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Published: Monday, June 30, 2014
Page: 1B

The fifth annual Greenbrier Classic begins Thursday with some of the greatest golfers in the world.

Some of the not-so-greatest players will be toiling around the Resort at Glade Springs on Monday trying to claw their way into the Classic via the "Open qualifier.

The process is simple, even if the task ahead isn't.

Players fork out $200 to play in the Thursday pre-qualifier. The top 40 players from the 120 who signed up paid another $250 and advanced to Monday's Open qualifier. The top four from there will earn a spot in the Greenbrier Classic. Players who are members of the PGA and tours without exempt status can bypass the pre-qualifier and pay $250 to move to Monday.

This is true grass roots professional golf.

The greatest national sporting event ever to come through West Virginia is marked by seven days of practice rounds, pro-ams and 72 holes of FedEx Cup golfing.

My favorite event occurs during a few hours in Daniels.

As sportswriters covering the Greenbrier Classic, we can name drop all day. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Nick Faldo. We've been in interview rooms with these unique personalities. Even New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who, it turns out, we'll get our fill of later this month at Saints' training camp.

You never know who you'll get on Monday.

Somebody you might recognize is Patrick Reed, who was doing everything he needed to get sponsors exemptions into PGA Tour events, but had to play Mondays to sniff a tournament, earning spots through the long route four times in 2012 before falling short at Glade Springs. Since finally earning his PGA Tour card, Reed has three PGA Tour victories.

Also in 2012, Andrew Giuliani - son of former New York major Rudy Giuliani - came up short at Glade Springs.

To put it simply: Monday's qualifier is what it's all about.

So far, there have been 16 players move to the Greenbrier Classic from the qualifier.

It's a long and arduous journey for the second-level guys to take for what amounts to a long-shot opportunity.

Only two of the 16 - Steve Allan and Andre Stolz in 2011 - who advanced through the qualifiers played four rounds at the Greenbrier. The only event Allan played that year, not counting Q school, was the Greenbrier Classic, where he earned $13,380 for his efforts.

Stolz played in two that year, $14,430 for finishing in a tie for 49th at the Greenbrier. He played in the Viking Classic two weeks prior, also making the cut.

And, there are no guarantees.

Since that year, Allan and Stolz have each played in only one PGA Tour event.

For the first time since the qualifiers began in 2010, David Bradshaw won't be in the mix. The Frank B. Fuhrer Invitational, a group of 40 players, will compete in a 72-hole, three-day event at the Pittsburgh Field Club with the chance to pocket $40,000. Bradshaw won it two years ago when the payday was "only $30,000 and the calendar was agreeable.

With five Mondays in June this year and the Fuhrer being reserved for the Field Club on the last week of June every year, Bradshaw had to sign up for the event that could help him make money, not spend it.

The qualifiers have grown significantly since 2010 when only 44 players signed up.

This year there were 120 signed up - but after three withdrawals for injury - there turned out a record 117 for Thursday's pre-qualifier. The Monday qualifier features 71 players with four spots available for the Greenbrier Classic. Among the players from Thursday's pre-qualifier are former Concord assistant coach Darcy Donaldson, Parkersburg's Kenneth Hess and Freeman's John Ross.

"We went from 44 pre-qualifiers the first year to 120, said Tri-State PGA tournament director David Wright. "These guys are playing the pre-qualifier and the open qualifier on Glade Springs (Cobb Course), one of the nicest courses I've run qualifiers on.

I will spend today at Glade Springs and head toward Lewisburg later that night to settle in for the greatest week of the year.

It starts, however, with the greatest day of the year.

n - -

THROUGH FOUR Greenbrier Classics there's no way of telling who will win one of the youngest events on the PGA Tour.

I'm pretty sure the Old White TPC, known for its ability to chew up players and spit them out, will figure out a way to let a youthful player emerge while leaving the oldsters - relatively speaking, of course - behind.

Stuart Appleby, from the "you're only as young as you feel division, captured the first Classic by taking advantage of its State Amateur Championship setup to score a 59 on the final round and edge Jeff Overton, who finished second as one of his five top three finishes on the year. He was just 27 years old and a five-year professional when he watched Appleby storm by him in the final round that season.

In year two of Jim Justice's grand event, Scott Stallings was a mere 26 - just a baby by PGA Tour standards - and claimed his first Tour title by winning in a playoff with Bob Estes and Bill Haas was 29 at the time, although Estes stayed in the hunt at the fresh old age of 44.

The third year we saw Ted Potter Jr. - whose nicknames are The Wizard and Magic Man - was 27 as he put behind him a five-match streak of missed cuts to emerge as the winner at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic.

It was Jonas Blixt who survived a lightning and rain delay in 2013 to take the crown as a 29-year-old.

You can see where this is going: the next winner of the Greenbrier Classic will be a 20-something seeking his first victory.

OK, so Appleby and Blixt already had titles under their belts, but that won't stop a youngster from doing exactly what Justice tells golfers to do with the Charles Blair Macdonald-designed monster - let the course come to you.

There are too many holes that look too inviting not to chase.

While names like Bubba Watson get thrown around in predictions, don't be surprised if the winner is somebody you've never heard of.

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