By John Strege
The man most important to the Greenbrier Classic is a girls basketball coach, a good one, too. The Greenbrier (W.V.) East Lady Spartans were 24-1 this past season.
Jim Justice is a billionaire closing on two times over, according to Forbes. The 192nd richest American, he is worth an estimated $1.7 billion, an increase of $500 million over a year ago. He owns coal mines and the Greenbrier Resort and coaches girls basketball.
But here's the rub. Even with a billion or two, you don't always get what you want. The 24-1 record? The 1 came in the West Virginia state tournament regional final.
His golf tournament, meanwhile, is one of the more attractive propositions on the PGA Tour schedule, notwithstanding its location ("a short one hour flight, a breathtaking four hour drive or a relaxing five hour train ride away," the Greenbrier Resort's website says). It is 10,000 acres of playground, its activities including fishing, hunting, kayaking and hiking. It has a casino, and, with the PGA Tour in town, great entertainment on Saturday night.
The problem is that Justice was able to lure Aerosmith to the tournament, but not the best golfers in the world. The winner, Jonas Blixt, was ranked 103rd. The man he beat, third-round learder Johnson Wagner, was ranked 180th.
The field did include two players from the top 10 in the World Ranking, Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen, but attracted only 12 from the top 50. For his part, Mickelson is perennially a non-factor, missing the cut in each of his three starts.
Then there was the weather on Sunday. The forecast was not a good one, yet rather than going to an early start with threesomes off both the first and 10th tees, the tour opted to stick with its 8:30 a.m. start and twosomes, with everyone going off the first tee.
The storm arrived on cue, causing a long delay, and the last group of Wagner and Jimmy Walker teed off three hours, 10 minutes later than scheduled, resulting in a race against sunlight. It lost. The tournament ended in the dark.
"The play of the day would have been a 2 tee start in 3's starting at 730. Weather was expected around 2pm. When will the Tour learn?" Steve Flesch wrote on Twitter.
"That's what the tour wanted to do and was suggested. They got trumped by the big man," Arron Oberholser replied via Twitter.
Presumably the big man to whom he was referring was Justice, who casts the largest shadow at Greenbrier in more ways than one. If it was his call, it wasn't a good one. CBS only carried one hour of live coverage, then threw it over to Golf Channel.
Still, deferring to a billionaire footing the bill is generally a good idea. But it also is advisable to provide value for his investment, and it seems the PGA Tour missed the mark this week. Maybe Justice doesn't care. But if he does, it's a good thing the tournament has a commitment with the tour that runs through 2021.