Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Thursday at the Heritage: Kuchar on top; Driver a proud pop; Volunteer sees past photo op

Posted 4/17/2014 5:03:00 PM

Matt Kuchar struggled in the final round of last week’s Masters after challenging winner Bubba Watson and runner-up Jordan Spieth, but the former Georgia Tech player found a sure cure for the post-major blues: a visit to Hilton Head and Harbour Town Golf Links.

Kuchar, whose 5-under par 66 Thursday put him atop the RBC Heritage, said the change of venue was just the ticket. “You have a couple of days to unwind after a major, and then you’ve got a chance to play another PGA Tour event – not just a PGA Tour event but the RBC Heritage classic at Harbour Town.

“It’s a fantastic venue, fantastic tournament. It’s pretty easy to get excited for this.”

The golf course obviously suited Kuchar’s game Thursday. But he said it’s more about the overall island experience rather than just a favored golf course.

“We love it,” he said. “We have some good friends of ours from Atlanta (who) have a home out towards South Beach, so we stay with them, really enjoy spending the week with them. We just feel like it’s a home away from home for us. The kids come and play on the beach, play in the pool.”

Kuchar, who lives not far away at Sea Island, Ga., knows the oceanfront lifestyle, and says it suits him. Hilton Head fits into that as well.

“It’s a nice, relaxed lifestyle. It reminds us of where we live at Sea Island, just a very family-friendly (life). To see families riding bikes ... you see all families doing a bunch of activities together. And we find ourselves doing sort of similar things, a lot of family activities together while we’re here.”

Sounds like just the place to put the disappointments and pressures of Augusta behind.

Driver is a proud papa

Carl Johnson Jr. is in his first year driving a media shuttle van at the RBC Heritage, ferrying reporters and others from their parking lot to the media center. And he was on the job Thursday – though few would’ve begrudged him if he’d called in sick.

Johnson, 27, became a father for the first time late Wednesday. Daughter Carly was 19.1 inches long and weighed in at seven pounds, four ounces, he said with a huge grin.

“I was going to cut the (umbilical) cord, but I kept having to wipe my eyes,” he said, “and they finally said, we can’t wait for you.”

Johnson, known around the Heritage as C.J., said he never considered not showing up for work. “Got to be here,” he said as he dropped off a busload of media. “It’s my job.”

Volunteer sees pros as they really are

Dave Pearsall, a Long Island native who moved to Hilton Head in 1994, is in his 18th year as an RBC Heritage volunteer. His first year, 1995, he helped run a U.S. Golf Association survey on putting, the forerunner of the PGA Tour’s current Shotlink system, which provides statistics on shot distances and other esoterica.

He then spent 12 years as chairman of volunteer shuttles, in charge of getting volunteers from a parking lot at Hilton Head Prep School to their jobs at Harbour Town Golf Links. These days, he’s assistant chairman.

That’s meant a lot of Aprils at Harbour Town – and a lot of memories.

“I remember late on a Saturday, (player) Lee Janzen was on the putting green with his little son – who’s now a big son, 10 years later,” Pearsall said. “They were having a putting contest, and the kid stopped one of Lee’s putts with his foot, and said, ‘You missed, Daddy.’”

He also recalled Brad Faxon, a longtime PGA Tour regular who played college golf at Furman, riding a bicycle with his two children in a trailer behind the bike. “They had their poles and were heading to the pond at (hole) No. 10,” Pearsall said.

But his favorite story is about Ernie Els and Vijay Singh walking to their cars one afternoon. “Vijay gets in his car, and Ernie ducked down behind another car,” Pearsall said. “As Vijay is driving out, Ernie jumps out and slaps the side of his card, hard. Vijay slams on brakes, and Ernie looks at me, grins and says, ‘Pretty good, huh?’

“That’s the great thing about this job. You get to see the players as people, up close.”

This and that

Lucky kids age 15 and younger can attend the RBC Heritage this weekend for free when accompanied by a ticketed adult. ... The official merchandise tent, which in previous years was located just outside the main spectator gate to the golf course near the clubhouse, is now located between the first and ninth fairways, in front of the Heritage Expo Village. ... The tournament has situated ATM machines where they’re most needed: at the merchandise tent, the RBC Fan Experience Tent near the 18th tee, and the Michelob Ultra 19th Hole located behind the 18th green.
 
 

Wednesday at the Heritage: Head Ball Coach, glory days and more

Posted 4/16/2014 10:06:00 PM

South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier participated in his 10th RBC Heritage Pro-Am on Wednesday, teaming with USC booster Joe Rice and Daniel Island-based PGA Tour player Russell Henley to shoot a 12-under par score.

“Hit the driver pretty good, but didn’t hit many greens,” the Gamecocks’ coach said afterward of his first competitive round of golf since his team completed spring drills on Saturday.

Greenville businessman Rick Vieth, Spurrier’s regular caddie, was more generous. “He hasn’t been playing lately, but he was right down the middle all day,” he said. “He’s so competitive. But we always have fun.”

