WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Brian Anania did what he has done so often at the Old White course, teeing off at the scenic first hole. Taking advantage of practice time two days before the Greenbrier Classic, he was going off alone.
Before he got off the tee Tuesday, he found a foursome. More correctly, a foursome found him.
A really, really good foursome.
First, he was joined by Jimmy Walker, leader of the PGA Tour’s FedExCup standings. As it turns out, Walker was only the second-most accomplished figure in the group.
“Jimmy was like, ‘It would be funny if Tom Watson walked up the [clubhouse steps],’ ” Anania said. “And not even 30 seconds later, his head popped up.”
As Walker recalled it at a midday press conference, “[Watson] said, ‘You can go by yourself or we’d love to play with you.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, sounds good.’ ”
The fourth member was Brendon Todd, who is among the hottest players on the Tour these days. Todd won the Byron Nelson in Irving, Texas, has had three top-10s since and finished 17th in the U.S. Open.
Whatever Anania’s biggest highlight in the game of golf was entering Tuesday — probably winning the West Virginia Amateur last month — it was knocked down to No. 2.
“That is something you can’t turn down if they invite you to play with them,” the 22-year-old Anania said. “It was fun watching them hit shots. I mean, these guys are so good. To watch them on TV for years now, and it was an incredible experience for me.”
Anania didn’t offer a score (some holes were skipped), but he said he hit the ball well off the tee, but didn’t do as well with his long irons. He said the course, lengthened to 7,287 yards for the Classic, plays much the same as it played at the State Am.
But a few angles off the tee change, most notably on the 444-yard, par-4 16th. That’s the hole with long carry over a lake, a good birdie hole unless there’s a rare headwind.
Anania’s tee shot nearly didn’t carry.
“I flared it right. I think it caught the rock [at the lake’s edge],” he said. “I was going [toward] the cabin, which is a 277 carry, I believe. I probably flared it closer to the 295 carry. But I hit it good, it a hit a rock and landed in the fairway.”
Walker sized up Anania’s day: “He did good. Brian is a nice kid. I think it’s really cool that they sent him an invite. He was definitely excited to be here, and he played with Tom Watson and I and that was fun.”
Another new experience for Anania is signing autographs. As crazy as it may seem to his fellow Sleepy Hollow players, he blended in with Tour players quite nicely. As such, he told about being chased by three autograph-hungry kids at one point.
Walker said he and Watson urged Anania to relax and enjoy the week. Anania said that is what he’s trying to do, not letting the closely placed grandstands, the ropes and the much bigger crowds psyche him out.
If he succeeds in blocking all that out, he’ll try to cut a few strokes off the 72-70 he shot in his last two competitive rounds on Old White. That helped bring him to the Greenbrier Classic, but a 142 likely sends him home early.
Which would be all right, as Anania has already enjoyed had a big week.
“It’s kind of crazy. Everything [I expected] and more,” he said. “It’s been an incredible few days here.”
To reach Doug Smock, call 348-5130, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.