Trick shot highlights pro-am
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- When a logjam slowed things down at the No. 10 tee box Wednesday morning, Bubba Watson showed his personality and a bit more of the fun side of golf.
He pulled his good friend Brad Payne, the central region director for College Golf Fellowship, out of the throng and decided to put on a show for fans watching the Pro-Am preliminary to The Greenbrier Classic, a PGA Tour event beginning Thursday on the Old White TPC course at The Greenbrier Resort.
With Payne standing just five feet away and his back to Watson, the skilled PGA Tour left-hander uncorked an iron shot through the legs of Payne and down the fairway.
The shot left the crowd buzzing and showed some of the lighter side of golf. It also portrayed the showmanship that has made Watson one of the more revered players on the PGA Tour.
"This is the only sport where you have a big event before the tournament starts," Watson said. "There's no one doing a pickup basketball game the day before the championship game. For us, it's a different way to sell our tour -- interact with the fans, interact with sponsors and play golf with them.
"I think the better, as a whole, we do to liven it up for them and make it fun, the game of golf grows."
Payne was standing with Watson and Webb Simpson, who had been slowed down by a group teeing off of No. 10 in front of them.
He said he never had any worries at all with Watson involved. Then he followed with a joke aimed at Simpson.
"Here's the deal," Payne said. "I trust him. What's the worst that could happen? He hits me, I go to the hospital, and it'd be good to have him indebted to me. Honestly though, it's only five feet. The only way he's going to hit me is if he shanks the ball.
"Now, would I have Webb do that?" he said while turning toward Simpson. "Absolutely not because one time out of 100 you're going to shank one right into my right pocket."
Payne said the days leading up to a tournament are a grind for the players who spend 10- to 12-hour days on the course trying to get ready. So, players have to keep it loose and switch it up sometimes -- such as Payne standing in front of one of the best ball-strikers on tour for a shot through the legs.
He laughed at the thought of it before looking down and wiping all the grass from his leg, which he referred to as "shrapnel" from Watson's blast.
"We're all good friends and I love Bubba," Payne said. "He's always up for an adventure. I didn't think about that he'd hit a huge divot that hit me right in the leg. He peppered me a bit. I thought he'd take a clean shot, but he didn't. He took a huge divot. I think he did it on purpose."
Watson was teamed with a pair of Governors -- West Virginia's Earl Ray Tomblin and Kentucky's Steve Beshear -- and John Klemish, adviser to Greenbrier chairman Jim Justice.
Simpson was paired with the exuberant group of Dr. Phil Zambos, Rick McCormick and former West Virginia University basketball player Jonnie West, the son of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Jerry West.
As the morning progressed, more and more fans started filtering toward the groups. By the time the players got to No. 17 the masses surrounded the green and the tee box at No. 18.
Simpson and Jerry West signed multiple autographs -- West even signing a baseball for a fan -- and the spectators took in all the star power that has become associated with The Greenbrier Classic.
Watson said part of the tournament's aura is that just as fans are enamored with the star power, the players are enamored with the beauty of the state and incredible hospitality.
"Obviously, this is going to be a stop for a few years now after I got here and saw how great it really is. ...," he said. "Over the last three years, we've seen this tournament and seen the fans come out and support. The pros have raved about it."
Watson joins Phil Mickelson and defending champion Ted Potter Jr., in Thursday's opening round. The group will tee off No. 1 at 1 p.m.
Simpson is paired in a group with Bill Haas and Nick Watney and will take flight at 7:50 a.m. on No. 10.
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