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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Little Wyndham History

Yes, you'll all hear about this tournament until you're probably sick of it. You'll hear about it being Webb Simpson's first Tour win (if you haven't already), about it being the last chance to make the FedExCup playoffs, etc. But the Wyndham is played in "my backyard" -- I live only 15-20 minutes from Greensboro -- and this is a historically significant tournament. So I'd like to tell you a little about it.

Originally, this tournament was called the Greater Greensboro Open, or simply the GGO. It was started in 1938 and was a locally sponsored tournament by the Greensboro Jaycees until the late 1980s, when it became necessary to find some deeper pockets to keep it alive. However, Kmart, Chrysler, and Wyndham have been the only sponsors, so this has been a pretty stable tournament.

And that's because of its history. It's possible that you know Sam Snead won the GGO 8 times, which is the current record for victories at a single tournament. It's also the tournament which made him the oldest winner in PGA history. (If you didn't know but you're watching GC's series American Triumvirate, you'll probably be hearing about those records during the Snead show.) That's the bit of history most golfers know.

However, Greensboro was a primary player in the civil rights movement. In 1960, a sit-in that lasted several months took place at a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, after 4 students were denied service at the lunch counter. It was the seminal event that triggered desegregation in the South. Part of that counter is on display at the Smithsonian, and that Woolworth's has since become the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Likewise, in 1969 the Greensboro Riots became a less-than-stellar part of history.

But the GGO was one of the bright spots in the civil rights movement. In 1961 Charlie Sifford played in the tournament, making him the first black golfer to play a PGA event. (At least, he was the first in the South.)

Snead, Hogan, and Nelson (yes, the whole Triumvirate) all won the GGO at least once, as did other greats like Gary Player, Bob Charles, Billy Casper, and Raymond Floyd. It was the first American win for Seve Ballesteros, and the only American win for both Arjun Atwal and Frank Nobilo.

In fact, foreign players as a whole have done well in Greensboro, with everybody from Sandy Lyle to Steve Elkington, to K.J. Choi, to Shigeki Maruyama, to Jesper Parnevik winning here. An interesting fact is that both of the scoring records at the Wyndham belong to Swedish players -- Jesper holds the record relative to par, while Carl Pettersson holds the aggregate scoring record (that's total strokes).

Until recently the Wyndham was played in March or April, whichever placed it the week before the Masters. Very few players manage to win a major and a regular tournament back-to-back, but Sandy Lyle pulled it off here in 1988.

And, as an interesting side note, Sedgefield Country Club -- a Donald Ross design that serves as the current venue -- was one of the two courses originally used for the GGO during its first four years. That was nearly 75 years ago!

So as you can see, the Wyndham Championship is more than just another tournament on the schedule. It's been one of the PGA Tour's more significant events for a long time. What kind of history might be made there this week?

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