Bob Gillespie



Heritage Wednesday: Spurrier coaches and S.C. players eye chance at home state win

Posted 4/17/2013 9:34:00 PM

Pairings for Wednesday’s RBC Heritage Pro-Am were determined by a blind draw on Tuesday; so say tournament officials. So it was totally by chance that South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, a golf fanatic and regular pro-am participant, was paired with John Daly, he of the cigarette habit, outrageous golf pants and two major championships.

Joining the high-profile duo were attorney Joe Rice, owner of Bulls Bay Golf Club near Charleston and a long-time USC sports donor, Columbia businessman Chip Prezioso and Ned Castleberry from Georgia. The group, playing Harbour Town’s back nine first, finished at 14-under par, three shots behind Graeme McDowell’s team at 17-under.

“Chip played super, made eight birdies,” Spurrier said. “And John played well, too.” The Gamecocks’ Head Ball Coach was less enthused about his own game. “Three pars; didn’t play worth a crap,” he said. “I’m not playing well enough to have fun, but it was good company.”

Prezioso credited Spurrier for – surprise – coaching. “He’s taught me about competing, (how to) keep going,” he said. “He turns 68 on April 21, so he’s a geezer. But he’s as positive as I’ve seen him.”

At the 18th hole, Spurrier urged on his team. “All right, Chippy, hit it out there,” he shouted, then added for the gallery, “He ought to be back there (on the pro tees) with John.” To which Daly retorted, “Heck, I ought to be up here with y’all, the way I’m playing.”

Tommy's turn: When Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey missed a sudden-death playoff for the 2011 RBC Heritage title by a single shot, the Bishopville native came as close as any South Carolina-born player ever has to winning the state’s lone annual PGA Tour event.

Gainey, a winner at last year’s McGladrey Classic, hasn’t given up on that ambition – “What’s better than winning in your home state?” he asks – and he’s not alone there. This week, nine players in the field have S.C. connections, and all would love to add a winner’s plaid jacket to their wardrobes.

“There’s a percentage of players from South Carolina (in the field), and we’re all guys who love playing here,” said former Columbia resident and Clemson All-American Jonathan Byrd, whose best finish at Harbour Town Golf Links is a tie for 16th in 2004. “It takes a certain type player to win here. You’ve got to plug away, keep it in play (within Harbour Town’s notoriously tight confines) and have some good ball-striking.”

Though he hails from Gig Harbor, Wash., former Clemson All-American Kyle Stanley considers himself a local, with good reason. Stanley, winner of the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open, grew up regularly visiting his grandparents on Hilton Head Island, and won the Junior Heritage tournament “light-years ago,” he said. Until last year, he owned a home in Bluffton’s Berkeley Hall before relocating to Seattle.

“We have good players from South Carolina, and it’d be kind of cool if one of us could break through,” the 25-year-old said. “It’s a great golf course, one of those where you have to be smart, plot your way around and give self opportunities to make putts.”

Heritage Week, Stanley says, “is a special time for me, having lived in Bluffton for three years, plus my grandparents are buried about a mile from here. This is kind of like a fifth major to me.”

It’s more than state pride that gives the S.C. guys a chance, though. Byrd points out that several of those players are already PGA Tour winners. Besides Gainey and Stanley, Byrd has five career victories; former Clemson teammate Lucas Glover won the 2009 U.S. Open and the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte; and Greenville’s Bill Haas won the $10 million FedEx Cup championship in 2011.

More recently, North Augusta’s Scott Brown, a former NCAA Division II All-American at USC Aiken, won this year’s Puerto Rico Open. Others with state ties include former Wofford star William McGirt and Haig Point professional Matt Bova, winner of a Carolinas PGA Section spot.

“If I had to pick someone besides me,” said Byrd, still playing his way back from off-season wrist surgery, “I think Lucas is hitting it well. I heard from Mo (Pickens, a performance coach for both players) that his ball-striking is right on target, and he played well (at the Masters). He wasn’t putting as well, but you come to this golf course with its smaller greens, you’ve got easier putts. So this might be his week.”

Byrd also likes what he’s seen of Brown (“he’s got a tidy game”), and then there’s Haas, whose parents, Champions Tour veteran Jay Haas and wife Jan, met at the RBC Heritage in the 1970s. Though his best finish at Harbour Town is a tie for 27th in 2006, “I like Bill’s game anywhere,” Byrd said.

“He hits it straight, and he always seems right in contention.” Jay Haas, by the way, played every Heritage from 1977-2006, finishing in the top 10 three times with a best of fifth in 1986.

Brown, playing in his first RBC Heritage, says he takes the same “fifth major” approach to this tournament. “I think you do feel that way, because a lot of fans here follow the South Carolina guys, and being from here, you get a lot of support, which is pretty neat,” he said.

One player who’s still new to that mindset is Russell Henley, a Georgia native and former Bulldogs golfer who recently moved to Daniel Island, near Charleston. But the 2013 Sony Open winner says he understands the “home state” sentiment – and wouldn’t mind being included in that group.

“Absolutely,” he said when asked if a S.C. golfer can win this week. “We’re all out here for a reason. I think everyone who’s here can play, but especially those (S.C.) guys have got a lot of experience here. I think this place, you’ve got to know where to hit it, have course management, so all those guys are in good shape.”

Give one of them a victory on Sunday, and it’d be historic.

Flyover, Part II: A highlight of the 2012 RBC Heritage, the first sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing, was a fly-over of the 18th fairway by a Boeing 787 passenger jet, similar to those being manufactured in Charleston. This year, issues with the planes will prevent a repeat, but the aircraft giant will still have a presence.

On Friday at 2 p.m., during the second round of the tournament, a Boeing 747-8 Freighter will follow the same flight pattern, roaring down the 18th fairway before turning out above Calibogue Sound and then Hilton Head Island – this, pending final flight certificates and clear weather.

“Friday’s fly-over at the RBC Heritage will provide spectators with a unique opportunity to see Boeing’s newest 747-8 airplane up close and personal as it makes two low-altitude passes along the 18th fairway,” said Jack Jones, Boeing South Carolina vice president and general manager. “Boeing is proud to showcase our iconic wide-body airplane at the RBC Heritage, one of the most exciting PGA TOUR events of the season.”

The new model of the 747 line – like the 787 – features quieter engines than past 747s as well as lower emissions and better fuel economy, Jones said. The plane Friday will be the eighth 747-8 delivered to freight line Cargolux. Last year, the 787 was so quiet that many spectators didn’t realize it was there until almost directly overhead.

“We could not be happier about continuing to grow our partnership with Boeing in 2013,” said RBC Heritage Tournament Director Steve Wilmot, whose father was an airline pilot, and who took special delight in the over-flight. “People are still talking about seeing the 787 climb out in the sky over the green last year.”

On guard: Expectations were for increased security at the RBC Heritage after Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon. But security officials at the tournament declined to discuss any additional measures.

Cary Kelley of Sea Pines Security issued a statement on the matter. “While we do not comment specifically on security measures,” it read, “we continually work with our security advisors from the (PGA) Tour and law enforcement to improve upon and implement procedures that ensure the safety of our fans, athletes and volunteers and we will continue to do so.”