It appears the Greenbrier Classic is becoming more popular to ambitious golfers, who are plunking down a few Ben Franklin portraits to try to play their way into the fray.A total of 105 professionals and amateurs are scheduled to play in the Classic's pre-qualifying tournament, an 18-hole event today at the Resort at Glade Springs' Cobb Course south of Beckley.Those golfers paid a cool $200 entry for the privilege. Roughly half the field will advance to the open four-spot qualifier on Monday, at the same site - and those players will fork over another $200.Last year, only 58 golfers tried their hand at the odds-be-damned path to the big stage. Michael James, Glade Springs' director of golf, wasn't surprised."I think [it is] just the popularity of the tournament," he said Wednesday. "I've got relatives from the Midwest, and they thought the tournament was so well run and well presented. People got a good impression of West Virginia."Today's pre-qualifier is more of a weeding-out step, with the top 50 plus ties moving on to Monday. The field is peppered with top West Virginia pros and amateurs, but there are others arriving from Virginia and many other points, including mini-tours.David Bradshaw, coming off a $30,000 victory in Pittsburgh, is among the best-known state players competing today. The Jefferson County native won by three strokes Wednesday at the Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. Invitational at the Pittsburgh Field Club, shooting an even-par 280.Bradshaw has been brutally close in the Classic's first two Monday qualifiers. He lost a five-way playoff for the last of the four spots in 2010, then bowed out early in a six-way playoff last year.Brad Westfall, 10th at the Fuhrer Invitational, also will make the Pittsburgh-to-Glade turnaround. Christian Brand, who tied Bradshaw for second at the West Virginia Open, is in today's field. So is John Ross, the 60-year-old former PGA Tour member from Mercer County who finished 18th last week at Edgewood.
Other state golfers of note include Capital High/Marshall graduate Bosten Miller, Concord assistant golf coach Darcy Donaldson, West Virginia Mid-Amateur runner-up Bruce Wetherholt, State Open contender Kenneth Hess and Madison native Aaron Boggs.It's safe to say all of those know the Cobb Course, and know it will be toughened a little."We could easily make the greens 12 to 13 [feet, on the Stimpmeter], but that's not the direction from the tour," James said. "It will be a good test."For those who pass today, the stakes get much tougher Monday. That's when a few dozen pros will join the process.Some will have some sort of PGA Tour status, and could even be named as alternates when the field is unveiled Friday. Current Web.com (formerly Nationwide) Tour members and Champions Tour members are eligible, as well as former PGA Tour members from 2009-11, any player making a tour cut this year, and players in this week's AT&T National can also go straight to the Monday field.At the end of that rainbow are only four passes into the Classic. As Bradshaw can testify, playoffs will break ties as needed.
"It's kind of neat," James said of Monday qualifiers. "You can tell the more seasoned veterans who have clearly played a lot of competitive golf, and you can tell they're really comfortable. And then you see those who haven't played a lot of tournament golf, and you can tell how nervous they are."But that person might put two good rounds together, and play in The Greenbrier Classic."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock @wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.