After a pressure-packed, drama-filled week at Augusta, a much more relaxed atmosphere awaits the PGA Tour this week at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C.
The event, which traditionally follows The Masters, does not have the strongest field, but it does not lack in history or tradition.
The tournament is about as tradition-filled as any non-major on the schedule. The winner is awarded a plaid jacket and the returning champion kicks off the week’s festivities with a ceremonial tee shot into the Calibogue Sound accompanied by a cannon and fly-over.
The scenic views of the Calibogue Sound provide tremendous backdrop on the final two holes and the iconic lighthouse are as much apart of the DNA of the event as the course.
While Augusta is long and wide open, Harbor Town is the antithesis this week with its tight fairways and landing spaces
Harbor Town is one of the shortest courses on the PGA Tour, but that does not diminish its challenges. The track’s biggest defense are its narrow fairways and small greens. If a player is wayward off the tee, they can find themselves in jail amongst the Carolina pines.
The most iconic holes at Harbor Town are 17 and 18.
After most of the course is nestled amongst the pines, the final two holes open up to the shore and the wind plays a much larger factor.
The par-3 17th is a long par-3 with a small green and bunkers and a water hazard short and left. The wind off the sound is often a factor on this hole and in the final round of 2007, players were actually hitting drivers to reach the green because the wind was so severe before plays was called.
The 18th is one of the most iconic holes on the PGA Tour. The drive is to a mostly blind fairway from the tee, but the landing area is huge. There is out of bounds right and water left, but if a players misses this fairway, they really fucked up.
If the player hits the drive too long, the ball could go in the marsh, but there is no reason to be overly-aggressive off the tee.
The biggest challenge comes with the players approach shot to a green that pitches front-to-back. The green is long and narrow with a bunker short and long, hazard left and a chipping area right. Players often bailout right with a doable up-and-down.
Good putters often excel at Harbor Town. There is less of a premium placed on driving distance and because the greens are so small, if a player is able to hit the putting surface, they have a reasonable look at birdie. The greens are also generally flat and a bit slower, which allows players to be aggressive with the putter.
Like every tournament, conditions effect the winning score. The winning number has run the gamut in the event’s history. Brian Gay finished at 20-under and won by ten strokes in 2009, but if the wind kicks up, seven or eight-under par is often good enough to win
Last Year’s Event:
Brendan Grace fired a final round 66 last year to clinch a two-shot victory over Luke Donald and Russell Knox in his first PGA Tour win.
Most Memorable Moment(s):
If there is one player that has owned this event through the years, it is Davis Love III. The veteran won The Heritage a record five times with his most famous victory coming in his final win in 2003. Love III defeated Woody Austin in playoff, but his chip-in to force the playoff is what people remember.
Another memorable moment came at the 2007 event. Inclement weather forced a Monday finish in blustery conditions. Boo Weekley was able to hold off a hard-charging Ernie Els by chipping in on the final two holes to earn the victory.
Aaron Baddeley: Baddeley fits the profile of a strong putter who has had success at Harbor Town. The Aussie won the event in 2006 and while he can be wild off the tee, he is often a fixture on the leaderboard and should contend this week.
This seems like as good a time as any to insert a story about Baddeley.
My father and I attended the 2002 Kemper Open. The event was riddled with weather delays and at one point, I saw the Baddeley’s group was coming up and wanted to follow them for a couple of holes. This was when both Baddeley and Adam Scott were thought to take the place of Greg Norman as the face of Austrailian golf, but neither was that well-known in the US yet.
Long story short, my dad roles his eyes when I asked to follow this no-name to him and asks, “why are we going to follow this stiff?”
Sure enough, Baddeley jars a hole-in-one on the very first shot we see him hit. Suffice it to say, we followed his group for a bit after that.
Otter Room Pick:
Luke Donald (-11): Donald nearly won the event last year before Grace came from behind in the final round. Like Baddeley, Donald fits the build of a player who excels at Harbor Town – he is precise with his wedges, a strong putter, and keeps the ball in play.
Although the former No. 1 in the world has never won at The Heritage, he has finished runner-up four times, including falling to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff in 2010. No matter his form, Donald plays well at Harbor Town and expect him to finally break through this week.
Stay tuned to The Otter Room this weekend for complete coverage of the RBC Heritage.