One of the PGA Tour’s mainstay events reaches a milestone this week, as the RBC Heritage celebrates its 50th year of competition. An intriguing field led by world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and six additional players from the top 25 of the Official World Golf Rankings will vie for the tournament’s signature plaid champion’s jacket.
Perhaps the most prominent visual associated with the Heritage, the striped Hilton Head harbor lighthouse, will even be clad in plaid to celebrate this week’s golden anniversary.
After the wide-open spaces of Augusta National in the previous week, the Harbour Town course Pete Dye created as one of the landmark designs of his career when it opened in 1969 has always tested the Heritage fields with one of the tightest designs on tour, demanding precision shot-making at almost every turn.
As part of the anniversary, Harbour Town has this winter christened a Pete Dye Room in its clubhouse.
At a cost of more than $1 million, the new facility is open to the public and pays homage to the legacy of the now 92-year-old designer and his partner, wife Alice Dye, in their careers that have made them one of the most influential forces in shaping the direction of golf in the last half-century.
Here’s more on what to expect at this year’s RBC Heritage.
Tournament: RBC Heritage
Dates: April 12-15, 2018
Where: Hilton Head Island, SC
Course: Harbour Town Golf Links
Distance: Par 71, 7099 yards
Architect: Pete Dye
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,206,000
Defending Champion: Wesley Bryan
Marquee Players: Bryan, Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Marc Leishman, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner, Branden Grace, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker.
TV AND ONLINE
Round 1: Thu 3-6:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 2: Fri 3-6:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 3: Sat 1-2:45 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (CBS)
Round 4: Sun 1-2:45 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (CBS)
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Most years since 1983, the RBC Heritage has been the first event of the post-Masters season. As a result, a number of the higher-ranked players pass on this tournament, needing a break from arduous Masters prep, but it still typically draws a good field, particularly with its status as an invitational (smaller field, better money, better exemptions, etc).
Harbour Town Golf Links, an incredible Pete Dye design, with help from Jack Nicklaus, has been hosting the tournament since its inception in 1969.
The inaugural event was somewhat overshadowed by the Vietnam War draft lottery, which took place the day after the tournament ended, but it was thrilling four days, with one of the all-time greats, Arnold Palmer, winning by three strokes.
Other winners of the RBC Heritage include Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Payne Stewart, and Greg Norman. Davis Love III leads the tournament in wins with five, most recently in 2003. The only other player with more than two is Hale Irwin, whose three victories include the first (1971) and last (1994) wins of his illustrious career.
2012-18: RBC Heritage
2011: The Heritage
2006-10: Verizon Heritage
2003-05: MCI Heritage
2001-02: WorldCom Classic — The Heritage of Golf
1995-2000: MCI Classic
1987-94: MCI Heritage Golf Classic
1980-86: Sea Pines Heritage
1979: Sea Pines Heritage Classic
1977-1978: Heritage Classic
1971-76: Sea Pines Heritage Classic
1969-70: Heritage Golf Classic
2017: Wesley Bryan (-13)
2016: Branden Grace (-9)
2015: Jim Furynk (-18)
2014: Matt Kuchar (-11)
2013: Graeme McDowell (-9)
2012: Carl Pettersson (-14)
2011: Brandt Snedeker (-12)
Scoring: 264 (-20) Brian Gay, 2009
Wins: 5 – Davis Love III (1987, 1991-92, 1998, 2003)
In one of the more unlikely stories of the 2017 season, former Internet trick-shot celebrity and native South Carolinian Wesley Bryan emerged from a crowded leaderboard with a 4-under 67 to win the RBC Heritage title as a rookie in only his 18th start on the PGA Tour.
Bryan became the first South Carolinian to win the event in its 49-year history. He started his final round four shots off the lead, but his Sunday effort was just good enough to edge out four other players who all finished within two shots of his total, including hard-luck runner-up Luke Donald. Donald has finished in the top three at Hilton Head seven times, including a remarkable five second-place finishes, without yet earning the plaid jacket that goes to the winner.
FINAL TOP 5
1 Wesley Bryan -13
2 Luke Donald -12
3 Patrick Cantlay -11
3 Ollie Schneiderjans -11
3 William McGirt -11
Storylines for this year’s event got a huge boost in February, when world No. 1 and Columbia, S.C., native Dustin Johnson announced he would play the RBC Heritage for the first time since 2009. Coming off a top-10 showing at The Masters, DJ has to be considered a solid favorite in a field where the next highest-ranked player is world No. 13 Paul Casey.
However, one of Johnson’s major strengths is his ability to crush the ball of the tee. Harbour Town offers few holes that reward such an approach. With its small greens, though, precise wedge play is also crucial, and much improved wedge play has been one of the main factors that helped DJ rise to the top of the golfing world in the last two years.
Besides DJ and Casey, other world top 25s in the field include No. 16 Marc Leishman, No. 18 Tyrrell Hatton, No. 21 Matt Kuchar, No. 23 Brian Harman and No. 25 Kevin Kisner.
Defending champ Wesley Bryan has had his struggles of late, missing his last four cuts and ranking just No. 150 in this year’s FedEx Cup race. Could this be the year for perennial Heritage bridesmaid Luke Donald, he of the five-time runner-up finishes in 12 starts, including three times in the last four years? His history on the course would suggest he should be a factor, but his recent form has also been way off, as the now 40-year-old has managed to make just three cuts in eight starts this season.
Players who are coming in off strong Masters’ showings besides Johnson include Australians Cameron Smith, who tied for fifth on the strength of a Sunday round of 66, and Leishman, who was in second place after two rounds before playing the weekend in 1-over par to finish ninth.
Casey had a tentative start, making the Augusta cut on the number after opening with 74-75, but he heated up with a 69 on Saturday and got downright torrid on Sunday, going 6-under over a five-hole stretch on the second nine and flirting with the all-time single-round Masters scoring record before bogeys on his two final holes nudged his score up to a 65.
The two playoff participants from the Houston Open of two weeks ago, Ian Poulter and Beau Hossler, will both play this week.
One intriguing name from the past in the field is Steve Scott, now a club pro who earned the spot in the field that goes to the winner of a March event for the Carolinas PGA section. Long-time fans will remember Scott being in the national spotlight in 1996, facing Tiger Woods in the finals of the U.S. Amateur as Woods hunted for his third straight U.S. Am title. The 19-year-old Scott played brilliantly over the first 20 holes of the 36-hole final, putting Woods into a five-hole deficit in a match televised on NBC that for many fans helped launch the Tiger legend. Scott shot a solid 2-under par 70 over the final 18, but Woods produced a 65, forcing the match to extra holes, where Tiger won on the 38th hole. It will be Scott’s first Tour appearance since the 2005 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Credits: Tour Media, Getty Images