Buoyant as it always is for a sponsor to see the winner wearing its logo – as Graeme McDowell was at the RBC Heritage – this was one of those cases that can be chalked up to a wonderful twist of fate.
It was good for RBC to see its investment in McDowell pay off, but the man from Northern Ireland said he would have been at Harbour Town regardless.
“I had already made the decision before the end of last year, before RBC (and I) started chatting, that I was coming here this year,” McDowell said after his playoff win over Webb Simpson.
“I knew deep down this was a good one for me, and the RBC (sponsorship) thing was just a sweetener and really worked out well.”
For years, McDowell has worn Verizon on the chest of his shirt, so it was not a surprise that he teed it up at Harbour Town a few times. (Verizon sponsored this tournament for five years.) Then he entered into an ambassadorship with Zurich and played in New Orleans in 2011-12. The first year he tried to do Harbour Town, then N’awlins, but it didn’t go so well. Last year, he chose just the Zurich, and “this one (Hilton Head Island) just didn’t fit.”
With the schedule, that is, because the course? Well, Harbour Town Golf Links certainly fits McDowell’s game. He drives it beautifully, hits a lot of greens, and when the wind is up – which it often is here by the Calibogue Sound, his ball-striking is something to behold. If it sounds like a U.S. Open-type challenge, McDowell said that’s exactly what this Pete Dye-Jack Nicklaus gem is, and he is one of a handful of guys who seem to thrive in such a theater.
So, even before the RBC thing got sewn onto his shirts, McDowell had circled Hilton Head Island. He has more than a million reasons to be glad he did, of course, and the sponsor probably is smiling, too. McDowell, after all, is as good a winner as a tournament could wish for, articulate and humorous, generous and insightful.
It sounded afterward as if Hilton Head Island had gotten another player hooked. “It’s a nice, low-key event after the intensity of the Masters,” McDowell said. “We had a house on the beach. My friends and family were here. Had a glass of wine in the evenings. I took it pretty low-key, and perhaps I’ll have to check that method out for the future.”
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GOLF WAS ROUGH, RIDE WAS SMOOTH: They may not be a threat to win the RBC Heritage, but the PGA section champions who qualify do have one thing in common: enthusiasm.
“John Farrell (director of golf at the Sea Pines Resort) told me it’s the 23rd straight year that the club pro has been one of the first to register,” Matt Bova said with a wide smile.
Bova, who lives on Hilton Head Island but commutes via ferry to his job at The Haig Point Club on Daufuskie Island, is a 26-year-old from Illinois who played collegiately at Methodist. He shot 78-81 and missed the cut, but he was on equal footing with his 143 competitors when it came to the courtesy car: a BMW Series 7.
“I think it costs more money than I’ve made in my life,” Bova said. “John (Farrell) told me I looked more excited about the courtesy car than anything else. He said my face lit up. I might buy me one just to live in.”
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NO ROOM FOR BIG MAN: He is tough to miss, standing 6 feet, 5 inches, but seeing Robert Karlsson wait out the starting lineup at the RBC Heritage made something else abundantly clear: These PGA Tour fields are getting deeper and deeper.
Consider that Karlsson is a two-time Ryder Cupper, 11-time winner on the European Tour and a former top-10 player.
Yet here he is at 43, struggling to get into tournaments. Karlsson tied for 14th at Q-School last year, but he has made it into just five events thus far in 2013. As he stood Thursday on the range at Harbour Town Golf Links, Karlsson said he had been first alternate since Monday, but nothing. No withdrawals, no injuries. It’s the second time this year he has been first alternate but not gotten in.
“It’s not that type of year,” he said.
Karlsson never did get in, but the news is better, because he’s got a spot in this week’s Zurich Classic.
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BUT ROOM FOR THE KID: On the same day Karlsson failed to get into the tournament at Harbour Town, word circulated that 14-year-old Tianlang Guan officially had been given a sponsor exemption into the Zurich Classic.
It was no surprise to see the head-shaking and hear the disgust offered by some players. But not from Chris Stroud. The seventh-year member was emphatic. “I think it’s awesome,” he said. And to those who think otherwise, he offered this: “How many 14-year-olds have made the cut in the Masters?”
Stroud did say that he wouldn’t like to see a string of exemptions for Guan, from China. But coming so soon after the historic performance at Augusta? It met with his approval.
Bob Estes agreed that “it’s a tricky one,” and he sees both sides. On the one hand, spots are tougher than ever to come by for veteran members and Q-School grads, “and it’s a short season.” Then again, “sponsors are being asked to pay millions of dollars, and if they think Guan can bring some notoriety to the tournament, they should have that right.”
