Greenbrier Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
The Greenbrier Classic returns to the Old White TPC after last year's tournament had to be cancelled following devastating floods that hit the area, and the players are going to find a course that is rather different to the one they used to know.
Keith Foster, a renowned golf course architect, was brought in and asked to remodel the layout, large parts of which were effectively washed away by the flood that hit the area on June 23 last year.
“Our goal was to restore the course to a more appropriate version of the original [C.B.] Macdonald design,” Foster said. “Among the major changes were to revise many of the greens to an older style with less severe slopes and bunkers moved closer to the putting surfaces. Many bunkers were relocated and all bunker faces were redesigned to provide a penal, but fair challenge. Approach areas were reworked on many holes and some fairways were modified to improve the line of play.
“All tees were relined and in a few cases, tees were added or eliminated as needed. The 14th hole went through a major restoration to create a more dramatic visual impact. The line of play on the 16th hole was modified to create a true cape design. Throughout our work, care was taken to protect and recreate as best we could the original intention of the C.B. Macdonald masterpiece.”
The result is a golf course that will surely develop into one of the best on the PGA Tour. Unsurprisingly, nobody expects it to be in perfect condition for this year's tournament, but Foster and his team have worked wonders.
One of the course’s most spectacular tee shots came at the par-four 16th hole, where players had to clear Swan Lake to find the fairway The tee has been moved, with the lake now running down the right side of the fairway - it has made the hole far more difficult.
A big collection area behind a steep slope off the green of the par-five 17th has also been replaced with a bunker, lessening the penalty for an aggressive approach shot creating more eagle opportunities down the stretch.
And the controversial hump in the middle of the par-three 18th green has been removed, leaving a putting surface that has more of a horseshoe design, which could encourage the odd hole-in-one. The rough has also been allowed to grow, putting more emphasis on accuracy from the tee, although the long grass that surrounded many of the bunkers has been removed.
Tournament host Phil MIckelson is confident the players will like the changes. “I think that some of the nuances are going to be enhanced,” said Mickelson. "While maintaining the same character of the golf course for many decades, over time the placement of everything gets a little distorted with the change in equipment. I think this was an opportunity for all the little subtleties and nuances to be more proper on a modern-day scale, so the bunkers are more well placed and the shot value is a more accurate test to today’s game.”
Legendary American golfer Lee Trevino is the course pro and he has been excited by what he has seen evolve during the reconstruction. “I was here when [Foster] was reconstructing this golf course, so I saw the little things he was doing — moving bunkers closer to the greens, bringing some of the lips down,” Trevino added. “You notice we always had that grass on top of the bunkers, you’d get out of the bunkers and into the grass and you couldn’t find the ball. We finally got rid of that. We can’t wait to test it.”
When the event was last played in 2015 it was won by Danny Lee after a playoff involving Kevin Kisner, Robert Streb and David Hearn. It was won in 2010 by Stuart Appleby, in 2011 by Scott Stallings, in 2012 by Ted Potter Jr, in 2013 by Sweden's Jonas Blixt and in 2014 by Angel Cabrera.
Mickelson will be taking to the fairways for the first time since parting company with long-time caddie Bones Mackay and it will be fascinating to see how he performs. His brother, Tim, will be on the bag - that is the same Tim Mickelson who just happens to be Jon Rahm's agent. It will be interesting to know what will go through Tim's mind if big brother ever gets into a head-to-head with Rahm during the final round of a major. As tournament ambassador, Lefty will have a busy week, but don't put it past him to defy all logic and win when least expected to do so.
Jimmy Walker has struggled since winning the US PGA Championship last August but the Texan has one of the best swings on Tour and his struggles this year have been on the greens. Walker has a quirky putting stroke and has probably missed more short putts this season than he has in just about his entire career. He has been working hard to put things right and you get the sense that once the putts start falling again he will soon find himself back in the winners' circle.
Patrick Reed is another who has suffered with his game in 2017, but there have been some encouraging signs in recent weeks that the young American is not far from finding his best. His issues have all come with the driver in his hands - normally pretty accurate from the tee, he has missed far too many fairways, but I have a feeling that this could be his week.
To Win: Patrick Reed. Due a big week
Each Way: Kevin Kisner. A money-making machine
Patrick Reed. Ready to win again
Kevin Kisner. Proven winner
Phil Mickelson. Will he be lost without Bones on the bag?
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