Greenbrier Classic notebook
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - The youth movement this year on the PGA Tour has caught the eye of Adam Hadwin from across the border.
"It's fun to watch. I've been tuning in each week, I know that,'' said the British Columbia native who plays mostly on the Canadian Tour but was competing in Thursday's Greenbrier Classic. "I think it's been an exciting year on the [PGA] Tour.
"I haven't been a part of it, but it's been an exciting year to watch because you just don't know who is going to win each week. A lot of them have been in playoffs and a lot of them have been real tight.''
In the last 18 months there have been 27 PGA Tour wins posted by players in their 20s, including four rookie winners in 2011.
Three players in their 20s have won tournaments so far this year, including 27-year-old Gary Woodland (Transitions Championship), 25-year-old Keegan Bradley (HP Byron Nelson Championship) and 26-year-old Chris Kirk (Viking Classic). Bradley and Kirk are rookies on this year's Tour.
In addition, Kyle Stanley, a 23-year-old rookie, finished second at the John Deere Classic for his first career top 10. Hadwin finished fourth in last week's RBC Canadian Open in his fourth PGA Tour start.
The trend continued during Thursday's opening round of the Greenbrier Classic as Woodland posted a 5-under-par 65 to share second place with four other players four strokes off the lead. Stanley was at 4-under 66, 28-year-old Chris Baryla, a Canadian who has never made a cut in 14 tournaments this year, is at 3-under 67 while Hadwin turned in an even-par 70 and Kirk had a 2-over 72.
"I think No. 1, guys are getting into it earlier,'' explained the 24-year-old Hadwin of the early success. "You kind of saw Tiger [Woods] come out and start a fitness craze. Guys are getting into that earlier and they're taking care of their bodies now.
"And the technology with video, guys are creating perfect golf swings at the age of 15 and playing with what they have until they find it in their mid 20s. And golf is just one of those games. It doesn't matter how old or how far you hit it, if you can chip and putt you can play.''
Kirk said the younger players are pushing one another each week.
"I think we've all just fed off each other a little bit,'' he said. "A lot of the guys who played on the Nationwide Tour last year have been able to come out here and win.
"We all competed against each other for a while and once you see one of your buddies win a tournament you say, 'Hey, why can't I do that?' I think it's good for the Tour to have a blend of veterans and young guys playing well.''
When a reporter asked Kenny Perry why he decided to skip the U.S. Senior Open this week, he pointed to his shirt, which was emblazoned with the script of The Greenbrier on the left chest.
"They sponsor me,'' said the 50-year-old Perry, who finished at 2-under 68 in Thursday's first round and is only four strokes off the lead. "I represent The Greenbrier now. I signed on this year and that's the reason I'm here. It's awesome. [Resort owner] Jim Justice is a great man. He's just an ol' country boy.
"I've enjoyed the time when I come here. When we're not playing the Tour event, him and me will play some golf. He loves to hunt and fish. He reminds me of home. That was the kind of people I was raised around and associated with. As a southern boy that's the way I was raised, so I kind of fit right in.''
Perry said The Greenbrier Classic is well on its way to becoming one of the Tour's premier events.
"[Justice] wants to make this the greatest tournament on the PGA Tour and after two years I'd say he's come a long way,'' said Perry, who has been on Tour since 1982. "He's got a strong field getting [Phil] Mickelson, Sergio [Garcia] and Davis Love [III] and some quality players now.
"Then he actually spent all the money to improve the golf course. This place is only going to get better. Every guy that comes to me says this place is a hidden gem. It's just amazing all the good comments I've been receiving. It's nice being associated with something that powerful and that strong.''
John Daly, who was one of the first early commitments for last year's inaugural Greenbrier Classic and returned this year, said Thursday's opening-round galleries were just as exuberant as the inaugural event.
"Just as good,'' said Daly, who was sporting bright floral print pants. "There's not too many weeks we come and the Monday and Wednesday pro-am looks like the Thursday-through-Sunday crowd.
"It's amazing how the spectators get behind this tournament. I haven't seen that in a long, long time on the tour. I don't know if you can get a stronger field. There are a lot of the top-20 guys in the world playing this week.''
Daly finished at even-par 70 Thursday, capping his first round with a birdie on No. 18. The 45-year-old is coming in with some momentum after finishing in the top 10 in last week's RBC Canadian Open.
"That helps a lot,'' he said of Thursday's strong finish. "I didn't hit it great today, but I'm coming off some confidence.
"I feel like I'm putting good. The short game is good. Just grinding it out and be patient and give myself a chance. Hopefully [today] I'll go low.''
Let the games begin
No, there was not a Civil War re-enactment on The Greenbrier grounds early Thursday morning - though shots were indeed fired.
For those rolling out of the rack early enough to see it, Justice put on a pre-tee-off ceremony at the No. 1 tee at The Old White TPC. A band played the national anthem, and then there were ceremonial first shots.
And not just balls coming off tees, either. After Bill Campbell and Justice hit their shots, one of two small, somewhat hidden cannons fired from just beyond the tee box.
Few at the scene expected it and nobody was prepared for the noise - especially Campbell, the 88-year-old winner of 15 West Virginia Amateurs and one U.S. Amateur.
But Campbell has had his shot saluted in a similar manner, when he was named captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1987. All captains hit a ceremonial tee shot at the Old Course to begin their year of duty.
"When you tee off at the R&A as the new captain, at St. Andrews, they coincide the blow of the captain with a cannon," Campbell said. "And they coincide it pretty well, so it sounds like you lit a fuse."
It appears the men manning the Greenbrier cannons made sure the balls went forward, and then fired. That's not a bad idea, as Campbell related.
"The only one occasion that went wrong, the guy took a practice swing, and the cannoneer thought what he was seeing was the real swing," Campbell said. "He blew the thing off, and scared [the captain] to death, of course."
The Greenbrier Classic is a pretty important stop on the PGA Tour for those on the brink.
The Classic marks the cutoff for the top 70 money winners to earn exemptions into the 2011 PGA Championship, which is scheduled for Aug. 11-14 in Atlanta. Also, those inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking through the Classic if not previously eligible earn exemptions into next week's World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational.
The Greenbrier winner, if not previously eligible, will also play his way into both the Bridgestone and PGA Championship.
Mickelson and Tom Watson, who played in the same group during Thursday's opening round, both have 39 career PGA Tour wins, which is tied for ninth all-time with Cary Middlecoff. Love (20 career wins), Perry (14) and Justin Leonard (12) are the only other players with double-digit career win totals playing in the Classic. ... Watson's last non-major start came in 2007 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he partnered with his son Michael and finished tied for 19th. ... The Golf Channel will carry live coverage today from 3 to 6 p.m. then coverage shifts to CBS on Saturday and Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m. both days.