By Tom LaMarre
With the first major of the year out of the way, a number of the top players on the PGA Tour have headed to Hilton Head Island, S.C., for what has been described as something of a working vacation.
Many of the players bring along their families for the RBC Heritage on the Harbour Town Golf Links www.seapines.com/golf/harbour-town-golf-links.aspx on the shores of Calibogue Sound, since the tournament is played at Sea Pines Resort, one of the top vacation areas on the East Coast.
“This is almost like the perfect event after the Masters,” said Matt Kuchar, who won the tournament in 2014, who said it gives players a chance do exactly that if their games is in good form after the Masters. “You get in the Lowcountry and feel the blood pressure go down a little bit and you just relax a little. It’s a good opportunity.
“ … There’s so much to do with the family and it’s a great tournament.”
The players enjoy the event so much that they helped save it several years ago and got it moved on the PGA Tour schedule back to the week after the Masters.
Brandt Snedeker, who won the tournament in 2011, and several other players lobbied then-PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to let him know how much the tournament that was won first by Arnold Palmer in 1969 means to those who play it on a regular basis.
The tournament was without a title sponsor, but the Royal Bank of Canada stepped up and put its name on the event in 2012, ensuring the future of the event that finishes in a scenic spot on the water in the shadow of the candy-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse, which is located behind the final green.
“It scared me to think about that,” said Snedeker, who came from six strokes behind in the final round in 2011 by shooting 7-under-par 64 and then beating Luke Donald of England with a par on the third playoff hole.
“It didn’t really sink in at that time, but when I saw the cover (of a golf magazine) the following week with ‘Uncertain Future of the Heritage’ (in a headline), it sunk in.”
Nobody loves the tournament more than Davis Love III, who went to college right up the Tobacco Road at the University of North Carolina, and has won the Heritage a record five times—the last in 2003.
Other former champions include the likes of Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Fuzzy Zoeller, Greg Norman, Hale Irwin, Nick Price, Payne Stewart, Hubert Green, Bob Tway, Loren Roberts, Graham Marsh, Stewart Cink and Justin Leonard.
Satoshi Kodaira was a surprise winner in a playoff over Si Woo Kim last year.
“It’s just such an iconic tournament,” said the 54-year-old Love, who also plays on the PGA Tour Champions these days. “ … Obviously, if you played in Atlanta the week after the Masters, it wouldn’t be quite as fun as going to the beach. You get to go to Hilton Head and it’s a fun week for the kids, it’s a fun week for the wives and it’s a great tournament for the players.
“One, it’s a great golf course. Not a whole lot of tournaments have had their whole history on one golf course, a great golf course like this. And this is one when people say what are your favorite courses on the PGA Tour, they always list Pebble Beach and they list Harbour Town and they list Colonial. They list classic golf courses.”
The 51st RBC Heritage this week has attracted several players whose names were prominent on the leaderboard contended last week in the Masters, including Dustin Johnson, Francesco Molinari, Xander Schauffele, Ian Poulter, Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay and Kuchar.
Tiger Woods won’t be there, so perhaps one of them can soften the blow of losing to him last week by winning the RBC Heritage.
- Kevin Kisner, United States – The South Carolina native is among the favorites at HarbourTown based on history and current form. Kiz (pictured) won WGC-Match Play last month and tied for 21st in the Masters, giving him five straight top-25s. He’s played well in the Heritage, losing in a 2015 playoff to Jim Furyk and tying for seventh last year.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – Another South Carolinian, DJ is playing in the RBC Heritage for only the fourth time and last year he tied for 18th after missing the cut in 2008 and 2009. Johnson won the Saudi International and WGC-Mexico earlier this year and, his tie for second in the Masters was his sixth top-10 on the PGA Tour this year.
- Francesco Molinari, Italy – Hoping to quickly put behind his back-nine collapse in the Masters on Sunday, Molinari plays at HarbourTown for the fifth time, with his best result a tie for 22nd two years ago. His T-5 at Augusta was his third top-10 this year, including a victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a T-3 in WGC-Match Play.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – After chasing Tiger Woods all the way to the finish of the Masters before tying for second, Schauffele has four top-10 finishes this season, including victories in the WGC-HSBC Champions and Sentry Tournament of Champions. Started 68-68, but tied for 32nd last year in first start in the RBC Heritage.
- Bryson DeChambeau, Unites States – Faded to a tie for 29th after holding the first-round lead in the Masters, but HarbourTown could be a place for him to bounce back. DeChambeau tied for third in the RBC Heritage last year after tying for fourth in 2016. It’s been a solid season, but he hasn’t played his best since winning Shriners in October.
- Matt Kuchar, United States – Kooch comes off a tie for 12th in the Masters to one of his favorite tournaments, making his 16th start at HarbourTown. He beat Kevin Kisner in a playoff to win the title in 2015, followed with a T9 and has finished in the top-25 each of the last five years. Has two victories this season among five finishes in the top-10.
- Webb Simpson, United States – Another Carolinian (North), Simpson makes his 10th start in the Heritage after tying for fifth the Masters, his sixth result in the top-25 this season. He has five top-15s at HarbourTown, including a playoff loss to Graeme McDowell in 2013 after taking the lead to the final round, and also tied for fifth last year.
- Tommy Fleetwood, England – Slipped down the leaderboard to a tie for 36th in the Masters by shooting 40 on the back nine Sunday after playing the front in 34, ending a string of four straight top-25s, including a T-3 in the Arnold Palmer and a T-3 in The Players. Playing PGA Tour full-time for the first time, makes RBC Heritage debut.
- Si Woo Kim, South Korea – Playing once more like the 2017 Players Champion he is, Kim tied for 21st In the Masters after a solo third in the Genesis Open and ties for fourth in the Texas Open and at Pebble Beach earlier this year. Lost in a playoff to Satoshi Kodaira in the Heritage last year and tied for 14th in his debut in 2016.
- Ian Poulter, England – Another player in good form who has played well at HarbourTown, Poulter tied for 12th in the Masters after being in the hunt much of the way and has seven finishes in the top-25 this season. Took the RBC lead to the final round last year but finished T-7 after a 75, and also recorded a T-11 two years ago.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH – Jordan Spieth, United States; Branden Grace, South Africa; Patrick Cantlay, United States; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Brandt Snedeker, United States.
- Justin Harding, South Africa – A 10-time winner around the world, Harding could be moving out of this category soon after tying for 12th in Masters in his major debut.
- Corey Conners, United States – After getting into the Masters by winning the Valero Texas Open as a Monday qualifier, Conners slid 24 spots to a T-46 by closing with a 76.
- Eddie Pepperell, England – Two-time winner on the Euro Tour, tied for third in the Players Championship, played under-par on weekend to finish T-51 in first Masters.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – The 21-year-old, a two-time winner on Web.com Tour, has five top-10 finishes this season on the PGA Tour, and four top-20s in last five starts.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Winner of Australian Open in November, Ancerfinished T-12 in Players and T-17 in WGC-Match Play, and has two top-10s this season.
For first-round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html