Thursday, July 05, 2018 1:00 am
Young players get shot to shine
As elite players skip Greenbrier, rookies take over
JOHN RABY | Associated Press
Decisions by most of the world's elite golfers to skip the PGA Tour's stop in West Virginia have been a boost for younger players like Xander Schauffele.
Schauffele had a one-stroke victory over Robert Streb at The Greenbrier resort last season, which ended with the 24-year-old from San Diego winning the Tour Championship and earning rookie of the year honors.
This year, nearly all of the two dozen rookies on the tour are in the field at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, which starts today on the Old White TPC in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Chances are good one or more of them could be near the top of the leaderboard. Four of the tournament's seven champions have been first-time winners, including three rookies.
Schauffele likes his chances, too.
He is part of the successful high school class of 2011 that includes Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger. He pointed out that Spieth won the John Deere Classic in 2013 and 2015, Thomas won in Malaysia in 2015 and 2016, and Berger at the St. Jude Classic in 2016 and 2017.
“I feel like I want to join that group,” Schauffele said Wednesday.
But Schauffele has missed the cut in three of his last four tournaments after finishing tied for second at The Players Championship.
At No. 24 in the world, he's among five players ranked in the top 30 at The Greenbrier. The others are Bubba Watson (No. 13), Phil Mickelson (No. 20), Webb Simpson (No. 21) and Brian Harman (No. 26). Five from the top 15 in the FedEx Cup are competing.
Watson, a three-time winner this season, and Mickelson own vacation homes at The Greenbrier Sporting Club. The Greenbrier Classic, typically held around Independence Day, was renamed last month in honor of the nation's active and past members of the military, who are being given free admission.
“It would be a huge accomplishment to win here in front of my home crowd,” Watson said. “What a dream that would be, my dad was in the military so now we've got the name of the tournament. It just would mean a lot for my family to honor my late dad.”
It's the first tournament for Mickelson since the U.S. Open, when he intentionally violated golf rules by hitting a moving ball.
The West Virginia stop could see a change when the PGA Tour reveals its full schedule this month for the next FedEx Cup season. The tournament at Sam Snead's former playground in White Sulphur Springs is under contract through 2021.
Watson, for one, wouldn't mind seeing a schedule change. From a business standpoint, he said the Fourth of July holiday always is a hectic time at The Greenbrier, so moving the tournament to later in the year, especially with the area's spectacular fall foliage on display, would give the resort yet another busy week.
“I've always thought that the fall would be great,” he said.
Up for grabs this week are four spots in the British Open at Carnoustie starting July 19. Those will go to players not already exempt among the top 12 finishers in West Virginia.
Past winners are in the field. So is Abraham Ancer, who was tied for the lead entering the final round of last week's Quicken Loans National. He finished fourth.
Norman Xiong, 19, is playing in his first tournament as a pro. He won the Haskins Award as the nation's top college golfer during his sophomore year at Oregon, earning him an exemption at The Greenbrier.
“It's pretty low-key here, so my mind's pretty settled and I'm just trying to prepare the best I can for the upcoming week,” Xiong said. “It's a different stage. It's kind of a new beginning. I don't know too many guys out here. Hopefully soon I can make some friends.”