If you’re old enough to remember, the Greater Greensboro Open was once the gateway to the rites of spring. The tournament for years was the week before The Masters, and the Greensboro Jaycees, who ran the event, put on a helluva show at Sedgefield Country Club.
The locals came out of winter hibernation in droves. They served Blatz beer back in the day – wonder where that brand went – and your bags weren’t searched and seized at the gate, which made getting a cocktail when you needed one a much easier proposition.
It wasn’t the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, as has been advertised by a certain college football game, but it could have been the largest backyard barbecue. The patrons, when well-oiled, were the slightest bit rowdy, but you’d be, too, if you’d been cooped up all winter and the PGA Tour was in town.
Between then and now, Greensboro has undergone a complete makeover. When the PGA Tour purses got so big, local money dried up and the GGO needed corporate sponsorship along with a bigger course. So the event moved to Forest Oaks Country Club and corporate hospitality tents were invented, which made getting a cocktail simpler for those lucky enough to have the right badge. The rest of the proletariat would have to make do on Miller Lite.
Today, the Wyndham Championship – after a couple of schedule moves – is back at Sedgefield and now occupies the slot just before the FedEx Cup playoffs that begin this week. The hotelier built a beach alongside the par-3 16th hole, stocked with scenery, and it was a coin toss whether you’d rather watch bikini-clad babes or birdies and bogeys.
Wyndham was giving away vacations for life for a hole-in-one and Derek Lamely made an ace on Friday. But vacation for a traveling Tour player means staying at home, so it’s not clear how good a prize that is.
Ernie Els, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington and Camilo Villegas – among others – were entered in a last-second rush to get inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list and thereby avoid a five-week vacation for those outside the magic number.
Jason Dufner was in the field and glad to be there, back up on the horse that threw him in the ditch at the PGA Championship. Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey was atop the leaderboard after two days, Els was in the hunt and all seemed right with the world.
Things were especially right in Keegan Bradley’s world, and he wasn’t in the field in Greensboro. He was busy being congratulated by the membership at the Dye Preserve in Jupiter, Fla., where he is a member. Dufner, on the other hand, got a standing ovation from the football team at Auburn University, where Dufner is an alum. Your choice as to which was better.
But it will be Bradley, and not Dufner, who will be mentioned for Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, and those conversations have already started. Bradley’s not a cinch for either because Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is considered a rookie even though he’s really not.
It’s going to take the outcomes of the FedEx Cup Playoffs to determine the end-of-year awards on Tour. There are five players on Tour who have won twice this year – Schwartzel, Bradley, Mark Wilson, Nick Watney and Bubba Watson. None of the final three are Player of the Year material unless one of them wins one or more playoff events, which might include The Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
But even that might not be enough with two players with a major championship in their columns. If Schwartzel or Bradley wins a playoff event, one of them will likely be Player of the Year and the other is a lock for Rookie of the Year.
Other than that, not many people know – or even care – that Watney leads the FedEx Cup points list. After three years of confusing points distribution and who was in the running for the Cup during Tour Championship week, the playoffs have still not captured the imagination of the viewing public the way Tour officials have hoped they would. All most people know – and that includes Tour players – is that the winner pockets $10 million, and even that isn’t enough dough to stir the golf faithful.
With the evolution of the Greater Greensboro Open into the Wyndham Championship, the tournament has morphed from a harbinger of spring to the signal that summer is about to blend seamlessly into fall. For most people in the United States, that means it’s time for college football.
Those who run the PGA Tour hope that you will keep at least one eye on the FedEx Cup playoffs – or at least DVR it – while your attention is diverted to the SEC or the Big Ten or your school colors of choice.
That said, the golf faithful who turn up for the next four tournaments on the playoff schedule won’t have the loyalty or enthusiasm that those who live in Greensboro and surrounds have heaped upon the Wyndham over the years. Not even if they had Blatz beer.