Daly had a voice in Old White makeover
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Surely there will be a lot of super saves this week at the PGA Greenbrier Classic.
But the biggest save for the third-year tournament actually came a little less than two years ago.
After the PGA Tour pros carved up the par-70 Old White TPC course in the inaugural event - remember, Stuart Appleby fired a record-tying 59 in the final round to win it - Greenbrier resort owner Jim Justice and his staff renovated and toughened up the layout, and now they're reaping the benefits.
Phil Mickelson made the trip to these West Virginia hills last year. Tiger Woods brought his mystique to town this year. The PGA obviously was impressed by the changes, earlier this week upping its agreement with the Greenbrier Classic six additional years through 2021.
Armed with that knowledge, Justice has begun plugging for some of golf's plum events, such as the President's Cup or perhaps even the U.S. Open.
Certainly a lot of factors contributed to The Greenbrier's ascension, including the move to the Fourth of July week, but the importance of the course changes can't be overlooked, as they made Old White a truer test for the pros and a more desirable destination.
"It's a combination of all kinds of stuff,'' Justice said on Thursday. "The crowds, the concerts, the resort, the changes to the course. From the greens being spongy to the greens being firm. We've got some rain here, so they're able to throw some darts at it right now, but the greens are firm and can get really firm. We added length, tightened the fairways and the rough is much more lush.
"To be perfectly honest, the golf course, with all its history and all its tradition and all the unique stuff it has, has added to all that, to where the course could very well become a U.S. Open course. It's a real challenge. Surely it's added into the desire of everything the PGA wanted. It's surely put us on the radar for the 2017 or 2021 President's Cup. It's making a lot of good things happen.''
One of the first to make suggestions on course renovations was two-time major winner John Daly, who struck up a friendship with Justice and played with the resort owner in the 2010 pro-am.
Daly stuck around at The Greenbrier following the 2010 tournament and pointed out possible improvements.
"Believe it or not, after the tourney, Daly stayed over one extra day to go around with Justice and the people with Justice, offering up his ideas,'' Gregg Happe, who served as a Pace of Play Ambassador, told the Gazette last year. "Lo and behold, Justice goes and hires some other company, but they took a lot of the ideas, at least from my recollection, that Daly had pointed out.''
After all those changes, the winning score for the 2011 Classic dropped from Appleby's 22 under to Scott Stallings' 10 under (Stallings won in a three-way playoff).
Following Thursday's first round, Daly downplayed his contributions to Old White's makeover.
"I told him where to put some tee boxes the first year,'' said Daly, whose 2-under 68 Thursday was one shot off his low round at the Greenbrier Classic.
"On 2, he moved that one back, and on 16 and 17. On 7, I said if he could put it across that road, like he did. It just made it a lot longer and a little tougher. Now it's a golf course. All the players love it now. I think the length kind of helped it.''
Justice admitted that Daly's offerings were part of a group effort.
"There have been so many people come up with suggestions - the PGA group, myself, John Daly. John really came up with the idea of putting the No. 2 tee back where we put it. John stayed [in 2010] and had some ideas, Slugger White had a bunch of ideas, everything.
"We did a lot of tweaking. We extended the lake out on 16, and moving the tee in back of the lake out. Coming down the stretch, you have to hit that tee shot - and it's a bear of a tee shot. It's a giant carry over water and a very small fairway, and we added the dragon's teeth on 16. All of it has made the course a lot better.
"I talk to John, and he's a good guy and we do have a good friendship. But there's a lot of people I listen to. Phil Mickelson had some nice ideas, and we worked with the tour. And believe it or not, I've come up with two, three ideas. All together, it makes it work.''
Daly said he made his recommendations to help improve Old White, but not necessarily turn it into a bogey monster.
"There's nothing wrong with having guys shoot 22 under par,'' Daly said. "Just one week out of the year would be great. At [the John Deere Classic], they do it. It kind of gives us a little bit of satisfaction. We can go out and say, 'Hey, we can make nine birdies in a round.' You can here, but it's made it a lot harder.
"I know the Ryder Cup was here a long, long time ago , and I'm sure Jimmy's got that on his mind - one time maybe bringing that back. I think it's going to get better, and I think it's going to get harder. The greens are only two years old because he switched them out. They're so good, they're like brand new. It's incredible. They look like last year.''
Daly has Justice's ear so much that he can even offer him advice outside of golf.
"We just hit it off real well,'' Daly said with a smile. "Now if I could just get my doctor to give him that lap band, we'll make him lose some weight.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.