Spurrier’s wife, Jerri, who laughingly said “I’ve been following him (around golf courses) for nearly 50 years,” added that her husband “hit some beautiful drives.”

Spurrier has participated in every Heritage pro-am since taking over at South Carolina in 2005. “After that many years, I’m going to get one of those jackets someday,” he said, referring to the traditional Tartan coat awarded RBC Heritage winners. “That’d look OK, I guess; a garnet Tartan, right?”

Reliving the glory days

A couple of veterans of past RBC Heritages are making returns to Harbour Town Golf Links this week. Both would love to show the form that won titles here, but mostly they figure to enjoy memories of those victories.

Nick Faldo, winner of six major championships (three Masters, three British Opens) and now top analyst for CBS-TV’s golf coverage, won his first PGA Tour on American soil 30 years ago in the 1984 Heritage. Tom Watson, winner of five British Opens and eight majors overall, won a pair of RBC Heritage Tartan coats in 1979 and 1982.

Faldo will pull double duty this weekend, working from the 18th-hole tower for CBS’s Saturday-Sunday coverage. Watson, as U.S. Ryder Cup captain, will use this week to build his knowledge base of potential team members.

“A few things (about Harbour Town) have changed in the last 30 years (but) I can’t think what,” Faldo joked Wednesday. “This was the first event I won in America, so I thought (playing this week) would be pretty cool.

“And I thought Hilton Head is in theory perfect for me. It’s through the trees (and) it’s dead flat. I pick the flat courses now because I’ve got dodgy ankles.”

Watson recounted how he first played the golf course in 1971 – though not the tournament itself. “They had five spots to qualify for on a Monday to get in the tournament. And I missed qualifying by a shot,” he said.

“I shot 72 (1-over par) on the Harbour Town course. I played a heck of a round. I couldn’t believe I didn’t qualify.”

Watson also recalled good times away from the golf course. “It’s a great environment and great party tournament,” he said. “I’ve been known to be at The Quarterdeck (a well-known bar that overlooks Harbour Town’s yacht anchorage) a few times. I remember I just had a lot of great memories here.”

Faldo, who plays only a few times a year these days, said he wasn’t concerned about his pay interfering with his TV duties – meaning he didn’t expect to make the cut for the final two rounds. If that happened, though ...

“Well, Jim (announcer Jim Nantz) likes talking,” he said, chuckling. “I won’t hold him back. He can cover for me until I run in.

“I’m sure there will be a plan, but we’ll worry about that Saturday morning. I’ll call Nantz and say, ‘Hey guess what?’”

Taking one for the team

Jordan Spieth, last week’s runner-up at the Masters, perhaps saw his RBC Heritage chances flash before his eyes before the tournament began. Playing the 18th hole during Wednesday’s pro-am, the 20-year-old Texan was standing off to the side in the fairway when one of his amateur playing partners shanked a shot, hitting Spieth in the back of his knee.

Asked if it was a minor injury, Spieth cracked: “I don’t know. I was looking for the Advil afterward.”
 
 

‘Spring Break’: PGA Tour departs Masters, heads for ‘decompression’ at RBC Heritage

Posted 4/14/2014 3:12:00 PM

Late Sunday, after the 78th Masters had anointed its latest member of the Green Jacket Club, nearly 40 percent of the field at Augusta National was en route to the perfect remedy for stressed-out PGA Tour players: a weekend at Hilton Head Island’s Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the RBC Heritage.

Since 1969, when “The King,” Arnold Palmer, kicked off a run of great champions at Harbour Town, the RBC Heritage has been a family-friendly getaway for professional golfers. During most of its history, the tournament’s dates have followed the Masters – the perfect counterpoint to each year’s first major championship.

Leading the pack on its 3-hour journey from Augusta to Hilton Head was defending RBC Heritage champion Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, who a year ago outlasted 2012 U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson in sudden death to claim the Heritage’s trademark plaid blazer. As are many of his compatriots, the Northern Ireland native (who now lives in Orlando) couldn’t wait to kick back at the scene of the highlight of his 2013 campaign.

But as much as a return to a course that he says he long believed fit his game and offered a chance at victory, McDowell anticipated a chance to bring the family and enjoy both a challenging Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus design and the pleasures awaiting them away from the competition. A year ago, a beachfront rental, runs along the beach and dinners in quiet, non-invasive local spots were the perfect backdrop for his winning performance, he says.

“Harbour Town ranks as one of the best (Tour stops) in cuisine, entertainment – it’s just a great environment for families,” he said recently. “The general hospitality, the food, all those are factors that enter into ranking (the tournament) highly.

“I just love the vibe of the tournament. It’s the week after a major where you go from the sort of massive cauldron of pressure … I really enjoy that unique kind of contrast in the atmosphere coming from Augusta to the beauty and relaxed environment of Hilton Head.”

It’s Hilton Head’s “relaxed environment,” in fact, that has lured a who’s-who of past champions over its four-decades-plus run, starting with Palmer and including Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Greg Norman, Payne Stewart and Davis Love III, and more recently luring such stars as Ernie Els, Luke Donald and Jason Day, not to mention 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzl and Open winners Simpson and McDowell.