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TIME TO REFLECT: As we sit and wonder why Tiger Woods doesn’t seem to be interested in teeing it up at Quail Hollow, a par 3 of thoughts to keep us busy:
• If you think Graeme McDowell looked good in his Harbour Town plaid, he explained why. “I’ve got a lot of Scottish heritage, too. I’ll have to find out what type of tartan this is.”
• When Angel Cabrera followed up the disappointment at Augusta with a Latinoamerica Tour win at his hometown course in Argentina, it was a reminder of how things have surely changed. In 1934, Gene Sarazen didn’t play in the inaugural Masters because he was touring South America.
• Bernhard Langer thinks Masters officials should extend invites to winners of Champions Tour majors? That’s funny. Not sure it will even make its way out of the suggestion box.
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A NEW CAMPUS: A little Miami flavor is headed to Jersey – specifically, Liberty National Golf Club. That’s because Jim McLean, who has been anchored for years at the Doral Resort, will open a branch of his golf school at the Jersey City club.
Instruction will begin May 1, and McLean has entrusted the Liberty National school to Adam Kolloff. A Massachusetts native, Kolloff has spent some time working with one of McLean’s top students, Keegan Bradley.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for McLean. Earlier in his career, he worked at Quaker Ridge GC, Sleepy Hollow and Sunningdale CC, all in the New York area.
Liberty National will be hosting the PGA Tour playoff opener this year, The Barclays.
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HIS PRESENCE WAS FELT: For those who’ve frequented the media center at the Harbour Town tournament through the years, this time around figured to offer a touch of sadness.
Yet thanks to the spirited women who coordinate the facility and pull this tournament together – Angela McSwain, Carol Bartholomew and Chris LoBello – there wasn’t an empty feeling at all.
Even though we were facing the first Hilton Head Island tournament without the wondrous Arnie Burdick, who died last June 5 at the age of 92, you could feel the man’s presence. Tournament officials named it the Arnie Burdick Media Center, and a photo of him hung at one end of the tent.
Burdick, a former sports editor/columnist for the Syracuse Herald-Journal, arrived at the Sea Pines Resort in 1984 with every intention of retiring. Instead, two years later he became media relations director for the tournament, and his human touch left an indelible mark on the annual PGA Tour stop. Efforts to get in before him in the morning were fruitless, and there’s no one who put more time and effort into keeping people informed about this tournament.
“He was a beautiful man,” said longtime tournament director Steve Wilmot.
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HE DIDN’T CATCH THE PITCHER: Pete Kuchar doesn’t miss many of his son’s rounds, but understandably, pro-ams aren’t part of the attraction.
Here’s a guess, though, that Pete wishes he did take in the RBC Heritage Pro-Am, because Matt Kuchar played with former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Pete Kuchar, a diehard Red Sox fan, probably would have had a field day, but the son had him covered.
“I asked a lot of questions about (former manager) Tito (Francona) and (former general manager) Theo (Epstein),” Matt said.
Not that it was free information, because Kuchar offered the veteran pitcher some advice on his wedge game. “He digs at it pretty hard,” Kuchar said. “I told him to think more like Steve Stricker: soft with the hands.”
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NO FINISHING TOUCH HERE: Certainly, this is not a recipe to get you into the winner’s circle: In his last four tournaments (Honda, Cadillac, Bay Hill, Masters), Rickie Fowler’s scoring average for the first three days is 69.75. His scoring average for the final rounds in those events? Six strokes higher, 75.75.
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A LEGEND PASSES ON: The stories could have gone on for hours. Pat Summerall, who died April 16 at 82, was that beloved. But Lance Barrow, the longtime CBS producer of golf and NFL – which happened to be the vehicles through which so many knew Summerall – offered two of his favorites.
One was how Summerall even got the chance to move on from his NFL career with the N.Y. Giants into broadcasting. Seems he was in quarterback Charlie Conerly’s hotel room when the phone rang. With Conerly in the shower, Summerall picked it up and the man at the other end gave him information to pass on, confirming where the aging quarterback was to go the next day to audition for a possible radio job.
“By the way,” the man on the phone told Summerall, “why don’t you come, too?”
Summerall did and when he retired from the Giants, he worked radio for Giants games alongside Chris Schenkel.
The other story hit at that side of Summerall that was a big part of his aura. “He lived life hard, but he worked hard, too,” Barrow said. Clearly, the Summerall-Tom Brookshier announcing team worked because they were best of friends – in and out of the booth. So when CBS decided to split them up and pair Summerall with John Madden, the natural question was: Would he miss Brookshier?
“I won’t miss him on Sundays,” Summerall said. “But I’ll miss him on Saturday nights.”