Low-key vibe draws low-end field to Sea Island, but no one's complaining

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Low-key vibe draws low-end field to Sea Island, but no one's complaining

19th Hole

Low-key vibe draws low-end field to Sea Island, but no one's complaining

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SEA ISLAND, Ga. — Most weeks, this barrier island 60 miles south of Savannah is a sedate resort community imbued with the mannerly reserve of a cathedral, and where diversity means a chap might favor Peter Millar over the standard-issue Ralph Lauren. But when the PGA Tour caravan comes to town … Well, things aren’t actually much different.

Assessing the strength of the field at a Tour event requires only ears, not eyes. There’s no need to scan the list of entrants in search of those who occupy the upper reaches of the world ranking since an audible buzz announces their presence. A wave of excitable chatter follows the every move of a Koepka, a McIlroy or a Woods.

Not so much a Covello, a Cejka or a Sucher.

That’s not a rap on, respectively, Vince, Alex and Zack, fine players all. But there is an eerie quiet at the RSM Classic that renders unnecessary marshals with ‘Hush Y’all’ signs. The stillness is a reminder that Sea Island isn’t a stage on which the game’s leading men choose to perform. The highest-ranked player in the field is world No. 12 Webb Simpson. The only other competitor in the top 30 is Matt Kuchar, who lives here, which at least helps him save on costs for the week.

RSM CLASSIC: Leaderboard | Photos | Tee times

Sea Island Resort has hosted presidents and celebrities for almost a century, but in golf terms is suffering a comparative dearth of star power this week. The RSM field boasts major winners — among them Stewart Cink, Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk — but none that sell tickets. It has the Tour’s hottest hand in Brendon Todd, trying for a third straight win, which still won’t get him into next month’s Presidents Cup squad. It has promising young colts (Kristoffer Ventura, Doug Ghim) warming up beside old workhorses nearing the glue factory (Tim Herron, Boo Weekley).

The RSM Classic is a wonderful reflection of the weekly potpourri of the PGA Tour.

It matters little that Koepka is laid up on his couch, that McIlroy is playing more than 7,000 miles away in Dubai, that Woods is off doing Tiger things. Another week, another 156 guys trying to claw their way to the FedEx Cup playoffs nine months hence. This is a head start initiative for journeymen, an opportunity to bank points and coin before the elite return to vacuum up both in the New Year.

Even one of the more prominent guys in the field admits struggling to get amped up.

“I probably have the old-school mindset that the Tour doesn’t start until January,” said Zach Johnson, one of the many players enjoying a home game at Sea Island. “I’ve got to get out of that because there’s a lot of competitive golf and motivations to play in the fall.”

Not least the first-place prize of $1,188,000.

Money usually doesn’t mitigate the moaning on Tour, but complaints aren’t so apparent here thanks to Sea Island’s brace of superb hotels and strong host courses. “There’s not many events you have where you don’t hear players complain about something,” said Charles Howell III, the defending champion. “This event is generally regarded as one of if not the best event in the fall.”

Howell used to come here on vacations as a kid, and the tournament retains the low-key vibe of a family gathering. Which it kind of is.

Presiding over this Fantasy Island in the Ricardo Montalbán role is Davis Love III, the longtime Sea Island resident and official tournament host. On the back of his considerable reputation and efforts, the RSM Classic raises several million dollars annually for charitable causes. Another beneficiary of the tournament’s charity is Davis Love IV, known as Dru.

Asked earlier this week about IV’s halting progress in the pro ranks, III bemoaned his tendency to get injured. “If he can get a full season in somewhere, he’s got a lot of potential,” Davis said. Comparing his boy to the handful of other talented young players in this area, he added: “If we can just get them onto the Tour, they will do really well.”

Getting onto the Tour has not been a problem for Dru, a 25-year-old whose career has thus far been more about his name than his game. Thursday was his 19th start on Tour, his fourth in this family clambake. He is 3-for-18 in cuts made. He shot a first round of three-over-par 73. His old man, a Hall of Famer 30 years his senior, clipped him by five shots.

Short of a miracle round on Friday, it’s looking awfully like III-for-XIX for IV.

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