Billy Horschel watches his drive off the No. 1 tee during his practice round Tuesday.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - When Greenbrier resort owner Jim Justice and Sir Nick Faldo shared the dais at a press conference Tuesday, you knew something big just might be announced.They weren't there to talk about Faldo's under-construction house facing the Old White TPC course, though that came up once or thrice.Faldo was announcing not only the expansion of his youth-oriented Faldo Series, but also the site for this year's global Grand Final - the Old White TPC course, of course.The World Golf Hall of Fame member and six-time major champion has grown his 1996 brainstorm to 40 events in 31 countries in Europe, Asia and South America, hosting 7,000 golfers from age 12 to 21.
Faldo plans to bring all the winners in those three continents to White Sulphur Springs, inviting the top Americans to join them. Americans will have a formal pathway to the Grand Final in 2014.The Faldo Series has helped develop the careers of Rory McIlroy and Yani Tseng, who have risen to become the world's top-ranked players in their respective genders. The series also includes Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old who made the cut at the Masters. In another development, the resort announced the creation of the Faldo Golf Center, featuring instruction based on Faldo's "A Swing for Life" teaching theories.Faldo, the noted CBS analyst, traces his association with The Greenbrier to the 1979 Ryder Cup (as does Tom Watson, the resort's pro emeritus). Returning to the resort as a CBS analyst stoked his passion for the area."I was in love with the place before, but have fallen more in love with it right now," he said. "I've got a small cabin being constructed on the hill."It's not a cabin, and it won't be small.nn
At 1 p.m. Thursday, it's all about the lefties - Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and 2012 Classic champion Tom Potter Jr.The three will tee off at the first hole to start their first round of the Greenbrier Classic and should draw the largest gallery. They will start their second round off the 10th tee at 7:50 a.m. Friday.The group before them won't be boring - the resurgent Boo Weekley, Billy Horschel and 2011 Classic champ Scott Stallings. The post-lefties group features Tom Watson, Ben Curtis and Ryan Palmer.
Thursday's morning wave features a few solid threesomes, though not as high profile. At 7:40 a.m., Bill Haas, Nick Watney and Webb Simpson tee off at No. 10, preceded by Ken Duke, Charles Howell III and Louis Oosthuizen.
Pat Carter, the 13-time West Virginia Amateur champion, tees off at 9 a.m. on the first tee with PGA Tour rookies Scott Gardiner and Paul Haley II. They get the 2:10 p.m. slot Friday, going off the 10th tee.nn
If you want to see Bubba Watson in his first "official" pro-am today, you'd better rise and shine - he goes off at 7 a.m. on the first tee. Simpson and Tom Watson follow in the next two time slots.Mickelson tees off at No. 1 at noon to start the afternoon wave.nn
The PGA Tour announced it would go along with the ban on anchored putters, i.e., the "belly" putter. The sport's two major ruling bodies, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the U.S. Golf Association, are prohibiting the putter effective Jan. 1, 2016.
Both Justice and Faldo strongly voiced support."It's a game that I believe, and I'm probably going to get in trouble with this, I believe we don't need any gimmicks," Justice said. "We just need the game, the time-honored game that brought us to where we are today, and gracious good Lord above do we need an honored sports game today."I think golf carries a big banner, so I think it's a good decision."Justice recalled the time the great Sam Snead developed a croquet-style stroke between his legs, which got outlawed quickly. He adapted with a perfectly legal sidesaddle style.Pros such as Simpson have 21/2 years to rediscover the more traditional putting stroke. It won't be a minute too soon for Faldo."I'm sure I'd think, as a golfer, I'd rather get on with it, I'd rather crack on, rather than have that in my mind thinking about [that for] three years," he said.nn
Justice was asked to compare the tournament preparations this year with those of last year, after that super-derecho toppled 52 trees on Old White. He likened the storm's wrath with the 1980 eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano.While his crews miraculously restored the course, they didn't realize the statewide toll."To be just as honest as I can be," Justice said. "we may have said - we may have thrown up the white flag and said, 'We can't do it.' The magnitude of what John Doe, the everyday guy, went through with that was really way beyond what I thought we were faced with."I thought we were faced with a terrible storm that just happened to come up through our valley and everything, and I could surely hear the broadcasts, but I wasn't going to let it beat us. I felt like West Virginians are just too tough for this to beat us."nn
At age 56, Faldo is re-entering the competitive fray, playing in his beloved Open Championship (known better as the British Open here in the Colonies). He won it in 1987, 1990 and 1992, the first and third at Muirfield. The Open returns to the Scottish course in two weeks."Absolute piece of cake," he said. "I'm fully prepared. I have corduroy trousers, cashmere sweaters and a vest, so I'm ready for Scotland."nn
Add David Mathis to the list of players who thought having the U.S. Open at Merion - and the entire field finishing above par - was a positive development.Speaking with Jordan Spieth at a First Tee luncheon at The Greenbrier hotel, Mathis had his theory about what will keep the sport in check. The ball, he says, is not the answer."Now, most courses are 8,000 yards and have greens the size of this room," Mathis said in the gaping Chesapeake Room. "As long as he gets it somewhere on the green, he can make par, because the best players in the world can two-putt from 100 feet."But you start making the greens small, where they don't have that bailout in the middle of the green and they've got to hit a smaller target, now you've got to get up and down, chip it or hit it out of the bunker."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.