By JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
Phil Mickelson heads into the next phase of his career with a new caddie on a course marking its comeback from devastating floods in West Virginia.
Mickelson will have brother Tim Mickelson on his bag starting Thursday at the Greenbrier Classic in his first tournament since parting ways with his caddie of 25 years, Jim “Bones” Mackay.
Tim Mickelson, the former Arizona State coach who is the agent for former Sun Devils star Jon Rahm, will be his older brother’s caddie for the rest of the year. Phil Mickelson said Wednesday the new arrangement brings a comfort level that could help in game.
“Maybe he gets me a little bit more relaxed and takes a little bit of pressure off me and maybe I’ll play my best that way,” Phil Mickelson said. “But there’s no replacing Bones.”
The tournament was canceled last year after torrential downpours triggered flooding that killed 23 people statewide, including 15 in Greenbrier County, and caused extensive damage to The Greenbrier resort.
The bodies of three flood victims who lived in White Sulphur Springs were found on resort property. Trash, tires, vehicles, appliances and uprooted trees were everywhere on the Old White TPC. Sand was washed away from bunkers, leaving behind exposed drainage pipes. Near the 14th green, the flood surpassed a high-water mark set in 1915 by 6 feet.
With much work to do on the resort grounds, owner and now-current West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice had no doubt there would be a tournament this year.
Greens and fairways were reseeded and resodded late last summer. Many greens got new contours and bunkers were moved.
“This is the best I’ve ever seen this golf course,” said Bubba Watson, who has a summer home at The Greenbrier.
Justice, Mickelson and Watson wanted to help the community, too.
Justice established a flood-relief charity, Neighbors Loving Neighbors, to help rebuild homes and lives. Mickelson donated $100,000 to the charity, while Watson and his wife, Angie, donated $250,000 to local relief efforts. While Watson was playing the week after the floods in the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, Angie Watson drove the family truck with her young son to deliver water to families in need.
“People keep praising us for how much we did,” Angie Watson said. “We wish we could have done more.”
Mickelson also is having a home built at the resort and is redesigning the 93-year-old Greenbrier Course, which hosted the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup and also was hit hard by the floods.
He’s here this week to try to break a four-year winless streak and get that elusive 43rd PGA Tour win. Mickelson missed the cut in his three previous Greenbrier Classic appearances.
“Of course I feel the pressure,” said Mickelson, 47. “I don’t feel old at all but I understand the math. Even though it’s been a few years since I’ve won, I’m excited about the challenge. I know I’m going to win again. I just don’t know when exactly. I enjoy the challenge of trying to play against these great young players.”
The Greenbrier Classic has been known for breakthroughs. Three players earned their first tour victory in West Virginia, including former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee in 2015, Ted Potter Jr. in 2013 and Scott Stallings in 2011.
The tournament, which is giving free admission to fans this year, has seen close finishes in every year since its 2010 debut. Angel Cabrera had the biggest margin of victory at two strokes in 2014. The tournament has been decided three times in playoffs. Stuart Appleby shot 59 on Sunday to win the inaugural tournament by one stroke in 2010.
All previous winners of the tournament are in the field. So are five of the top 30 ranked players in the world, including Patrick Reed at No. 21.
The leading four players not already exempt from the top 12 finishers will earn spots in the British Open.
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