After Masters, players find safe Harbour at Hilton Head

By Will GrayApril 12, 2017, 9:39 pm

After surviving the pressure cooker of Augusta National Golf Club, even the PGA Tour's best enjoy an opportunity to exhale.

While some will do so within the comfort of their own homes this week, stepping far away from their clubs after the season's first major, many others have opted to get right back to work at the RBC Heritage - where the vibe is decidedly un-Masters like.

Each tournament looks to embrace its particular spot on the Tour's calendar, and if the Shell Houston Open does so by offering conditions as similar as possible to Augusta National, Harbour Town does so by running to the opposite end of the spectrum. Where last week there were high stakes attached to each and every shot, this week offers a low-key, family-friendly vibe with a scenic backdrop.

Those who were patrons a week ago can now return to simply being fans, and they embrace with vigor the opportunity to descend upon the Carolina low country and take in one of the Tour's coziest layouts where the players are never more than a few feet away.

"Certainly I think people let off a sigh of relief coming from Augusta," said Luke Donald. "You just come here to enjoy the tournament, enjoy the golf course, and enjoy that kind of atmosphere of a family atmosphere."

The upcoming Easter holiday means that several players have kids in tow this week for a bit of a working spring break - granted, a far cry from the scene unfolding in Baker's Bay. But it's a refreshing way for players to get in some family time while still vying for a seven-figure check, all while they decompress from one of the toughest events of the year.

"I think it is a really relaxed, laid-back place, maybe not so much on Easter weekend," said Jim Furyk. "But it's a great place. I think folks love bringing their families here, especially young families when the kids aren't in school. So a lot has been made of this nice, relaxing tournament after the Masters."

RBC Heritage: Articles, photos and videos

But, as Furyk is quick to add, there's another element that lures several top names back into action, year after year, and should not be overlooked: the golf course.

If the vibe is antithetical to last week's scene, so too is Pete Dye's design at Harbour Town Golf Links the polar opposite from what players encountered at Augusta National. Where last week players navigated burly par-4s and expansive, undulating greens, Harbour Town allows them to keep the driver in the bag if they prefer.

It also requires accurate iron play, given that these are the smallest greens players will face all year on Tour. It's no surprise, then, that a player of Donald's caliber would find success here given his ball-striking pedigree, and last year's T-2 finish was his sixth top-3 result in the last eight years.

"It's like a puzzle, this course to me," Donald said. "I think you really have to think your way around it very well. You certainly don't need to overpower this golf course. It's a lot of strategy involved."

Donald is not the only player who enjoys solving the Harbour Town puzzle. Russell Knox tied him for second last year and calls it one of his top Tour stops of the year. Donald's countryman, Matthew Fitzpatrick, lists Harbour Town as his absolute favorite event of the year without hesitation and even sports a headcover from the course.

Bomb-and-gouge players will always have a leg up at a handful of Tour stops, and that list may grow as course yardages drift closer to 8,000 yards. But the precision player still has an advantage at Harbour Town, which barely cracks 7,000 yards and can often strike a claustrophobic chord.

"I think there's a lot of folks on Tour that put this in their top five, top 10 of the golf courses we play, and they mark this tournament early in the year, whether it's after the Masters or not," said Furyk, who won in both 2010 and 2015. "I think it's a great tournament. It's honestly my favorite event."

Whether they flock for the low-key vibe or the tree-lined layout, players are likely to find what they're looking for this week on Hilton Head Island.

Yes, it's not the Masters - but that's entirely the point.


Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.