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No-Names Beat the Big Names at The Greenbrier Classic

by Jeff Skinner

This wasn’t the finish Jim Justice had envisioned.  The billionaire Greenbrier owner was expecting some of the big names he had recruited to his West Virginia resort to show up on Sunday afternoon to claim the third Greenbrier Classic.  But this, as they say is why we play the game.

Chances are that if you tried to place a bet (legally of course) on Ted Potter Jr. or Troy Kelly they wouldn’t have been on the board.  You could have gotten odds on Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or even the walking reality show that is John Daly but Potter and Kelly…forget it.

Potter and Kelly showed that on this tour, anything can happen.  And this week it happened to a pair of guys struggling to make it on the PGA Tour.  Potter was able to nose out Kelly on the third playoff hole for his first PGA Tour win.  And Kelly cashed his largest paycheck as a professional for his second place finish.

Potter is a rookie on tour with his previous best finish a T13 in January at The Sony Open and had missed his last five cuts.  He’s ranked 218th in the official World Golf Rankings.  Kelly is back on tour after first making it to the big league in 2009 when he could only manage $25,000 in winnings for the year.

Potter earns all the spoils that go with a PGA Tour win: a two year exemption, a Masters invitation, entry into the Open Championship and that million dollar check.

Kelly showed up at The Greenbrier as the 464th rated golfer in the world rankings.  So far this season he’s made around $81,000 with his best showing a T37 at The Mayakoba Classic.  His second place finish gets him $658,800 and a trip to this year’s Open Championship.

That’s not a bad day’s haul for two guys trying desperately to build a life on tour.  Good for them…good for the unknown, unheralded players that have to work for everything they get.  These two guys earned everything they got today and should revel in their accomplishments.

But this weekend didn’t work out as some had planned.  Justice and his Greenbrier crew have been working hard, some say a bit too hard to build this tournament into a big tour event.  There were numerous stories about “indirect appearance fees” paid to Tiger and Phil.  Steve Elling had an eye-opening piece on how Woods and Mickelson end up getting paid for their presence in West Virginia.  Mickelson played last year, missed the cut then too and this was Woods’ first trip. According to Elling’s sources Tiger netted $1.5 mil and Phil a cool million before they even stepped to the first tee.

Of course appearance fees are banned by the PGA Tour but the players are paid for a ‘clinic’ or a sponsor’s ‘meet and greet’ and not for playing in the tournament.  There are ways to get around the PGA Tour rules and Justice has the deep pockets to entice anyone to his tournament.

But look what happened this week.  Tiger and Phil both were gone before the weekend and Justice was left to wonder exactly what his $2.5 million had brought him while two unknowns fought it out for the win.

Sometimes you get what you pay for and sometimes you don’t.  Sorry Mr. Justice.  But this, this finish by two unknown players, two guys striving to make it in the big leagues, two no-names in a world of big names, two guys who gave it their all…this is why we play the game.

Hat tip to Geoff Shackleford for his posts on appearance fees.

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