Lesser-known golfers make Greenbrier an instant ‘Classic’
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 12:07
To the casual golf fan – and perhaps to even an avid follower of the PGA Tour – the names Charlie Beljan, Troy Kelly and Ted Potter Jr. don’t stir up too much excitement.
Ratings slumped and interest waned after Tour heavyweights Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson missed Friday’s cut, but it didn’t stop the remaining players from putting on a brilliant show at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Those who tuned in Sunday for the final round of the Greenbrier Classic were treated to 18 holes of lead changes, spectacular shots and continuous plot twists from the unheralded trio of newcomers.
Beljan, who propelled himself into contention with an 8-under-par second round, looked the part of a PGA Tour rookie with his timely deliberation between shots and his sometimes giddy on-course demeanor.
On the par-4 13th, Beljan hit the most memorable shot of the tournament, chipping in from 58 feet away and sending the crowd into a frenzy – dancing and pumping his fists in lockstep with the gallery.
The rookie’s scorecard looked like that of a seasoned professional at the end of the tournament. Paired with Potter Jr. for the final round, Beljan put up his second consecutive, 3-under-par day to finish in a tie for third place – the first top 25 finish of his career.
It’s safe to say the outcome that eventually came to fruition would have been hard to predict at the start of the tournament, or even at the beginning of the final round Sunday.
It felt like 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson was in total control heading into the first tee box on Sunday. Without the pressure of a perennial winner like Woods or Mickelson around, it was expected Simpson would have no trouble keeping his composure and it would be guys like Kelly and Potter Jr. who would fold down the stretch.
Then, without any type of a warning sign, Simpson buckled and relinquished the lead to Kelly, who before the Greenbrier Classic had missed eight cuts in 14 appearances this season.
As I followed the final pairing Sunday, it was hard not to root for a guy like Kelly. The vast majority of the crowd, as expected, was fully behind Simpson as the day began, if for no other reason than he was the one they knew.
Telling a friend that you watched a U.S. Open champion win a Tour event in person sounds quite a bit sexier than telling that same friend you were there to watch some rookie you’d never heard of outlast another rookie you’d never heard – even if there was a three-hole playoff.
Yet it was Potter Jr., not Simpson, who spun some late-round wizardry to wow the crowd and win a second consecutive Greenbrier Classic that was decided by a playoff.
Name recognition aside, anybody who can piece together a run like Potter did from the 15th hole to the finish is fun to watch – even if it happened at your home golf course.
It was Potter Jr. and Kelly, not John Daly and Tom Watson or Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker, who would pair up for a playoff that served as a fitting conclusion to a tournament positioned to become a prominent PGA Tour mainstay in the coming years.
Following the trophy presentation, Potter Jr. sat in the interview room with a dazed look on his face – almost as if afraid he was in the middle of a dream and was about to get yanked back to reality.
In the PGA Tour media guide Potter Jr. lists playing at Augusta National, which hosts the Masters Tournament, as one of his lifelong dreams. With the win, he automatically qualifies for that as well as this month’s British Open – something he didn’t know until a reporter brought it up.
Potter Jr. looked to his left as the moderator double-checked with a PGA official, and Potter Jr. looked back at the reporter with the biggest grin I’d seen all week.
Watching that unfold – and his face when he found out – was nothing short of classic.