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Weekly Briefing: Heritage

As is tradition, the tour decamps from the pressurized cauldron of Augusta to the laid back detoxifying environs of Hilton Head. I look forward to this event every year for a variety of reasons: the course is an interesting change of pace, it’s a short drive, the field is always eclectic, and the setup on-site is always conducive to watching a lot of golf (which isn’t always the case at tour events). Beyond all of that, the tournament engenders some nostalgia and harkens back to how I imagine the tour was back before it became big business. Low-key atmosphere without the typical security and seriousness, a cozy course, most of the field standing a chance to actually win, and a polite conviviality among both fans and players. More on this from the 2014 preview.

As noted in the memories below, the Heritage has played an outsized role in the development of No Laying Up, which is somewhat ironic considering that it’s a safe haven for #LPCP tacticians. Randy’s attended the tournament the most, having been a near-annual participant since his formative years. I started going in 2006 and have been attending off and on ever since. Neil and Soly both made an appearance in 2014, when we recorded the first NLU podcast on Saturday night while I munched on chips and shat all over Kuchar, who proceeded to shoot 64 the next day to win.

We’ve been through lean years: 2009 when Brian Gay prevailed by ten strokes (!!!) over Luke Donald and Briny Baird; 2012 saw #HotCarl Pettersson win by five over Zach Johnson. We’ve seen fascinating triumph: Graeme McDowell’s win in 2013 in some of the windiest conditions springs immediately to mind. And we’ve endured heartbreaking defeat: the 2010 Woody Austin catastrophe is detailed in the “Memories” section below. Through it all, there’s been one  constant Luke Donald playing well no matter what. LD never misses the cut, usually finishes second (five times a bridesmaid), and lately has relied upon Harbour Town to lock up his card for the following season.

A sampling of last year’s scene.

Memories

Neil: This was the first golf tournament I really ‘attended,’ and by that I mean following a group for 18 holes (in this case PXG Staff Sergeant Major Billy Horschel and the ghost of Trevor Immelman) on a Friday while they grinded for a cut. It was eye opening to see these guys play when very little attention was coming there way, and it was an eye opening experience taking a 4+ hour walk with a group that you could feel wondering why are these guys following us right now, we are playing shitty. I really enjoyed the experience and Harbor Town has so many tricky iron shots from both the tees and fairways that it was a very interesting day. Harbour Town is also the site of the first NLU podcast…that’s wild man!

Randy: Lots of fond memories of Harbour Town! Remember way back when it was still the MCI, and I was a young buck, I loved going up to Harbour Town and playing around amongst the fan experience area. More recently I appreciate it for being a great walk, a laid back atmosphere, and a course which forces interesting play. I love cruising my bike to various side streets around Sea Pines and taking advantage of numerous entry points (which may or may not even require a badge). The whole thing is a big Clemson/USC reunion weekend on the Island, so there’s a party vibe about it, but it’s also a tournament you can easily follow just about any group you wish and get really close to some cool Pete Dye routing and features. And of course, the best tradition Tron and I have now whenever we make it is to hit the hibachi grill in the evening after play. A cherry on top of wonderful days of golf.

DJ: I had watched the Hilton Head event on TV for years before it really clicked how much I enjoyed it. Players and media trip over themselves to talk about how great the golf course is and, as a telecast viewer, that doesn’t always shine through. I don’t think it was until I experienced the event as a fan – walking the course, seeing how different shots are demanded at different times throughout the round, soaking up the criminally chill vibe that surrounds the event, drinking cactus lime Mick Ultra’s – that it really made sense to me. It’s so different than what we see week-to-week on Tour and feels like a real throwback to what the Tour used to be like. The galleries are a little smaller and more intimate. The style of play seems more creative and you see a much different group of guys who can compete. If you ever get the chance to attend in person, make sure to do it, because on TV many of the holes can just run together.

 

Tron: I recall the 2010 Verizon Heritage like it was yesterday. Woody Austin started the day in third place, and was right in the mix as he made the turn at -10, four strokes back of Jim Furyk. Being huge fans of Woody and his everyman persona we took it upon ourselves to follow his group for the entirety of the back nine to try to bring some good energy. He proceeded to finish in a tie for 22nd place after shooting five over par on the back, including a quad on the 72nd hole. The two of us stood beside the walkway from the 18th green to the clubhouse drunken and devastated while Furyk battled the erstwhile Englishman Brian  Davis in a sudden-death playoff. Minutes later, Furyk appeared wearing the tartan jacket bestowed upon the winner, at which point Randy and I sternly (but politely!) informed him that jacket belonged to Woody and he should think long and hard about what he’d done. Fury, went on to win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup later that season, aided in part by Woody’s collapse.

