WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — To get ready for this week’s tournament, Bubba Watson simply has to walk out his front door.
Watson moved his family a month ago into a home built at The Greenbrier, the resort in West Virginia that has hosted royalty and U.S. presidents — and now has its resident Bubba.
“It’s nice sleeping in your own bed,” Watson said.
He’ll tee it up in the Greenbrier Classic starting Thursday on the par-70 Old White TPC.
Watson first learned about the stately resort from 2011 tournament winner Scott Stallings, who extolled its warm, relaxed setting. Watson played in the tournament for the first time last year, finishing eight shots behind winner Jonas Blixt.
Shortly after, Watson joined the resort’s staff of professional golfers and broke ground on the new house.
“We looked at what West Virginia has to offer,” he said. “You have a family atmosphere, many things to do besides golf. The mountains are nice views. So when you add that all up, it becomes an easy place to decide to move to.”
When asked if he’s now a West Virginian, Watson replied, “I’m not sure. But I like it so far. So hopefully, everybody else likes me.”
In addition to playing five rounds on Old White in the past two weeks, Watson tweeted pictures of himself fishing in a nearby river and pond, getting up-close looks at black bears and looking over the New Orleans Saints’ preseason training camp facility under construction at the resort.
The Greenbrier has taken full advantage of Watson’s presence.
On the two-lane road that winds into White Sulphur Springs, the two-time Masters champion and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West, who also has a home at The Greenbrier, share an advertising billboard that reads “Live Where Legends Do.”
“You’re talking about a legend in his sport, and then there is me,” Watson said. “Basically, it’s like I won the lotto and they put my picture up next to his. … I should be on the other side of the street facing the other way where nobody sees it.”
Watson, at No. 3 in the world, is the top-ranked player in the Greenbrier Classic field. Others include No. 17 Jimmy Walker, No. 18 Steve Stricker and No. 25 Keegan Bradley. Jason Day at No. 6 withdrew with a recurring thumb injury.
Walker is coming off a two-week break after the U.S. Open. He has top 5 finishes in three of the four previous Greenbrier Classics, including a runner-up finish last year.
“It’s a golf course that I really like,” he said.
The FedEx Cup points leader seemed more concerned about chasing after his two young sons along the massive Greenbrier hotel’s long hallways than being pursued in the standings.
“I get more teased than anything about being on top,” Walker said.
Among other golfers in the Greenbrier field worth keeping an eye on is Brendon Todd. The winner at the Byron Nelson Championship in May, Todd has three other top 10 finishes since then.
“I think my short game’s been a little bit sharper here in the last two months and that’s probably been the difference maker,” said Todd, who will be paired with Watson in the first two rounds.
Last week at Congressional, Todd was tied for the lead in the final round until a double bogey in the water on the 10th hole. He finished two strokes behind champion Justin Rose.
The five-year-old tournament has had close finishes every time. It went to playoffs in 2012 and 2011, and Stuart Appleby shot 59 to win by a stroke in 2010.
A year ago, Blixt came from four shots back to win by two strokes. He credits the resort’s surroundings for keeping him calm.
“That Sunday a year ago here, I didn’t feel any nerves really,” he said. “It was just such a soothing kind of place. It just gives you good vibes when you get here.”
Ten winners on Tour this season are entered, as well as the four past champions of the tournament and 16 former major champions, including Nick Faldo and Tom Watson, the Greenbrier’s golf pro emeritus.
Among the top 12 on the final leaderboard, the four best finishers not previously eligible for the British Open will earn spots in the July 17-20 tournament at Royal Liverpool.
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