By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Bubba Watson has The Greenbrier logo on his bag. He has the resort’s owner and CEO as a close friend, and soon he will have a home on the property.
Now all he needs is a parking spot.
At Tuesday’s press gathering in The Champions Room at The Greenbrier Golf Club, owner and CEO Jim Justice relayed the story of a text message he received from Watson earlier this week.
It was a picture of Watson standing in front of the parking space reserved for The Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson (no relation). Over Tom’s name, Bubba had put a piece of tape and written in “Bubba.” He sent the message to Justice saying, “Shouldn’t this be changed.”
Watson and Justice have developed a close friendship since meeting for the first time just a couple of months ago. Watson joked that Justice was like his “Granddad,” and Justice shot back claiming that Watson would have to finish a little better in tournaments to get that coveted parking space. When asked about next year’s pro-am at The Greenbrier Classic, Watson took a shot at Justice’s golf game, saying, “Phil (Mickelson) can have him.”
But when the jokes stopped, the two new neighbors shared their mutual respect for one another.
“He’s a family man, and a friendly guy,” said Watson of Justice. “We talked about the Bible and being Christians. He talked to me about watching my son grow and what that meant to him watching his kids (Jay and Jill). When you talk to a guy who has done so much in his life, you can learn from him.”
“Bubba’s a great golfer, but he’s also a special person,” said Justice, returning the compliments. “Out of the blue, he talked to me about being a Christian. That’s hard for a man to do in today’s world. He’s really a family man, and that’s what’s important.”
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Watson also shared another unique connection with Justice — basketball.
Watson’s wife, Angie, played basketball at the University of Georgia before a short professional career. The couple met at UGA while Watson was playing golf for the Bulldogs, and Watson has always been a huge basketball fan.
“I love basketball,” he said. “I love watching college basketball and the NBA, and I’ve always had courtside seats at different places.”
So the fact that Justice serves as the head coach for the Greenbrier East High School girls and boys teams gave the two something to discuss.
“Jim’s talked about Angie coming out and talking to his girls team about life and playing basketball,” said Watson. “It’s been great that we can shoot the breeze about basketball.”
His next courtside seats, he said, could come at Spartan Gym in Fairlea.
“If I’m here, I’d love to go,” he said. “I got to coach on the sidelines for Georgia women’s basketball when they played LSU. I got to sit on the bench, and it was my job to call timeouts. So I’ve had coaching experience.”
The partnership with The Greenbrier has also allowed Watson to develop a relationship with NBA legend Jerry West, who owns a home at The Greenbrier, as well. The Chelyan native and WVU graduate played a round with Watson after Tuesday’s press conference.
“It’s a blast,” he said of the opportunity to hang out with the man whose silhouette serves as the NBA logo. “I got to meet him in L.A., but now I’ve spent more time with him because of The Greenbrier. Talking to him about basketball is my passion.”
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Justice said Tuesday’s announcement was important for The Greenbrier, but he hoped it would mean just as much to the state of West Virginia.
“I’ve said it over and over, but what’s great for me is just what happens to our state,” said Justice, who grew up in Beckley. “Somebody’s got to do something. This whole idea of us being 50th in everything almost continually is ridiculous. We have the best state. It’s so beautiful, it’s unbelievable. The people are the warmest, most loving, most appreciative people you can find. We have a great infrastructure, four seasons, a low crime rate. How can we be 50th and right across the road Virginia can be first? There’s a problem here. If I can do things like this or like the tournament to make things better for our state, that’s all I want.
“To have the chance to sit and talk with guys like Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson and have them say nice things about a place you own and put your passion into is really special. It’s my way as trying as hard as I possibly can to turn this tide and make the world see just how good West Virginia really is.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.