The Pros Make Way To W.Va. for Greenbrier Classic
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS – Webb Simpson hopes have another late lead at the Greenbrier Classic – and this time hang onto it.
Phil Mickelson might have a simpler goal: make the cut and go from there.
They’ll try to improve on past performances on the Old White TPC course when the tournament starts today in West Virginia.
With the British Open two weeks away, Mickelson and Simpson are among only four golfers in the top 20 world rankings entered in West Virginia. The others are Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson.
More than half of the top 20 in the FedEx Cup standings aren’t here either. Still, there’s a dozen major champions entered.
Also in the field is Bill Haas, who’s coming off a win last week at Congressional. He’s come close, too, at The Greenbrier, having lost in a three-way playoff two years ago.
This week will have a special meaning for Haas. He and his wife, Julie, have brought their 7-week-old son, William Jr.
“We certainly packed more stuff for this road trip than we’ve ever packed,” Haas said. “It’s a different week than I’ve ever experience on tour, but all for great reasons.”
Their playground is the 6,500-acre Greenbrier resort, which welcomes tour families and advertises relaxed fun with its 721-room hotel, casino, spa and dozens of amenities.
No one seems to have taken more advantage of those than Bubba Watson.
He arrived late last week and shared photos on social media of his escapades in falconry, hanging out at the pool with his young son and during a flyover of the resort.
Watson was in a playful mood during Wednesday’s pro-am, hitting a 4 iron between the legs of an amateur partner standing a few feet in front of him. One group behind, Simpson hobnobbed with NBA great and West Virginia native Jerry West.
“It’s a laid-back week,” Simpson said. “They really cater toward the families at this golf tournament with player parties, family parties, pizza night, bowling night.”
Even New Orleans Saints football coach Sean Payton wanted to get in on the action.
Payton was planning to spend a week of down time at The Greenbrier. It turns out he’s carrying the bag of friend Ryan Palmer, who gave his regular caddie the week off.
“I know what game week feels like for me in the fall, and I know what it will feel like for him and what it does feel like for all these golfers,” Payton said. “Just to be invisible as a caddie and do your job and be supportive, those are the things that I look at as being important for me this week.”
To which Palmer added jokingly: “Just shut up and keep up. That’s it.”
Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open winner, would like to keep up on another front.
Two years ago, he made the turn in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic with a one-stroke lead before finishing two strokes out of a playoff won by Scott Stallings. Last year Simpson lost a one-shot lead on the back nine again with three straight bogeys and tied for seventh.
Simpson, Brendon de Jonge and Jimmy Walker are the only players to have two top 10 finishes at The Greenbrier.
“(You) can’t really afford a bad nine holes when you win,” Simpson said. “I think it’s just me continuing to keep playing well, and hopefully I’m in that position on Sunday where I do have a chance to win.”
The last two Greenbrier Classics have gone to playoffs, and Stuart Appleby needed a birdie on the final hole for a 59 to beat Jeff Overton by a stroke in the inaugural tournament in 2010.
Mickelson is coming off top five finishes in three of his last four tournaments. But he has yet to shoot an under-par round at The Greenbrier, missing the cut each of the past two years.
Last year marked the first time that Mickelson and Tiger Woods missed the cut in a tournament as professionals.
Woods isn’t entered this year. He has a sore left elbow and isn’t playing again until the British Open.
Among others in the field are Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old Texan in search of an elusive win that would give him his PGA Tour membership and make him eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs. He finished sixth at the AT&T National. He’s won more than $1.1 million this year and is assured of a tour card when the new season starts in October.