Greenbrier sees themes developing

By Doug Smock
Published on

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- In six years, the Greenbrier Classic has developed a different character, a different feel each summer.

In 2010, it was the Week of the 59. 2011 had the most scrambled-up leaderboard and a three-way playoff.

In 2012, the derecho was the overriding theme, with downed trees hauled off the Old White TPC and power out the whole week in half of Greenbrier County -- to say nothing of the rest of the state.

That weirdness seemed to touch every facet of the tournament. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson missed the cut. It got flaming hot. Players ranked 172nd and 184th (Ted Potter Jr. and Troy Kelly) battled in a spirited three-hole playoff.

In 2013, it was the Dark Finish. Somehow, the final twosome teed off at 5:10 p.m. after a prolonged thunderstorm and finished the round, albeit a few minutes past sunset. I was so certain of a Monday finish, I had reserved a hotel room.

Last year pretty much boiled down to Angel Cabrera's hole-out on the historically difficult 13th hole, one with a skinny fairway, an uphill approach and, usually, a blind shot. A garden-variety golf tournament, really.

This week's Classic is taking on dual personalities, it seems.

First, it's the Week of the Ace. The 18th hole, where C-notes have been dangled in front of fans surrounding the course's shortest hole. Fans sticking around there all day Thursday won a cool $600, and Friday's followers nearly landed $1,000.

And those fans have proved to be hardy, sitting out in the ...

Rain. Ultimately, this has been the overriding theme for the competition.

It rained a bit Thursday morning, and a lot Thursday afternoon. It poured at times Friday morning, with a lighter rain in the afternoon. It's appropriate that this tournament serves as a Open Championship qualifier -- we've had Open-type rain, if not wind and cold.

Scattered thunderstorms, a common feature in the Greenbrier Valley, are on tap for the weekend.

As for the golfers, the effects have gone both ways. The fairways were spongy soft, meaning no drives rolling into the rough. Scoring went low, low, low, with a 62 leading and 95 players breaking par.

Friday, there were birdies, but scoring was more difficult -- especially with the morning players who were hit the previous afternoon. Ask Bubba Watson, who finished the first 36 holes at 5-under.

"Yeah, no rain on the 10th hole, my first hole, made a birdie," he said. "And then the umbrella came out and I struggled again, just like [Thursday].

"I shot, I think, 1-over [Thursday] in the time that I had the umbrella in my hand, shot 2-over [Friday] during the time I had my umbrella in my hand, and every time it was not raining I made birdies."

The first damper on scoring Friday: Putting became more difficult.

We're not talking about Chambers Bay difficulty, but since the 2011 renovation, the Old White greens always read differently every day, even every hour.

"They were a lot slower," said Chad Collins, who was high on the leaderboard. "They still rolled fine. They're getting a little spongy from the foot traffic and the softness of them, but for the most part, they rolled fine."

The most negative aspect? Simply putting up with the elements. As Watson alluded to, frustration crept in during the heavier downpours.

On the 12th, Watson three-putted from 44 feet, blowing the ball by the hole and coming up short on the 11-footer back. With Bill Haas facing a putt through ponding water, Watson summoned a rules official. After a wait of several minutes, the water was squeezed out.

Still, Haas didn't enjoy his time in the rain, especially when he smacked two balls in the lake on No. 16. His third tee shot found land, and he was about ready to hit his sixth shot when the horn signaled a delay which lasted 18 minutes.

Haas, who I have considered a mild-mannered guy, followed that by whacking his bag twice -- we're talking vicious, two-handed roundhouse blows. Something tells me he might have wanted that delay five strokes earlier.

The resulting 8 sent him home for the weekend.

We found one guy who positively loves the rain -- James Hahn. He is sitting in the top 10 after a 67.

"Perfect. Yeah, I love the rain," he said. "We had some casual water on the green, but as far as the fairways, fairways are in perfect condition. These are the best greens that we putt on all year."

And that's the way things are going in the wild, wonderful, wet Greenbrier Classic.


You think Haas suffered on the 16th? Give Jeff Overton the "Play Like a Sportswriter Award" for his work on that hole.

The 16th was only the eighth-hardest hole from 2010 through 2014, but has forced the most double-bogeys or worse since the lake was filled out after the inaugural tournament. That was the situation Thursday, with six doubles and two "other."

Overton "othered" both Thursday and Friday, suffering a tournament-record 10 on the first day. He plopped three balls in the lake.

He improved Friday, if you can call it that. He "only" put two balls in the lake and escaped the hole with an 8.

That's 10 over on two tries. He finished 3 over for his 36 holes. You do the math.

This article was written by Doug Smock from The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.