.
"Phil loved it," Justice said. "I remember sitting with him and his kids up front at the Black Eyed Peas concert. He leaned over and said, 'You don't even have to think about it next year. I'll be back.' "
Now, in Year Three, Justice has fortified his castle. He's landed Tiger Woods, golf's No. 1 draw. Mickelson and Watson will return. U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson is showing.
"There's no question it's getting better and better," Justice said. "In the first year, it was a dream. How were we going to make it happen? But I wanted something for West Virginians to hold their heads a little higher about. I'm a guy who hates like crazy being the butt of bad jokes and 50th among states in everything. A guy once told me any frog not proud of his home pond isn't much of a frog.
"But then we tried to make it better."
"I remember when [PGA commissioner Tim] Finchem looked at me and said, 'We'll go along with this, but how is it going to work? Where will the people come from?' I looked at him and told him we'll work until he comes to me and tells me we're the best. Then we won the award for best in class."
Getting golf's No. 1 draw, however, wasn't easy.
"People would say to me, 'I understand you won a best-of-class award, but Tiger doesn't play there, does he?' " said Justice.
Now the resort owner can say yes. It started with landing the tournament and then going through "a thousand different avenues" to land Woods. Justice sent Woods a hand-written note in Year One. There was much communication with the golfer's agent, Mark Steinberg.
"Back then there was a lot going on [with Woods]," Justice said. "That's when he was having his troubles. His agent said, 'You don't understand. He might be the most recognizable person in the world. And he's going through turmoil.'
"But [Woods is] a sports icon. We wanted him here. It took a lot of calls and patience."
As well as some disappointment.
"We thought for certain he was coming last year," Justice said. "But five days before [the event] he called and said, 'I can't do it. I'm not right health-wise.' "
The third time, however, indeed proved to be a charm. And it had Justice absolutely beaming Wednesday in the South Carolina sun.
"He is final validation of what we can achieve in West Virginia," Justice said. "We'll have Tiger; we'll have Toby Keith in concert; we'll have fireworks.
"The greatest show on earth is coming. And it will all be showcased in West Virginia, to the great people of West Virginia."
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.