The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 5, 2013

Mickelson, Watson returning to Greenbrier Classic

Potter set to defend his title July 4-7 at The Old White TPC Course

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Phil Mickelson apparently wants to take The Greenbrier owner and CEO Jim Justice up on his challenge to finally make the cut at The Greenbrier Classic.

Mickelson, who failed to make the weekend in each of the last two years, committed Tuesday to return to the fourth-year event, which will be played July 4-7 at The Old White TPC Course at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

“The staff and hospitality at The Greenbrier are among the best on the PGA TOUR, and it begins with the commitment to quality by Jim Justice,” said Mickelson, who, along with his wife Amy and Jim and Cathy Justice hosted a Birdies for the Brave charity event this fall at TPC Sawgrass. “I look forward to spending the Fourth of July at America’s Resort and competing in The Greenbrier Classic for years to come.”

Mickelson, 42, has won 41 times on the PGA TOUR, ranking ninth all-time in that statistic, and has won the Masters three times. Aside from the trio of green jackets, he also won the 2005 PGA Championship. He became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.

Despite all those accomplishments, The Greenbrier Classic has not been kind to golf’s most famous left-hander.

Mickelson shot a two-round total of 143 in 2011, missing the cut by two strokes. He trimmed a shot in 2012, finishing at 142 after 36 holes, but he was further from the cut, missing the number by three strokes.

“He’s bewildered about this golf course,” said Justice, who said he begged Mickelson at the Birdies for the Brave dinner to, ‘Please make the weekend.’ “He says, ‘I love that golf course, I can really play it.’ We’d love to have him play well and be around for the weekend.”

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With Mickelson signed and ready, the next question is obvious. What about Tiger Woods?

“I was wondering if anybody was going to ask that,” Justice joked. “I didn’t think that was going to come up.”

 Justice said nothing has changed on that front. The No. 1 player in the world has not committed, but he hasn’t said no, either.

“He’s in super demand, that’s for sure,” said Justice. “He’s got a lot to think about.

“We’ve got a great field so far, and we’re going to keep working to make it better. Anybody who wouldn’t want to come to The Greenbrier Classic is living in a cave somewhere. It’s a great tournament on a great course, with all the tradition and history in the world. It’s a special place.”

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Ted Potter Jr., who won the 2012 Greenbrier Classic, also announced his commitment Tuesday to return to defend his title.

“There’s definitely going to be a little more pressure coming back to defend it this year,” said Potter, who was at The Greenbrier Tuesday for Media Day events. “I’ve never defended a PGA TOUR event. When you come back, there’s definitely a little load on your shoulders.”

Potter also had some other big news this week when he qualified for the U.S. Open by shooting 8-under at a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier Monday at Brookside Golf & Country Club and Lakes Golf Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.

He then survived an 11-player playoff with a birdie on the first hole to clinch a spot in his first U.S. Open. The tournament will be played June 13-16 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

Potter competed in both the British Open and the PGA Championship as a rookie in 2012. He also played the Masters in April, a reward for The Greenbrier Classic victory. He missed the cut in the tournament but won the Par 3 Contest on Wednesday.

“That is every boy’s dream,” he said of the experience. “That place (Augusta National Golf Club) is just amazing.”

Potter also got engaged this year, proposing to his girlfriend in Hawaii when he want to play in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January.

Potter said his fiancé will be with him this year, and that prompted a quip from Justice.

After being asked if he had any preferences for acts to perform at future Greenbrier Classic Concert Series — this year’s will include Kenny Chesney and Aerosmith — Potter said he is a big country music fan and would like anybody country.

“We were going to get Taylor Swift here for you,” Justice joked. “But since you’re engaged, I guess we better not do that.”

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Other commitments announced Tuesday were fan favorite John Daly and The Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson.

Justice said he’s working hard to give an exemption to 14-year-old Chinese golfer Guan Tianlang, who made headlines in April by becoming the youngest player in history to make the cut in a major championship when he made the weekend at the Masters.

Justice explained that they’ll have to be given an exemption by the PGA TOUR to make that possible.

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Register-Herald sports clerk Rusty Udy made his own mark on The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC Course Tuesday, carding a 2-over-par 74 from the white tees, earning the low gross score among the media members participating.

Udy took home a framed Greenbrier Classic pin flag, autographed by Potter, the 2012 champion.

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