By Dan Reardon
On the PGA Tour, the weekly stops are sorted by name. There are Invitationals, Opens, Championships, one Tournament (The Masters) and Classics. Since ‘classic’ is a subjective description, events get a fair bit of latitude in its usage.
This week on the PGA Tour, the RBC Heritage Classic owns the term. First held in 1969, the event, played for all 47 years on the Pete Dye-designed Harbour Town Golf Links, secured its place on the Tour in 2012 when RBC stepped in as its title sponsor.
With its seascapes, opening cannon, signature lighthouse and winner’s tartan jacket, the personality of the Heritage is a visual delight. But for the players it is singularly different because of the golf course.
Harbour Town, at just over 7100 yards, is almost quaint in today’s world of 350-yard drives and 7600-yard monsters. World # 1 Jason Day returns to the event this year and talked about the course’s ability to level the playing field. “Obviously it’s always fun to come back to this place because we are just so used to long golf courses, where you have to hit driver all the time. And this golf course doesn’t necessarily take a driver out of your hands, but it makes you hit pretty much where everyone else is hitting the golf ball. And from there it’s positioning on the right side of the fairways and if you do that you get to the greens and hopefully make a par.”
The roster of players who have succeeded on Hilton Head Island is a short walk through golf’s Hall of Fame with winners like Palmer, Nicklaus, Irwin, Miller, Watson and Faldo on the trophy. A likely future Hall of Fame inductee, and two-time winner at the Heritage, 2015 Champion Jim Furyk will not be in the field. He is still recovering from off-season surgery.
Ian Baker-Finch first came to Harbour Town in 1985 as a player and has returned in recent years as a CBS Sports golf analyst. The 1991 Open Champion is a fan of the course. “I love the course,” he said. “It gives a greater cross-section of players a chance. I like the small greens and the exacting [demands] it places on the drives.” Baker-Finch weighed in on this year’s edition of the RBC Heritage.
If you were building a golfer with the game to succeed on a regular basis at Harbour Town, how would you rank the skills needed.
I think the ideal player at Harbour Town is one who drives the ball in play, is a very good, patient iron player and one who is good around the greens, an exceptional chipper. You’re going to miss a lot of greens, because the greens are so small. (Note: The greens have been redone this year, and early reviews say they are difficult to hold.) So it’s a different type of player who plays best at Harbour Town as opposed to the Tour norm.
World #1 Jason Day is back in the field this year. As one of the best and longest drivers on Tour, is a course like Harbour Town kryptonite for his game.
I think Jason Day will do fine because he played well last week. But he didn’t really contend over the closing stages, so he will be in such a relaxed frame of mind this week. All of the guys worked so hard leading into last week and so hard during the week that this week, as I enjoyed about playing here, is almost like a breath of fresh air, a relaxation time.
I don’t think Jason relies so much on his length, as much as it is a huge asset. I don’t think it means he can’t win on a golf course like this. I just think he will use his three-wood and three-iron on a golf course like this. I think Jason is one of the great chippers in the game. Yes, he has a great long game, but what he does with his short game should be good this week as well.
If you were playing fantasy golf and putting together a group of players for this week, who would you put on your team?
I think players who have performed well here in the past. I’d pick Matt Kuchar. I’d pick Zach Johnson. I’d pick guys who are straight hitters, great strategic style players who keep the ball in play at all times and are good around the greens. Someone like Jason Dufner, even though he is not a great putter, he is really good at all those other aspects. So if he is having a good ball-striking week, Jason Dufner could do well here.
You have seen most of the players through the first quarter of 2016. Who are a couple of players who you think have gone a little unnoticed and this week might be this tournament’s Smylie Kaufman?
You know someone who really goes unnoticed and is a really good player is Kevin Na. I think Kevin Na is a heck of player. Someone like Luke Donald might have a good week. He’s been under the radar for a long time, but he really fits that mold. Charley Hoffman is someone who has been playing really well and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
If you add to that list someone like Bryson DeChambeau who says “Here I am, world, and here I am as a pro.” Another guy is Matthew Fitzpatrick, the fellow from England, another Englishman who is playing so well. I think he is someone who is unnoticed, who could stand out.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.