Decisions by most of the world's elite golfers to skip the PGA Tour's stop in West Virginia have been a boost for younger players like Xander Schauffele.
Schauffele had a one-stroke victory over Robert Streb at The Greenbrier resort last season, which ended with the 24-year-old from San Diego winning the Tour Championship and earning Rookie-of-the-Year honours.
This year, nearly all of the two dozen rookies on the tour are in the field at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, which started today on the Old White TPC in White Sulphur Springs.
Chances are good that one or more of them could be near the top of the leaderboard. Four of the tournament's seven champions have been first-time winners, including three rookies.
Schauffele likes his chances, too.
He is part of the successful high school class of 2011 that includes Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Daniel Berger.
Schauffele pointed out that Spieth won the John Deere Classic in 2013 and 2015, Thomas won in Malaysia in 2015 and 2016, and Berger at the St. Jude Classic in 2016 and 2017.
“I feel like I want to join that group,” he said yesterday.
But Schauffele has missed the cut in three of his last four tournaments after finishing tied for second at The Players Championship.
At No. 24 in the world, he's among five players ranked in the top 30 at The Greenbrier. The others are Bubba Watson (13th), Phil Mickelson (20th), Webb Simpson (21st), and Brian Harman (26th).
Five from the top 15 in the FedEx Cup are competing.
Watson, already a three-time winner this season, and Mickelson own vacation homes at The Greenbrier Sporting Club.
The Greenbrier Classic, typically held around Independence Day, was renamed last month in honour of the nation's active and past members of the military, who are being given free admission.
“It would be a huge accomplishment to win here in front of my home crowd,” Watson said.
“What a dream that would be," he added. ”My dad was in the military so now we've got the name of the tournament.
“It just would mean a lot for my family to honour my late dad.”
It's the first tournament for Mickelson since the U.S. Open, when he intentionally violated golf rules by hitting a moving ball on the 13th green in the third round.
He later apologized, saying anger and frustration got the best of him.
Up for grabs this week are four spots in the British Open at Carnoustie starting July 19.
Those will go to players not already exempt among the top 12 finishers in West Virginia.