An Underdog Story

The Greenbrier Classic: An Underdog Story

By Tim Gavrich

I will admit that I did not catch the entire final round of The Greenbrier Classic on Sunday afternoon. I played golf (not that it matters, I choked on the back nine à la Webb Simpson and Ken Duke). After we finished, my foursome retired to the bar in order to replace some of the precious carbohydrates and confidence we’d lost over the course of the afternoon.

Golf High FiveAs luck would have it, when we asked the bartender to flip the television to CBS, Charlie Beljan was tidying up his par on the 16th hole at the Old White TPC at the Greenbrier, perhaps the best golf course in the world with a six-word name.

“Who?” asked my justified cohort, practically in unison.

A couple moments later, Troy Kelly rolled in a gutsy par putt on the 15th hole.


A couple shots later, Ted Potter Jr. laced a fairway wood onto the middle of the par-5 17th at Old White-you-know-the-rest.


The remainder of my foursome, affable and decent golfers who are not the near-religious follower of the professional game that I am, were seeing these three for the first time. But they were captivated nonetheless.

Television ratings for final rounds of golf tournaments just about double whenever Tiger Woods is heavily involved. Those “fans” who hang their professional golf fandom on the red shirt of one man missed an opportunity.

Let’s start with Beljan, built more like a linebacker than a golfer. He won the 2002 U.S. Junior Amateur and went on to play college golf at the University of New Mexico. Since then, he had accumulated $62,938 in earnings in his PGA Tour (four made cuts in 12 starts) and Tour (three cuts made in four starts) career. His third-place finish this weekend earned him $353,800, nearly septupling his career earnings and paving the way for more PGA Tour start opportunities on the strength of a great week and a display of heart-on-sleeve joy and passion.

In other words: life-changing.

Troy Kelly, a University of Washington alumnus, had less than twice Beljan’s career earnings ($121,014) in almost three times Beljan’s combined Tour/PGA Tour starts. He fell short in a playoff, but the $658,800 check for runner-up essentially secured his PGA Tour membership for next year.

In other words: life-changing.

Ted Potter Jr., of Ocala, Fla., turned pro at the age of 19, forgoing college golf. Of the unlikely trio who commanded the stage at The Greenbrier this weekend, he was the most polished. A rookie on the PGA Tour this year on the strength of an excellent 2011 campaign on the Tour, the left-handed Potter earned $1,098,000 with his victory at The Greenbrier, nearly septupling his PGA Tour earnings this year after missing the cut in five of his last six starts. He will be exempt on Tour for the next two years. He will play in The Masters in 2013.

In other words: life-changing.

It is rare that the outcome of a PGA Tour event, much less a non-major, would have such a palpably positive effect on not only a relatively unheralded winner but an equally obscure runner-up and third-place finisher. Most sports are ruthless: there is almost always one winner and one loser. But as cruel as golf can be, it will also sometimes reward dogged toil and opportunistic grit. On Sunday, three winners strode out of the valleys of West Virginia toward professional and, no doubt, personal vindication.


S² Tip

Most sports are ruthless: there is almost always one winner and one loser. But as cruel as golf can be, it will also sometimes reward dogged toil and opportunistic grit.


Success Story

Congratulations to Stanford’s Cameron Wilson for winning the 2014 NCAA golf Championship. Wilson won the national title when he birdied the third hole of a playoff against Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans, helping Stanford to the top score in team qualifying.


In Another’s Words…

“Leadership almost always involves thinking and acting like the underdog. Thats because leaders work to change things, and the people who are winning barely do.

– Seth Godin (Author)