Behold the Carolina SwingThanks to scheduling quirks, RBC Heritage begins a big run for South, North Carolina
April 15, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Welcome to the Carolina Swing. No, it does not pay taxes or have a passport, so you’ll find no proof of existence, but rest assured it’s a real thing.
Well, it is this year, anyway.
Thanks to the vagaries of the pandemic, and scheduling, this week’s RBC Heritage presented by Boeing marks the start of a nine-week stretch with four tournaments in the Carolinas.
“Yeah, I love it,” said Charlotte resident and defending Heritage champ Webb Simpson, who shot 71 Thursday. “I'm going to be home it looks like for seven of the next nine weeks maybe after this week. It's a nice part of the year for me. I love driving to tournaments.”
After temporarily moving to June last year due to the pandemic, the Heritage returns to its customary April date this year. From here, the PGA TOUR will hop over to New Orleans and then Tampa, then circle back to Charlotte for the Wells Fargo Championship, May 6-9.
Two weeks later: the PGA at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, May 20-23. Then comes the stop-gap Palmetto Championship at Congaree, also in South Carolina, which will occupy June 10-13.
No wonder the Carolinians are in such a good mood this week.
Said Kevin Kisner, who is from Aiken, a three-hour drive from Hilton Head, “It's going to really help on my airfare bills for the year that I get to drive to multiple tournaments, and I'm excited.”
He shot 72 in the first round Thursday, while fellow Aiken pro Matthew NeSmith carded a 3-under 68. Stewart Cink shot 63 to take the lead until Cameron Smith shot 62 in the windier afternoon conditions. While not technically from here, Cink did win the 2000 and 2004 Heritage.
So, yeah, he’s kind of an honorary South Carolinian.
As for Smith, he’s from Australia but lives in Jacksonville, Florida, some three and a half hours south down I-95, which is also close enough to be almost, sort of, semi-local.
Who leads the race for low Carolinian? That would be Harold Varner III, who earlier this week announced his foundation’s expanded commitment to Youth on Course, which helps make golf available to kids of diverse backgrounds. He shot a bogey-free 66.
Two things are motivating Varner: his low FedExCup number (105th in the standings) and the fact that he’ll be playing for the home fans at the Wells Fargo in just three weeks.
“Just want to give myself – you know, just it's my major, I guess, for me,” said Varner, who with wife Amanda is anticipating the birth of their first child, a boy, Harold Varner IV, in October. “In a selfish way I want to play well in front of the home crowd at the Wells Fargo.
“I think we need to get going a little bit here,” he added.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who grew up in Columbia and played for Coastal Carolina University – but lives in Jupiter, Florida – double-bogeyed the fourth hole on the way to a 1-under 70. Russell Henley, of Kiawah Island, shot 69. Will Zalatoris, a product of Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, N.C.) shot 68 despite fighting post-Masters fatigue.
As with Varner, Lucas Glover, who opened with a 4-under 67, is playing for a higher cause this week. Technically a resident of neither South nor North Carolina – he plays out of Tequesta, Florida – Glover was born in Greenville, South Carolina, and went to Clemson. He is playing this week in part to help spruce up a down-on-its-luck course called Sergeant Jasper Golf Club, an hour west of here in Jasper County, SC. The Sarge, as it is known locally, was acquired by Congaree Foundation this year and is being revamped to provide a quality home for local high school teams and area golfers. The initiative enlists players to pledge $100 per birdie and $500 per eagle.
Glover’s birdies added up to $600 to help “recharge the Sarge.”
“We've re-branded it and a handful of guys have joined me this week,” he said. “There is a lot of history there. Just trying to get them to where they can water the golf course appropriately.”
Fans enjoyed the warm, occasionally blustery weather as they sipped from plaid beer koozies and wore plaid face masks. It felt normal. “I always look forward to Hilton Head for the obvious reasons with the beaches,” Simpson said. “My family comes. It's a laid-back feel.
“But it seems like I'm getting a little more of that coming up here,” he added.
Indeed, the wins will keep coming for the Carolinas. Simpson played the PGA at Kiawah in '12, and loves the course. Kisner is an ambassador for Congaree and is excited to show it off.
Both continue to save a bundle on airfare. “It is a nice feeling,” Simpson said, “knowing I don't think I'm getting on an airplane until maybe U.S. Open.” And that’s not even counting the regular season-ending Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., set for Aug. 12-15.
We’ll have to wait and see who wins the FedExCup, but in the 2020-21 season, the Carolinas and all who live there have already won.