By: Fred Albers, PGA TOUR.COM Correspondent
There are some tired golfers leaving Hilton Head Island tonight. Playing in the wind is not just physically tiring, it is mentally exhausting. With 30 mile per hour winds, players were in danger of suffering lacerations when tossing grass into the air to determine their direction. Golf became a guessing game, wondering how hard the wind was blowing, from what direction and how it would affect every shot. Players usually trust the tops of trees to indicate wind direction but swirling gusts made that a futile exercise. If a golfer could keep a shot’s trajectory below the treetops, he could shelter the ball from the wind but that was a difficult task. It was “Kapalua” windy and if Harbor Town’s greens had severe undulations, it might have been impossible to play golf on Sunday.
Gust: There is always an element of luck in any golf tournament and Webb Simpson got a badly timed gust of wind in the playoff. His putt from off the green, appeared to run just a couple feet by the cup when a gust of wind whipped the ball another five feet. Simpson missed that par putt and McDowell won the tournament. Players tried to time putts between gusts of wind but that's truly a guessing game.
Irish eyes: On a perplexing day to play golf, Graeme McDowell seemingly had the right answers. He is 10th on TOUR in hitting fairways this year and has a low penetrating ball flight, both great attributes in windy conditions. McDowell also has a short, compact putting stroke that is perfect when it blows. It was a frustratingly difficult day to play golf and yet the Ulsterman managed to keep smiling. He played 17 bogey-free holes on Sunday before missing a 13-footer on the 18th. McDowell led the tournament in scrambling this week. Attitude on the PGA TOUR often goes hand in hand with accomplishment.
Yardage: Yardage was all about commitment on Sunday. Players and caddies factored in the severity of the wind and the direction but it was the golfer’s responsibility to trust that number. It’s very difficult to say a shot is playing 200 yards but also trusting that number enough to hit an eight iron down wind. Players had to pick a number and trust the yardage enough to commit to that shot.
Scoring: Only two holes on the golf course played under par in the final round. The second and fifth holes, both par 5s, played to stroke averages of 4.63 and 4.89 respectively. Every other hole was over par with the 14th leading the way at nearly half stroke over par. There were 12 balls hit into the water at that 170-yard par 3. There was balanced scoring with three players, Jeff Maggert, Scott Brown and Casey Wittenberg, shooting 80 while only Luke Donald, Russell Henley and Graeme McDowell shot in the 60s. All three carded scores of 69.
Time: At 4:46 p.m., there were three important golf shots that took place, all in a 60 second span. Graeme McDowell made a long par putt at the 13th. One hole back, Charley Hoffman bogeyed the 12th while Webb Simpson made birdie. A birdie, a par and a bogey resulted in those three golfers creating a 3-way tie for the lead at 9 under.
Fashion: It was tough to keep everything in place during the final round. Hats were routinely blown off players’ heads and a chasing game ensued. Perhaps, Charley Hoffman was affected more than most. He wears his hair long in back and those golden strands kept blowing in the breeze and slapping against his neck. For future reference, on windy days, I suggest Hoffman consider gathering his long hair into a “bun” and follow the lead of the always-fashionable Marcel Siem who tucks his hair with a bobby pin.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.
Brian Gay was unstoppable at Harbour Town in 2009 and won by 10 shots. (Lecka/Getty Images)
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Insider
Not only was Brian Gay's 10-stroke romp at the 2009 RBC Heritage a seminal moment in the history of a proud tournament that began in 1969, but what he accomplished that week has served as a statistical turning point in the recent past.
His performance at Harbour Town that week was of Secretariat proportions. Fans of golf will never get tired of poring over Gay's splits that led to a tournament-record, 20-under 67-66-67-64=264. En route to one eagle and 20 birdies against just two bogeys, he led or co-led his field in proximity to the hole, strokes gained-putting, scrambling, par-4 scoring average and par-5 scoring average. He ranked second in both fairways hit and par-3 scoring average. Gay also finished two greens in regulation from co-leading in that stat as well; instead, he settled for T3. Adding to the perspective to how locked in he was, Luke Donald and Briny Baird recorded the second-highest aggregate (274) of any runners-up of the previous 11 editions.
