The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 18, 2013

Justice hopeful of Mickelson’s return

Several others have committed to PGA event

While speaking at a banquet at TPC Sawgrass in Florida for a Birdies for the Brave event he hosted with his wife, Kathy, and Phil and Amy Mickelson this winter, Greenbrier owner Jim Justice joked with golf’s most famous left-hander about his struggles the last two years at The Greenbrier Classic.

“I told him there are three ways to make a friend — make a confession, tell a secret and ask for a favor,” Justice remembered of his comments toward Mickelson. “I told him my confession was that the people of West Virginia are loving and wonderful people. My secret is that they can also get pretty rowdy if you don’t do exactly right.

“My favor — please make the cut.”

Justice’s joke drew laughter from the crowd assembled at the event, which raised money to support the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families — and also afforded Justice and his son, Jay, the opportunity to play a round with former president Bill Clinton and golf legend Jack Nicklaus — and it brought about a commitment from Mickelson.

“Phil said he likes the course and he knows he can play it,” said Justice, explaining that Mickelson seems more motivated than discouraged by the fact that he missed the cut both times he played in The Greenbrier Classic, 2011 and 2012. “He said he wasn’t backing off until he wins the thing.”

Justice, now knee deep in his work to obtain player commitments for the 2013 Greenbrier Classic, is hopeful Mickelson’s quest will continue July 4-7 at The Old White TPC in White Sulphur Springs when the fourth year of the tournament is contested over four days. But he also knows that Mickelson’s schedule is limited, and he always has to consider the health of his wife, who is still recovering from breast cancer, when he makes his plans.

“We hope he’s going to be here, but at the same time, he has constraints with Amy and his family,” said Justice. “I would understand if he couldn’t come, but I’m very hopeful he’s going to come.”

Justice is also hopeful that the game’s biggest star, Tiger Woods, will be back at The Greenbrier. Woods played in the tournament for the first time last summer and, like Mickelson, failed to make the cut.

Fresh off a win at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Woods has been extremely selective in his schedule this year and recently skipped the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., where he had played in 2012 and won in 2007.

Justice said there has been no commitment from Woods to this point but, “we haven’t been told not yet, either, so that’s good.”

Justice and new Greenbrier Classic tournament director Monte Ortel are starting to receive some commitments.

So far, six-time PGA TOUR winner Rory Sabbatini, 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, fan favorite Boo Weekly,  2010 Greenbrier Classic champion Stuart Appleby and 2011 winner Scott Stallings are among the players committed to play in this year’s event. Eight-time major championship winner Tom Watson, The Greenbrier’s pro emeritus, and 2012 Greenbrier Classic champion Ted Potter Jr. have not yet committed but are expected to play.

Justice said he’s reached out to agents for Ricky Fowler and Fred Couples but called the chances of their participation “a stretch.”

He’s also made an attempt to get some of the game’s top European stars, but with the Irish Open June 27-30 and the British Open July 18-21, it’s unlikely that players like Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy will want to come back to the United States in between those two dates.

“They’d love to come,” said Justice. “They love everything they hear about The Greenbrier, but that’s really going to be tough on them.”

His work, though, won’t stop. He’s dedicated to putting together an attractive field that will meet the expectations that have been put in place in previous years.

“It’s really difficult to always attract the best of the best,” he explained. “If we could repeat the fields we’ve had in the past, we’d be very, very happy. But everybody’s scrambling for the best players and to provide the best tournament for the players and their families.”

“The players have really attached themselves to everything we’ve done. They love The Greenbrier, and they love the people, but all these players have their own personal lives. They’re very selective on where they want to go, and they value their time. It’s really quite competitive, and we really have to work at it. There are lots of calls made by lots of people.”

— E-mail: chuffman@ and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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