Pat Carter leaves the 18th green after finishing his practice round Tuesday in the rain.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - At 401 yards, the No. 14 hole on the Old White TPC beckons to pros needing a quick birdie.On the back right corner of the tee box, a plaque reads: "228 to layup; 242 to carry bunker."For much of the West Virginia Amateur field, the cross-bunker is a royal pain, constricting the fairway at a critical point. For PGA Tour pros in the Greenbrier Classic, it's merely ornamental.In a practice round, Tuesday that bunker illustrated the challenge 13-time State Am champion Pat Carter faces.First, Wes Short Jr. blasted his drive down the left edge of the fairway, going 290 or so. Charles Howell III then blocked his ball right, but cleared the bunker by plenty.Carter stepped up, and it didn't go well. He went right and failed to carry that bunker - and even worse, the ball skipped up to the hosel-snagging fescue that lines the top of the Old White sands.Fortunately, it was Tuesday and Carter picked that ball up. If he gets that lie Thursday or Friday in the first two rounds of the Classic, par would become a miracle.It didn't bug him that he was perpetually behind the other two after his drives. He knows the difference in playing the game for a living vs. selling insurance while playing the game when you find time."It's knowledge," Carter said. "They get the best equipment at any given time. They're just specimens on the golf course. I mean, they just hit the ball so far, they can dig the ball out of the rough. I don't play that much anymore, to keep a nice routine and swing going."I mean, they're just head and shoulders better in every aspect of the game."
But Carter has the most course knowledge of the entire 156-man field, and Short picked his brain for all 18 holes during their practice round Tuesday.Short needs to. The 49-year-old native of Austin, Texas, is playing on a major medical extension that is going to expire this weekend.It's a sad story. He suffered a back injury in his 12th start in 2007, and has been limited to three events in the last five years. Without going into gory detail, the terms of his exemption are this: He must earn $743,061 in 12 tournaments to retain his Tour privileges.The Classic is his 12th event, and he has earned $70,435 thus far. Let's make this simple: He has to win this week to keep his card.Sleepy Hollow Country Club general manager Jonathan Clark knows Short, and Sleepy Hollow pro Jimmy Harrison is good friends with Howell. Howell is playing in his fourth Classic, so he knows his way around; for Short, Old White is a new experience.
"I was telling him some lines," Carter said of Short. "He's more normal to my type of game, even though he's a little bit longer. First time here; he played well so I look for some good things out of him this week."After the round, Carter got a taste of one aspect of pro golf - autographs. He signed a few dozen, probably more than he signed in his few dozen State Ams put together.He is staying at the hotel, getting the same rate the pros do. He is seeing firsthand how much those guys enjoy this stop - they almost never get that type of treatment, all those activities elsewhere on the Tour.From his first day on the grounds, Bubba Watson has tweeted about all the fun he's having. A Golf Channel writer joked about the "stressful" atmosphere, describing one group's attempt to master the otherwise genteel game of croquet."They're just normal guys off the course," Carter said. "They're doing the same things we do. It's cool to see what they do on a regular day. We're all normal guys."But they're not normal on the course. Clogging the practice greens Tuesday afternoon, pros were doing as much testing of putters as they were fine-tuning their stroke. Carter has one putter in his bag, period.
Almost to a man, the pros have their equipment deals, and the Callaways and Taylor-Mades of the world have supply trailers on the grounds. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the pros can fix, replace, reshaft or re-whatever their clubs. Their dozens of clubs."I've got an expensive set," Carter said. "They're all comparable on that end, because they're playing with stuff, other than the shafts, that we can get [in stores, online, etc.]. I don't think price is an issue [but] anything that's modern or new that comes out, they get it immediately. And they get so much of it they get to pick and choose what they want, and there are boxes of stuff they have."What I've got in my bag is what I'm going with this week. It may not be good enough, but it's going to be a great week."And that's the thing to remember - Carter never thought he would have this opportunity. He had a blast in his practice round, and it didn't matter that it rained for much of the back nine.Carter still stuck more than a few approaches, including one close to the hole on the par-4 16th. He hit a putt here and there, and hit most of those shorter drives in the fairway.But he knows he must find some birdies to stick around for the weekend. As a refresher, he shot a pair of 73s in the Old White rounds at last year's State Am, more than good enough to win the tournament.But this week . . ."That will be good enough for a weekend pass. That's OK, though."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.