Starting from scratch
The first-of-its-kind PGA event, which begins Thursday at The Greenbrier's par-70 Old White Course, obviously has no defending champion and, minus a bookmaker, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a favorite.
Oh, there will be plenty of capable, veteran players on hand for the four-day, 72-hole event. But all those guys with all that PGA Tour experience, all that intimate course knowledge? They're like rookies again.
Very few of the golfers in the field of 156 have ever set foot on Old White, and it's been a scramble for information since players and their caddies got here.
"I think it's great, isn't it?'' said Matt Kuchar, at No. 7 on the PGA money list, one of the top-ranking players in the field. "A rookie's got just as much chance as a veteran.
"There's no real local course knowledge that anybody has any favorite on or real advantage for. It's kind of fun to have these weeks where we're all starting fresh and have got to figure it out from Monday. We have a couple days. I'll spend a couple days trying to learn the course a little bit and play the pro-am [today].''
Brendon de Jonge, 30, a former Virginia Tech and Nationwide Tour golfer, also likes the fact that the younger players aren't giving up much when it comes to course knowledge.
"Yeah, it's a little bit different,'' said de Jonge, one of the hottest players on the Tour with 12 of his last 15 rounds in the 60s. "You know, we go to the same venues every year. Some guys have been there 20, 25 years. So this will definitely even out the playing field in that regard.
"I'm sure some guys will take a little longer out there on the practice rounds trying to learn the course some more.''
One player who does have inside information on the course is West Virginia Amateur champion Jonathan Bartlett of Lewisburg, whose victory last month at Old White earned him an exemption into the Greenbrier Classic.
However, Bartlett, who is employed by The Greenbrier's Sporting Club, doesn't see that as much of an asset this week against some of the world's greatest golfers.
"Do I have an advantage against the world-class players? Absolutely not,'' he said. "I know the course, but these guys, unless they're giving me three a side, which is what I have to give to members, there's no advantage whatsoever.''
Many players sent their caddies out early this week to survey the course and figure out potential trouble spots.
"He'll go out and walk the golf course, him and a couple other caddies,'' said Boo Weekley. "They'll shoot yardages. They'll get it together. A lot of the caddies, they go out together and work together so they can get the ups and downs, how far it is to fly it over certain bunkers.
"Just different things. Where you want to miss it, where you don't. They'll check the rough out. They ain't gonna work no harder than they normally would. It's just a new golf course. That's the only thing different.''
John Daly, a two-time major winner and one of the more recognizable names in the field, also doesn't think it takes a crash course to succeed this week at Old White, which will play at 7,031 yards, the sixth-shortest course on the PGA Tour this season.
"We like courses like this, 'cause what you see is what you get," he said. "This kind of golf course, you know four days what you're going to hit off the tees.
"The par 3s are really, really good out here. Those are the ones - if you can play the par 3s even par this week and take advantage of some of the shorter par 4s and the two par 5s, guys are going to score low here.''
West Virginia golf fans are used to seeing their top amateur players struggle to maintain two or four rounds of even-par golf on Old White through the years, but expect those numbers to fall precipitously starting Thursday.
"I think [the winning score] will be between 20, 25 under par, to tell you the truth, if the weather stays like this,'' Daly said. "The greens are just too good. They're perfect. I actually even putted good [Monday], and I haven't been putting good all year, and I feel like I can make a few on them. They're not real, real fast, but they're true ... so guys are going to make a ton of putts out here.
"The defense is the greens because they're a little undulated, and the par 3s. But you've got to maneuver it around some of the fairway bunkers. I don't think I hit more than a 9 iron into a par 4 [in Monday's pro-am].''
Daly thinks the cut line after Friday's second round will eliminate some golfers with pretty good scores.
"I'm predicting probably 3, 4, 5 under makes the cut here,'' he said. "It's going to be one of those weeks that if you shoot 2 or 3 under each day ... it's not real long, but it's in such great shape that it's hard not to [score well].''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.