Almost nothing could top the opening round of Classic -- almost
On Thursday, there was John Daly playing within our jagged lines with his "Loud Mouth'' red shirt and even louder pants. The world's No. 5 player, Jim Furyk, wearing his Srixon ball cap, was missing a putt to the left from 22 feet out. Sergio Garcia was making his birdie on the ninth.
Around the golf, the trappings were spectacular. ("It's a great resort course,'' said pro Tim Herron, who finished 1 under par. "Fabulous.'') Entering the tournament grounds, yours truly was held up by the Budweiser Clydesdales. How many times does that happen to one? The Golf Channel was airing the PGA event nationwide in HD.
What was neat, however, was the way Greenbrier owner Jim Justice managed to weave West Virginia into the national tournament. Over there was Nick Faldo, set to analyze the action. Then, across the way, as a volunteer on the No. 1 tee, was former DuPont football coach Corky Griffith.
Brad Faxon was putting on the 18th hole. Meanwhile, some Greenbrier East girls basketball players, wearing their team jerseys, were holding up signs for the spectators to be quiet.
Paul Goydos, who shot a 59 a couple weeks ago, stood on that first tee and told playing partners Greg Owen and John Merrick "good luck.'' Gov. Joe Manchin stood behind and watched.
Perhaps more symbolically appropriate, however, was the sight of William C. Campbell, one of the Mountain State's all-time greatest golfers, sitting shaded to the right of Goydos. A 15-time West Virginia Amateur champion, Campbell, 87, was able to see a PGA event at the site of some of his greatest moments.
"I haven't missed a shot,'' Campbell said halfway through the day. "Just being here is really something special.''
It was special that Campbell was there. It was special the PGA was there. It was special because it was the first day of a six-year contract.
It was a sweet day for the Mountain State. Former state basketball stars Jerry West and Bimbo Coles were around. And, in a treat, Arnold Palmer followed his grandson, Sam Saunders, around the course.
There was nothing that could top all of the above.
Unless, say, a double heart-transplant recipient shared lead of the day's action.
Which, unbelievably, happened.
Erik Compton overcame bogeys on two of his first three holes. He overcame the stigma of playing on a sponsor's exemption. Most impressively, though, was his ability on Thursday to push past the transplants, post a 7-under 63 and jolt the heart of a tournament that already had a fast beat.
Afterward, he wore the hat of the moment as well as he did the white Titleist ball cap.
"I'm just enjoying the time and the good round I had,'' Compton said. "It's obviously different because I shoot 7 under and now we're talking about my health. And that is a bigger story than even if I shot 59 - the fact that I'm playing out here with two transplants.''
He understands. An athlete like him in the news, as he said, "can maybe help somebody else get out of bed and push themselves to lead a normal life.''
Compton's finish certainly made our hearts flutter on a heartwarming day for West Virginia.
Most of us working in the expansive Greenbrier media center this week appreciate straight shooters. Yes, in regard to golfers, but more so in regard to interviewees.
Enter Lee Janzen.
Aside from being a veteran golfer who shot a 3-under 67 on Thursday, Janzen is also a golf course aficionado. He entered the tournament, in fact, because he's a big fan of course designers C.B. Macdonald and associate Seth Raynor, who are mostly responsible for the Old White's charm. The former designed the course and the latter reshaped it in 1922.
"The Raynor-Macdonald courses are definitely different,'' Janzen said. "Their bunkering, the squareness of the greens - their greens are wild. The first time I played the National Golf Links [of America course], it was like a dream. I'd never seen any golf course like that.
"Now, every time I get an opportunity to play one, I do.''
"I was excited to see what the course was going to be like,'' Janzen said. "I've played about 10 of their courses. There are some features, but not all that I've seen. There's usually a Redan hole, a Biarritz, usually an Eden hole, an Alps hole and a Punchbowl. ... I think it's very cool. It's a great example of design.''
Here, however, is what Justice, event director Tim McNeely and the others at the Classic should clip and save.
Janzen was asked if anything surprised him on Thursday.
"Yeah,'' he said. "That nobody shot 59.''
Keep in mind only four golfers have ever recorded that number in a PGA event, so the remark was somewhat of a shot at the course. Janzen continued.
"The greens are soft - and not fast,'' he said. "They're the kind of speed we're used to being aggressive on. I don't know what they're rolling on - 101/2 [on the Stimpmeter] or whatever. We're very aggressive at that speed. You've got to get us to 11 or higher to get us to kind of slow it down.''
Indeed, PGA tournament director Slugger White acknowledged the Old White greens were rolling at 101/2 feet on Thursday. As a reference point, Oakmont [Pa.] Country Club, home to U.S. Opens, is known for speeds of 13-15 feet.
"The defense here is it's going to be very tough [to make the greens faster],'' Janzen said. "Playing here in the summer, it's going to be very hot and it's going to be tough to get the greens firm - unless they get a different surface.
"I know with all the new advancements in grass, there may be some kind of heat-resistant bent [grass] to get these greens a lot firmer. That would change the golf course a lot. Guys would really think about what they hit off the tee then.''
And not, perhaps, when a 59 would be recorded.