Greenbrier notebook: Faldo eager to take his cuts

CHIP ELLIS | Gazette
The Marshall University connection played together in the Greenbrier Classic Pro-Am, with Bob Pruett (left), Doc Holliday (center) and Dan D’Antoni (right) teaming up in a foursome with PGA pro Scott Brown.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — It’s not often that Sir Nick Faldo, a nine-time PGA Tour winner and six-time major champion, climbs out of the CBS television booth to play an event.

But it’s happening this week at the Greenbrier Classic.

“I played the [2013] Champions [SAS] Legends of Golf tournament and I played [the 2014 RBC Heritage event in] Hilton Head,” Faldo said on Wednesday. “Those were my last two.”

Neither worked out especially well for the 56-year-old Faldo. In the Champions event, he suffered an elbow injury. In the RBC event, he was 11 over par after two rounds (Matt Kuchar won at 11 under), missed the cut and was criticized on Twitter by Tour player Josh Broadaway for taking a field spot.

This week, though, he was given a sponsor’s exemption by the tournament in an attempt to inject name recognition. Faldo once spent 97 weeks at No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings.

After a stint on the driving range Wednesday, he said his body is holding up.

“It’s going good,” he said. “I’m feeling all right, yeah.”

He said yes, the Greenbrier is special to him.

“I have a house here; I have a golf center here; and we bring the Faldo Series here,” Faldo said, “so that should give you some idea what it means.”

Last year, the Faldo Series, which is for golfers from 12 to 21 years of age, concluded a 40-stop, 31-country marathon with the final here.

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Scott Brown probably had no idea what he was in for at Wednesday’s pro-am. He was the one grouped with Marshall football coach Doc Holliday, basketball coach Dan D’Antoni and retired football coach Bob Pruett.

When the threesome wasn’t chopping up the Old White TPC course, they were hurling barbs across the fairway. For example, D’Antoni was yapping at Pruett when the program’s all-time leader in football wins quipped, “You can run your mouth if you haven’t won!” D’Antoni shot back: “Well said from somebody who’s retired.”

And on that went. Brown supplied most of the good golf, going 1 under through 10 holes before a thunderstorm hit. But there were good shots from the coaches.

D’Antoni parred the first two holes — gross, not net — but later he struggled to rediscover his swing by the sixth hole. Pruett found a few fairways and Holliday parred the par-3 third — and the hole was behind the “Valley of Sin.”

But on the fourth hole, Holliday topped the drive on the fourth tee. It seems that neither sportswriters nor football coaches can stand prosperity on the course.

But a good time was had by all.

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The thunderstorm ended the pro-am, as officials did not try to restart it. John Huh's team won by four strokes over teams headed by Webb Simpson and Chris Kirk.

Team Huh, also consisting of Tim Matheny, David Alvarez and Paul Astorg, shot a 19-under 51. The format is best-ball, with amateur scores handicapped.

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Stuart Appleby was the first golfer to make a mark at the Classic. He did so in a spectacular way, with a rare 59 on the final round four years ago in a victory.

It could bring back good memories for fans. It certainly does for him.

“It does,” Appleby said Wednesday. “The course is obviously a lot longer. You hit different clubs into many holes than you did in 2010. But [the Old White course] still has the same flavor for sure. Obviously it has a great design and is a great testing challenge, driving and placing balls on the greens. Then you have to make some putts.”

Appleby was one of the golfers featured last week on Golf Channel’s “Legendary Conversation,” sitting at a roundtable with other 59 scorers -- Annika Sorenstam, Al Geiberger, Chip Beck and Paul Goydos. At one point, they talked about their best shot of the round.

Appleby chose a momentum-preserving save on the front nine.

“I got a bit tight on the eighth hole, par 3. I tugged it left way down, down, down in the trees. I was walking down there, what was 4 under, 5 under, and I said to myself, ‘Here’s a slowdown.’ I hit this miraculous shot up to 10, 12, 14 feet and made the putt. I said to myself, ‘Huh!’

“What was the chance getting up and down? One in 10. The rest [of the round] was pretty golf.”

Appleby hasn’t made the cut in subsequent returns to Old White, but is hopeful.

“I’m playing all right,” he said. “I’m getting a bit of power back in my game. I’m going to free it up a little bit this week and let it go, let the club swing nice and natural and see if I can make some putts. I like the way I’m putting, but I haven’t had a full four rounds when I’ve had a putting week. Maybe I can get something going.”

It’s happened before.

“Exactly,” Appleby said with a smile. “Four years ago in the inaugural event.”

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Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer has played the Old White TPC during Greenbrier Classic week more than many pros in the field. He made his third pro-am appearance on Wednesday, playing with pro Cameron Tringale and alongside new Hokies basketball coach Buzz Williams.

Beamer came in well practiced, having played Monday in Bristol, Va., in a charity event.

While Monday’s event was for a greater cause, Beamer said he gets enjoyment from the game and, in particular, the Greenbrier pro-ams.

“These things are always fun — just being able to play with pros,” Beamer said. “The first year I played with [Phil] Mickelson. [I like] just watching those guys hit it. The second thing, they go out of their way to be cordial to the guys in their groups. It’s a good day for players like myself, fun day for the fans, and I think the pros enjoy it too.”

As far as his game is concerned, Beamer said he played a solid round on Monday and hoped to carry some of that into Wednesday’s round.

“I’m just going to look straight ahead, try to not embarrass myself, and try to get the ball in the hole,” Beamer said. “If I can do that I’ll be all right.”

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Defending Classic champion Jonas Blixt is one of five natives of Sweden in the field. As one can guess, he’s well known and popular back in his home city of Karlstad.

The city is located toward the southern part of the country and has a population of 61,000, not that much larger than Charleston. The top sportsmen in the country are 2004 Olympic gold medal high jumper Stefan Holm, several hockey players and a curling champion.

Blixt is fast joining that list, as is Sebastian Johansson, the American football player who plays left tackle at Marshall. Johansson, nicknamed simply “Swede” by his Thundering Herd teammates, confirmed Blixt’s celeb status in Karlstad.

Johansson said via text message: “I know who he is but I don’t know him personally. Beast!”

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