None of the three champions since have come close to threatening Gay's historic week. Carl Pettersson's 14-under 270 last year is the lowest winning total of the lot. However, Pettersson, Jim Furyk (2010) and Brandt Snedeker (2011) have continued a trend in proficiency in proximity to the hole and par-4 scoring average, each finishing inside the top 10 in both. Pettersson ranked first in each. Furyk led his field in proximity and placed T2 in par-4 scoring; Snedeker ranked ninth in proximity and first in par-4 scoring.
By contrast, in the three years leading up to Gay's benchmark, none of the winners cracked the top 10 in proximity, and only two were inside the top 10 in par-4 scoring average (although neither led his field). Instead, Aaron Baddeley (2006) and Boo Weekley twice (2007, 2008) placed a respective first, T2 and T3 in par-5 scoring average, a category in which Furyk, Snedeker and Pettersson didn't sniff the top 20.
Harbour Town's greens are expected to be in great shape for the RBC Heritage. (Martin/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
When the time came to overseed Harbour Town Golf Links last fall, drought conditions in South Carolina’s Lowcountry made it a challenge for the winter grasses to take hold.
Now, though, they can’t push out the overseed fast enough.
The coldest March in some 70 years has made Harbour Town’s bermudagrass base slow to come out of dormancy, leaving players facing a mixed surface when they tee up at this week’s RBC Heritage.
“It’s not bad. There’s just a little more overseed out there than we’re accustomed to for this tournament,” said Bland Cooper, the PGA TOUR agronomist who oversees preparations at Harbour Town.
Cooper said the turf canopy remains in excellent shape, and maybe as good as ever on the greens. “There’s not one spot on any green that has the slightest blemish.”
Green speeds would provide the biggest concern. Plenty of poa trivialis remains on the putting surfaces, which grows at a rate that could slow the greens significantly as the day goes on.
Recent rains – the same showers that drenched the Masters final round dropped nearly an inch on Hilton Head Island – have a chance to make the speed disparity even greater. Cooper, though, was optimistic that Harbour Town will dry out enough by Thursday’s opening round to mitigate the issue.
“By tomorrow, we should be pretty close to where those surfaces should be,” he said.
After Harbour Town unveiled a series of changes last year to make the course longer, this edition finds only a few minor tweaks. The most noticeable change is the removal of a waste area left of the No. 2 fairway, replaced by a formal bunker that requires a 285-yard carry to clear.
Drainage issues also forced the green to be rebuilt at No. 1, though the design and contours remain the same. And a forward tee at the par-4 sixth was lowered to give pros a better view of the fairway from the new back tee that debuted last year.
Sunny skies are expected for the first two rounds, but a cold front that’s forecast to move through late Friday and early Saturday could change things for the weekend. Temperatures figure to drop from the mid-70s to perhaps the low 60s, and any moisture could bring the green speeds back to the forefront.
No. 18 at Harbour Town offers some of the best views of any hole on the PGA TOUR. (Martin/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
One of the PGA TOUR’s most iconic finishing backdrops came about largely through fortunate happenstance.
Oh, Harbour Town’s candy-striped lighthouse still would stand sentry over Calibogue Sound. But the original routing called for the 17th hole to pass by the lighthouse, with No. 18 headed back toward the clubhouse.
But that was before Harbour Town’s yacht basin was constructed. With nowhere to put the sediment gathered in the dredging process, the company responsible for the operation simply dumped it along the edge of the proposed golf course.
Before long, designer Pete Dye had enough land to not only build the par-3 17th, but reroute No. 18 to a finish framed by the lighthouse and marina.
“There’s no doubt the 18th is the signature for the resort and the island and the state,” said Cary Corbitt, director of sports and operations for Sea Pines Resort.
The hole, measuring 472 yards, isn’t just a pretty face. No. 18 frequently ranks behind only the par-3 14th as the toughest hole on the layout. Last year produced an easier test, with friendly breezes contributing to just 12 scores worse than bogey for the week.
More often, golfers will have to deal with shifting winds over the course of four days. Ernie Els tells the story of one year in which he played the 18th with a driver and 3-wood into the wind. A day later, he used the 3-wood off the tee and an 8-iron for his approach.