Unrelated, but I can’t reference Woody at Harbour Town without including this goodie:

Course

Much is made of the course, and for good reason. While I tend to favor the back nine, the last two holes on the front typify the course: the hazard-laden long par-4 8th poses a ballstriking challenge, while the short par-4 9th (which Zac Blair detailed last year for the tour website) offers up more of a cerebral challenge and is among the most interesting on the entire tour schedule. I typically stand on the 9th tee box for hours on end watching group after group play the hole in a wide variety of ways. The view from behind the 9th tee is shown at the top of the article. Last year Charles Howell III apologized after the round for hitting a 7-iron off the tee (his apology was not accepted).

9 green (photo courtesy seapines.com)
13 green (photo courtesy seapines.com)

Moving to the back nine, 12, 13 and 16 are exceptional par-4’s that demand precision and decisiveness into uniquely shaped greens. If the wind is up 14 is among the hardest par-3’s on the entire tour, with water fronting the green short and right and OB/death long and left. The 18th, while distinctive, is a strange signature hole in that it doesn’t really match the rest of the course stylistically with it’s wide open fairway along the Calibogue Sound.

Odds and Ends

– Last year I got a little fired up because of the “invitational” category of this event, meaning that a few worthy players with status from last year’s Web.com Tour season don’t get in due to the smaller field (144 players). The same is true this year, with several guys with “full status” not making it in (Duncan, Lovelady, Uihlein, Lindheim, etc.) However the bigger story is that three guys who sit well within the top 100 in the world – Paul Dunne, Julian Suri and the aforementioned Uihlein – are all on the outside looking in. While Dunne is in this week’s Open de Espana, and Uihlein seems increasingly focused on playing a more US-focused schedule, it is surprising to see Suri sitting out.

– There’s a distinctly international flavor with European Tour regulars An, Fisher, Fitzpatrick, Frittelli, Hatton, Kaymer and Kodaira all playing. 2016 champion Branden Grace is skipping due to the birth of his first child.

– Anthony Kim finished runner-up in 2008 to Boo Weekley, who won his second event in a row. I bring this up because 1) I don’t remember it 2) it makes me happy to know that AK’s game was versatile to play on a wide variety of courses.

– Among this week’s groupings, three stuck out: the Patrick Cantlay, Brian Harman group should be top shelf. Cam Smith, Schauffele, Snedeker also a premium selection, with Smith a popular pick to win this week. He should make the leap here soon. Lastly, Maggert, Lahiri, Fitzpatrick group is an interesting concoction for a variety of reasons. If you listened to the NLU pod with Fitzpatrick from January you’ll recall his stated affinity for this venue. He’ll look to get his season back on track with a good finish. Maggert opting to skip the Champions Tour event in Atlanta for a crack at Harbour Town.

– Any event DJ tees it up in he’s worth watching, but particularly so at this event. He returns to his native South Carolina thanks to his recent endorsement deal with RBC. While many peg him a bomber, he’s so long and accurate with his long irons that I think this course suits him quite well. He has two missed cuts to his discredit in this event, but throw those out as they’re from a decade ago. I expect him to contend this week and surprise some people.

The view from 9 tee

– In a similar vein, I’m going to continue banging the drum for Tiger to play here. Much like his appearances a few years ago at Greenbrier and Wyndham, the Cat should consider adding Heritage, Colonial and Travelers to the schedule. These would fit in with his goodwill tour and suit his game much more than they would’ve ten years ago. Stingers for days.

– Lastly, some words about whether or not you should #LiveUnderPar. I’m personally struggling with it a little bit on multiple levels. Assuming this campaign is targeted at people who aren’t currently golf fans (I imagine the current demographics they’re getting from the market research folks don’t look great) it seems odd that they’d go with something that means something totally different in the literal sense. If I’m not a golfer and I hear that I’m thinking “damn, why would I want to live in subpar conditions?” Digging deeper, #LiveUnderPar suggests the tour is too focused on buzzwords, focus groups, and bait-and-switching people into liking golf in spite of golf, and not focused enough on the product outside of the handful of big ticket events on the slate. The apparent lack of thought or care given to existing/core fans is also concerning, whether it be through this tagline or the insipidness of the @pgatour social accounts. NLU is all for getting more people in the tent – golf is a beautiful game that consumes our lives! We just disagree on the means being used to do so. If you’re so inclined, Geoff Shackelford offered up some thoughtful words on the overall campaign yesterday.

In any case, I *highly* encourage you to navigate to the Tour’s “Studio 18” page for a concerning deeper look at some of the rather vacuous content supporting the new campaign. In any case we’ll continue to have some fun with it, keep it lighthearted, and maintain some perspective since it’s just a tagline. And hey, at least Johnson Wagner and Kevin Streelman got some love!

Enjoy the week – I’ll be on site on Saturday as a fan and then back to Jax on Sunday morning to prep for Sunday evening’s Live from the Killhouse.

About the Author

Tron Carter - NLU's resident curmudgeon, wannabe media critic, fashion crusader, and arbiter of all things "pop." Passionate proponent of taking driver off the deck. Native of Atlanta, now residing in Jacksonville Beach after two quick, but beneficial years in Boston. Other interests include history, infrastructure, wine, and Michael Bay's seminal masterpiece The Rock. Also doing business as "Todd Schuster." [email protected]

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