This year’s RBC Heritage, in fact, will offer some of the best of both the present and the past, with some glances to the future. Two players with a combined five Masters victories (not to mention three Heritage titles) between them – Tom Watson and Sir Nick Faldo – will make rare PGA Tour appearances this week.

Talk about past and continuing star power: Watson, who captured the Heritage in 1979 and 1982, owns a pair of Masters among his eight majors titles, and nearly won his sixth Open Championship at age 59, is still deeply involved with the current game in his role as this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

Faldo, who won at Harbour Town in 1984 and captured the Masters in 1989-90 and 1996, will split time between the golf course and the CBS-TV booth, where he will join Jim Nantz in the network’s weekend coverage of the RBC Heritage. Faldo also is a past European Ryder Cup captain.

The tournament won’t lack for current wattage, either, with McDowell, Simpson and Schwartzl joined by other majors’ winners Vijay Singh, Stewart Cink and Jim Furyk. As for the superstars to come, the RBC Heritage can offer Day, Greenville native Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker and the hottest young players in Patrick Reed, Scott Brown and Jordan Speith, the 20-year-old wunderkind at this past weekend’s Masters.

It all adds up to a special week of golf – and fun – at Sea Pines Resort, home of Harbour Town. It’s the perfect way to follow up the excitement and tension of the Masters, with great players, a golf course rated just behind Augusta National by PGA Tour players in a 2013 poll, and an island resort second to none. For ticket information, visit www.rbcheritage.com, or call (843) 671-2448.
 
 

To be a VIP: Web.com Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am picking fans for ‘star treatment’

Posted 4/8/2014 12:02:00 PM

The BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation is looking for candidates to enjoy the 2014 Web.com Tour tournament as Very Important Persons.

Deserving families and individuals will be selected for the tournament’s new “VIP Experience” when the event is staged May 15-18 at three Upstate golf courses, according to Darin McDonald, executive director of South Carolina Charities, Inc., the tournament’s beneficiary. “The goal of this program is to brighten someone’s day – to give back to those who truly deserve it,” McDonald says.

“Whether the winner has battled illness or just returned from (military) deployment, we’re researching for individuals with unique stories who are in need of a day of relaxation,” he says.

Winners will be picked up on their special day by a chauffeured BMW and brought to Thornblade Club in Greenville, where they will receive complimentary breakfast and lunch as well as VIP seating at the 18th green in the Kentwool Skybox Club. Beverages in the skybox also will be part of the service.

Anyone interested in nominating a worthy person, or applying for themselves, can visit www.bmwcharitygolf.com to download an application. Completed forms must be emailed to BMWVIP@sccharities.org by April 15.

In addition to Thornblade, the four-day pro-am tournament, modeled on the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pro-Am, will be played at Greenville’s Green Valley and The Reserve at Lake Keowee in Sunset. For more information, email to BMWVIP@sccharities.org, or call (864) 297-1660.
 
 

Hall of Famers: Tom Watson, Sir Nick Faldo playing in 2014 RBC Heritage

Posted 4/8/2014 11:52:00 AM

Tiger Woods won’t be at this year’s Masters, but two of his predecessors at No. 1 in the world of professional golf – both now members of the World Golf Hall of Fame – are returning to Harbour Town Golf Links, site of some of their early victories, for this year’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

Eight-time major champion Tom Watson and six-time major winner Sir Nick Faldo have committed to playing in South Carolina’s lone annual PGA Tour event when it takes place April 14-20 on Hilton Head Island. Watson, who won the RBC Heritage twice, in 1979 and again in 1982, is back in the news as captain of this year’s Ryder Cup, his second tour of duty in that role. Faldo has been a regular at the RBC Heritage in recent years – but in the CBS-TV booth as 18th-hole analyst, not a competitor.

RBC Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot, whose lengthy tenure with the tournament didn’t begin until after the Watson-Faldo heyday, said he can’t wait to see the duo in action. “These past champions have been household names for 40 years,” he said. “Their memorable moments at Harbour Town have enriched our tournament’s history.”

Watson, who won five British Opens (39 PGA Tour titles overall) and nearly claimed a record-tying sixth at age 59, beat Ed Sneed in ’79 for his first Heritage Tartan Jacket, finishing 18-under par, and won a three-hole playoff over Frank Conner three years later. This will be the 24th start at the RBC Heritage for the 1988 Hall of Fame inductee..

Faldo, who won nine times on the PGA Tour including three Masters and three Open Championships, posted his first Tour victory by winning the 1984 Heritage. His 18-under total topped Tom Kite by a shot. Knighted in 2009, he has worked for CBS since 2006 as lead analyst. His only other tournament competition before this year’s Heritage has been at the Open Championship, so this will be his post-2006 “debut” on U.S. soil.

Tickets (daily and tournament badges) are on sale online at www.rbcheritage.com, or by phone at (843) 671-2448.