With marshland already to the left, a large bunker tends to nudge players even farther right with their drives. It also offers a better angle to the green, though the approach shot also will flirt with the marshland.
No. 18 has been a site of great drama, coming in a variety of forms.
Davis Love III captured the last of his five Heritage titles when he chipped in from right of the green in 2003. Five years later, Boo Weekley chipped in from the left. Greg Norman holed out from a back bunker on the way to his 1988 victory.
Two years ago, Brandt Snedeker drained a 12-foot birdie to force a playoff with Luke Donald. On their second playoff pass through No. 18, Donald’s chip hit the hole and skittered away, allowing Snedeker to win with a par.
One year earlier, the Heritage had likely its most bizarre finish when Brian Davis penalized himself into a playoff loss against Jim Furyk. The English pro ever-so-slightly nipped a loose reed on his backswing while trying a recovery from a marshy area.
Carl Pettersson hits his final tee shot en route to victory in 2012. (Martin/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
• COURSE: Harbour Town Golf Links, 7,101 yards, par 71. Jack Nicklaus’ first venture into course design, in collaboration with Pete Dye, is one of the shortest layouts on the PGA TOUR schedule but remains a timeless test. Narrow fairways and small greens combine to create a strategic challenge, requiring well-positioned shots to create birdie opportunities. Harbour Town’s iconic red-and-white lighthouse behind the 18th green still helps vessels navigate Calibogue Sound.
• FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
• CHARITY: The Heritage Classic Foundation, which has contributed more than $23 million to organizations in South Carolina and Georgia since its 1987 start. Recipients include the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry, the Child Abuse Prevention Association and the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic.
• FIELD WATCH: Former world No.1 Luke Donald and Brandt Snedeker, combatants in a 2011 playoff won by Snedeker, join defending champion Carl Pettersson in a field that gathers 10 of the top 25 in the world rankings. … British Open champion Ernie Els makes his 14th start at Harbour Town, still seeking his first victory on the island. He was runner-up to Boo Weekley in 2007. … Texas teen Jordan Spieth, who secured special temporary membership last month, tees it up for the fifth time in a seven-week stretch that began with his runner-up finish in Puerto Rico.
• 72-HOLE RECORD: 264, Brian Gay (2009).
• 18-HOLE RECORD: 61, David Frost (2nd round, 1994).
• LAST YEAR: Carl Pettersson cruised to a five-shot victory at Harbour Town, earning a fifth PGA TOUR victory that tied him with Jesper Parnevik for the most by a Swedish-born player. It also was Pettersson’s first as a U.S. citizen, having completed the naturalization process earlier in the year. Taking a one-stroke lead into the final round, Pettersson pulled away with three birdies in his first five holes on the way to a 2-under 69. Zach Johnson used a closing 70 to move past Colt Knost (74) for second. Donald tied for 37th, ceding his spot atop the world rankings back to Rory McIlroy.
• STORYLINES: Pettersson will attempt to become the RBC Heritage's fourth back-to-back winner, joining Payne Stewart (1989-90), Davis Love III (1991-92) and Weekley (2007-08). He bounced back from an opening 76 at the Masters with a 70 that put him above the cut line. … Two-time winner Stewart Cink arrives with new spring in his game. The former British Open champion tied for sixth at the Shell Houston Open in his last outing, two weeks after placing 14th at the Tampa Bay Championship. … Weekley returns to the site of his only two PGA TOUR wins, finally healthy again and only a month after a runner-up finish at Tampa Bay.
• SHORT CHIPS: Despite Harbour Town’s definitive lack of length, only 26 men in the event's 44-year history have managed to break 70 in all four rounds. You have to go back to 2010 to find the last to do it -- playoff foes Jim Furyk and Brian Davis in 2010. … … Davis Love III, a five-time Heritage champion, will miss the event for the second consecutive year. Last year's U.S. Ryder Cup captain continues to recover from neck surgery in early February. … No defending champion has missed the cut at Harbour Town since Love in 1993 – a run of 19 consecutive years.
• TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 3-6 p.m. EDT (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (CBS).
• RADIO: Thursday- Sunday, noon-6 p.m. EDT (SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio).