By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Chairman and CEO Jim Justice never hesitates to be front and center promoting The Greenbrier and The Greenbrier Classic. But sometimes the best publicity is that which is unsolicited.
Such has been the case this week, as Bubba Watson has been the historic resort’s best spokesman.
The 2012 Masters champion has been chronicling his first visit to The Greenbrier for nearly a week on his Twitter account, and his Tweets have served as the perfect advertisement for the fourth-year tournament.
“No question, they’re tremendously beneficial,” said Justice of Watson’s endorsements Tuesday while addressing the media at The Greenbrier Classic. “You know, Bubba said it maybe better than anybody has said it. He said, ‘I didn’t know what to expect coming here.’ To me, that’s says a lot.
“When you think about an image of West Virginia, a lot of times it’s not in a great way, and you really don’t know what to expect. Then, all of the sudden, you come and it’s unbelievable.”
Justice said he’s seen Watson’s Tweets and takes a lot of pride in their contents.
“I think his first Tweet was, ‘This place is awesome,’ and he has truly fallen in love with it. He’s been all over. I was with him at our home farm. We rode around on four-wheelers together and fished a little bit. He’s all over the property looking at properties here that he wants to buy and build a home here. He’s got a beautiful family. His 16-month-old was so precious it’s unbelievable, and (his wife) Angie’s beautiful.
“That’s what The Greenbrier is really all about. It’s family. These amenities that we have here and The Greenbrier itself — the people, the kindness, the love — that’s just so gratifying to lots and lots of players.”
Justice has become close with Phil Mickelson, who will be playing in his third-straight Greenbrier Classic this week, looking to make the weekend for the first time.
Justice and his wife, Cathy, hosted a Birdies for the Brave event with Mickelson and his wife, Amy, this fall, and Justice and Mickelson have played together on the Old White TPC several times over the last few years.
So watching Mickelson come in second in the U.S. Open for a record sixth time two weeks ago at Merion Golf Club was hard for the Greenbrier owner to watch.
“(There were) maybe a few little tears — maybe a lot of tears to tell you the truth,” said Justice. “Because Phil wanted that really, bad and he’s a true gentleman.
“He is such a class person. He’s got endless energy, and he just touches all the right bases to me. He’s a really special man.”
Seemingly everybody involved in the game of golf has faced questions about the PGA TOUR’s ban on anchored putters, which will go into effect in 2016. Justice was no different, and he was candid about his feelings.
“I think it’s a good decision,” he said. “I played a million rounds almost with Sam Snead, and I played when he was in his early- to mid-50s, and he was still quite a player. At one time, he developed a little croquet stroke between his legs and they said, ’No, no, we’re not going to do that,’ and they outlawed that. Then they went to where he could sidesaddle it and putt on the side.
“I believe we don’t need any gimmicks,” he continued. “We just need the game, the time-honored game that brought us to where we are today. And gracious Lord above, do we need an honored sports game today. I think golf carries a big banner, so I think it’s a good decision.”
Justice drew plenty of laughs when asked if he’s ever used a belly putter.
“No,” he said with a chuckle. “I use a belly, but I don’t use a belly putter.”
Among the celebrities playing in today’s Pro-Am will be Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. The 1999 Associated Press Coach of the Year, who has won 216 games in 26 seasons as the Hokie head coach, said The Greenbrier has long been one of his favorite places.
“I really enjoy this place,” said the 66-year-old, who played cornerback for the Hokies in the late-60s. “The golf course is one thing, but Mr. Justice has done a great job with the entertainment and all the things that can happen.
“This is one of my all-time favorite places. Everything that’s here is kind of what I like. We drove up today in a little less than two hours, and it’s something I always look forward to.”
Beamer’s Hokies, who won at least 10 games every season from 2004 through 2011, suffered through a rare struggle last year, finishing 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but he said he’s ready to hit the field again and get things back on track.
“We’ve got a good football team that’s got to put things together to be a real good football team,” he said. “In some ways, what happened last year makes you appreciate those years that we won at least 10 games.
“We were sitting 4-6, and I’m proud of the way the kids didn’t point fingers. We won our last two ball games, we won our bowl game, so, it some ways we overcame adversity that we really hadn’t faced in previous years. So, in some ways, it was a very gratifying year.”
Pairings for the Thursday and Friday rounds were released Tuesday, and there are several groups sure to draw huge crowds.
A trio of left-handers will probably be the most watched, as Phil Mickelson, Ted Potter Jr. and Bubba Watson will hit the first tee at 1 p.m. for the opening round. They’ll be followed by another star-studded group at 1:10 that includes Ben Curtis, Ryan Palmer and Tom Watson.
Other groups of interest include John Daly, Peter Hanson and David Mathis at 7:10 a.m.; Stephen Ames, Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir at 8 a.m. and Boo Weekley, Billy Horschel and Scott Stallings at 12:50 p.m. Bill Haas, Nick Watney and Webb Simpson will go off the 10th tee at 7:50 a.m.
A complete list of tee times is available on the scoreboard page.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.