By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Many of the fans lining the fairways of the Old White TPC Course Wednesday did a double-take when Ryan Palmer’s group came through. Many saw a recognizable face in Palmer’s caddie, but it was one that was difficult to place.
The slender man in a Taylor Made visor looked somewhat out of place without a headset and a play sheet.
Palmer, a Texas native with four PGA TOUR victories under his belt, gave his regular caddie, James Edmondson, the week off and inserted New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton in his place.
“It’s going to be fun to get the advice from a hard-nosed football coach,” said Palmer, who has had a long relationship with Payton. “I gave James the week off to relax, so I’m looking forward to having fun and trying to win this thing.”
Payton, who will be returning to the NFL after sitting out the 2012 season as a result of a suspension levied for his alleged role in a scandal involving Saints players being paid to injure opposing players, said he originally thought this would be his vacation, as well. But after two practice rounds and Wednesday’s pro-am, he’s come to a new reality.
“I certainly have a great appreciation for the job that these caddies have,” said Payton. “All of the sudden it starts raining a little bit and you’re one hand short. You’ve got umbrellas going, towels going everywhere.
“I take the opportunity very seriously in that this is how (Palmer) makes a living.”
A recreational golfer, Payton said he has plenty of respect for the different brand of athletes with which he’s working this week.
“If there was two things guys would want to be able to do, I think unanimously it would be golf and sing, not in any order,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of us can’t do either.
“I think the challenge, and you take it for granted, but 18 holes, however many shots, however many days in a row, the ability to have 100 percent focus on every shot (is unique). I know when we jump in golf carts and drive around a course and shoot in the 90s, we might have great focus on eight shots, total. But to do that and force yourself to have that same discipline (on every shot), I think is probably a big challenge for these guys.”
Payton said the other caddies on the TOUR, fighting to make a living at the craft, have treated him with nothing but respect, although there has been some good natured ribbing.
“A friend of mine, D.J. Nelson, who caddies for Chad Campbell, sent me a text saying, ‘Make sure you tell Sean where our caddie dining is, and we’re staying down at the Quality Inn, so we expect to see him there later this week too,’” said Palmer. “They’ve enjoyed it. They’ve talked to him on the range. It’s pretty cool to hear the mindset of one of the great coaches in the game, a Super Bowl-winning coach.”
Palmer doesn’t plan on taking much advice from his caddie on club selection or reading greens, but he did have some words of wisdom for Payton on doing his job correctly.
“Just shut up and keep up,” Palmer said with a laugh. “That’s it.”
If Ted Potter Jr. has any trouble gripping the golf club this week, you can probably blame fatigue in his hands.
The 2012 Greenbrier Classic champion, in just his sophomore season on the PGA TOUR, is still an unknown on many of the TOUR’s stops. But back at the Greenbrier, he’s almost as well known as Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson.
“It’s definitely been a treat being here this week,” he said. “I played in a pro-am Monday, and the fans out there were very respectful and very nice. I’ve definitely signed a lot more autographs than I normally would at a PGA event.”
Bill Haas had to pack more on his trip to The Greenbrier than he ever has in the past, and it wasn’t because he’s toting the trophy from winning the AT&T National last week.
The 31-year-old, along with his wife, Julie, welcomed his first child, William Harlan Haas III, on May 13, and for the first time his young son is with him at a PGA TOUR stop.
“This was his first week on the road, so it’s kind of a learning experience for all of this week, just trying to figure that out,” said Haas. “We certainly packed more stuff for this road trip than we’ve ever packed for any, and that’s different.
“It’s a different week than I’ve ever experienced on TOUR but all for great reasons. Luckily my wife handles most of it. I’m kind of along for the ride there.”
Webb Simpson had the chance to play a round with NBA legend and West Virginia native Jerry West during Wednesday’s pro-am, a unique treat for a huge basketball enthusiast.
“It was cool,” said the 2012 U.S. Open champion. “I met him before, but to walk with him and hang out and talk a little bit about some players (was great). We talked about Steph Curry. I know Steph from Charlotte; we play golf together. It was good to be out there with him.”
No matter who was in his group, Simpson, who has a sponsorship deal with The Greenbrier and displays the resort’s logo on his golf bag, is comfortable being back at one of his favorite spots.
“Anytime anybody asks me about it, I recommend they play,” said Simpson. “A lot of weeks where we play there is high stress. There are certain courses that demand a lot of attention, big crowds, big atmosphere.
“This is more catered toward a small feeling, even though a lot of fans come. It’s a laid back week. You wake up, take a shower and get a little shuttle down to the golf course.”