WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Larry Fitzgerald has several ties to West Virginia and The Greenbrier, but by the end of his round at the Greenbrier Classic Pro-Am Wednesday, he just hoped he wasn’t tied into doing work at next year’s tournament.
Fitzgerald, a 10-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, shared a group with Gov. Jim Justice, pro Boo Weekley and “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson. Though the Pro-Am is normally known as a fun, relaxed day before the tournament begins on Thursday, there was plenty at stake in Fitzgerald’s pairing.
“The thing I’m most looking forward to is beating ‘The Guv,’ though,” Fitzgerald said in a press conference before his round. “He’s been talking a lot, and we’ve got a little wager on the line. He told me if he beats me, I have to caddie for him next year, and if I beat him — when I beat him today — he’s going to have to walk the course next year, so there’s a lot on the line.”
Perhaps we’ll have to wait until next year’s tournament to see who won that bet, because results were not made available.
Fitzgerald, who ranks ninth on the all-time NFL receiving list with 14,389 yards and can reach as high as third with just 903 yards this year, said he gets in about 300 rounds of golf per year and is around a 7.5 handicap. Golf provides him with another outlet for competition.
“In football, you saw [Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady up on the podium [after the Super Bowl] holding the trophy. That’s the best, you’ve achieved the pinnacle of the sport,” Fitzgerald said. “In golf, you never have that. I remember watching Jim Furyk shoot a 58 two years ago and he said in the press conference, ‘Man, if I’d have just made that putt or hit that approach,’ and I’m like, ‘Man, you just shot a 58, no one has ever done that before.’
“You can never grasp it or hold on to it. You’ll play really well for two weeks then come back to reality, or you can play bad for two weeks and then you get a good round — it just kind of keeps you on your toes.”
Fitzgerald arrived in White Sulphur Springs last Thursday, had a family reunion and spent time with relatives while taking advantage of the numerous activities The Greenbrier offers.
His brother, Marcus, played at Marshall from 2004-2006. As a star receiver at Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald had his own brushes in college with West Virginia, neither of which went his way.
“I was 0-2 against the Mountaineers, that was always tough,” Fitzgerald said. “They were fierce competitors and Coach [Rich] Rodriguez always had them ready. It was a hostile environment. We went down to Morgantown and we got beat up there in a Saturday night game, so I don’t have many fond memories of the Mountaineers.”
But that’s not to say there are no fond memories of the state itself, and in particular The Greenbrier, where Fitzgerald and the Cardinals stayed two seasons ago for a week in between games at Detroit and Pittsburgh. That’s how Fitzgerald was introduced to White Sulphur Springs and the community, one he and the rest of the world watched struggle with a catastrophic flood a little more than a year ago that forced the cancellation of last year’s Greenbrier Classic.
“You’ve got to tip your hat first to this community, to be that resilient, to be able to bounce back from such a tragic scenario — loss of life, homes and churches — so much devastation, and to see the community bond together, come back and host another event like this is truly special,” Fitzgerald said. “It shows you just how strong the people here are in this community. I’m just happy to be a part of it to pay tribute to all the people who worked so tirelessly to put this back together.”
McAfee makes ’em laugh
Hearing roars on the golf course isn’t out of the ordinary, but roars of laughter?
There were plenty of those on Wednesday, and they came behind the group headed up by John Daly. But as outlandish and beloved as Daly is, maybe more of the crowd reaction was drawn by former WVU standout and Indianapolis Colts punter/kicker Pat McAfee.
It has been a busy few months since McAfee announced his sudden retirement from the NFL in February and announced he would work for Barstool Sports, and he’s even dabbled a bit in stand-up comedy.
Those antics were on display Wednesday as McAfee played barefoot, wearing a bright pair of shorts with an American flag on them.
“The Greenbrier is one of the most sophisticated places I’ve ever been in my life,” McAfee said while on the putting green. “I had to wear rental pants to get into the casino last night, I don’t have shoes, I’m renting clubs — I’m playing barefoot, the only reason I’m wearing sandals right now is so they think I’m going to put shoes on. I’m going to try to get this win today, but I’m definitely offending everyone in the close proximity of us.”
But for the most part, everyone was excited to see McAfee. The group carried a big following that seemed to grow as the round progressed. Many were wearing shirts with McAfee’s name on them, something he said he appreciated greatly.
“I really appreciate people that spend money on stuff,” McAfee said. “The people who bought my jersey, that was so cool to me. You work your ass off to earn cash, and to spend it is a big deal. I’ve got a couple of kids here that look great with my name on their chest. They’re handsome. I think they’re probably the best-looking people here.”
In May, McAfee spent the weekend with Daly at Daly’s hometown of Dardanelle, Arkansas, and played at Daly’s home course, Lion’s Den Golf Course.
McAfee documented the visit in the Pat McAfee Show podcast, available at barstoolsports.com, and the two have developed a friendship since that carried over into Wednesday.
“We are very similar human beings,” McAfee said. “We’re guys that like to enjoy ourselves, do well at our job and basically take care of people. He’s a man with a great heart. He takes care of an entire town and I think that’s what drew him to me most. Our friendship is blossoming at the moment. We shared a couple of brew-has last night together, laughed a little bit, sang a little bit together, and today’s round should be something of epic proportions.
“They gave us an afternoon tee time because they’d assumed I’d be drunk, which is 100 percent the right call because it was America’s birthday [Tuesday], and if you’re not drunk on America’s birthday, I think you’re probably a communist.”
Pit stop for Dillon
Coca-Cola 600 champion Austin Dillon was also on hand on Wednesday, playing with Vijay Singh in the afternoon wave.
It was Dillon’s first trip to The Greenbrier as a winner in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Series after he outlasted seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson on fuel mileage in the final laps of the race on Memorial Day weekend.
“Huge race for us and it felt amazing,” Dillon said. “I can’t thank my team enough, and what we were able to accomplish. It feels good to come here as a winner, that’s for sure.”
Dillon survived those final laps with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, two drivers with the night’s dominant cars charging hard from behind after having to pit to top off with gas.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” Dillon said. “We executed what we had to do, knew what we needed to do and we were able to make it happen. Everybody believed in each other and it worked out.”
One member of Dillon’s team is gas man Tyler Rader, a former standout offensive lineman at Nitro High School who went onto play at WVU.
“It was great today,” Dillon said. “Last time I was here I was hunting pheasants, so it’s a little different being on the golf course, but I’ve had a blast, man. It’s been a great time.”