Fast greens and sea breeze: SC golf favorites fired up for Hilton Head’s RBC Heritage

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Karl Puckett
·6 min read
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Kevin Kisner isn’t pleased with his golf game but he’s hoping for improvement in his home state of South Carolina this week.

“I’m pretty ticked off about my game,” Kisner said Tuesday, two days before the first round of the 53rd RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island begins.

Kisner, who missed the cut at last week’s Masters Tournament in Augusta, was runner-up in 2015 at the Heritage , losing out on the second hole of the playoff to Jim Furyk.

Kisner, of Aiken, is among nine golfers with ties to South Carolina in a 132-player field who are competing for $7.1 million in prize money at the RBC Heritage.

The local favorites will be joined by Will Zalatoris, the 24-year-old who finished second in the Masters to winner Hideki Matsuyama of Japan — who is not competing in the Heritage — and Jordan Spieth, who tied for third at the Masters.

Dustin Johnson, who is No. 1 in the world, is also headlining the field.

Defending 2020 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing champion Webb Simpson drives a ceremonial shot into Calibogue Sound on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, from the tee box at the 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.
Defending 2020 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing champion Webb Simpson drives a ceremonial shot into Calibogue Sound on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, from the tee box at the 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

Excitement in SC

A week after missing the cut playing at Augusta and its brutally fast greens, Kisner, who is ranked 41st in the world, says he’s expecting a “stern test” from Harbour Town. The course is firm and the greens are quick, Kisner said.

“It’s going to be a great week. If we don’t get a lot of rain, I think they can progress the conditions to playing more difficult than we’ve seen in years past. And if we get a little bit of sea breeze, I think it’ll be a really stern test,” Kisner said.

Kisner says the PGA Tour events in South Carolina are not only bringing revenue to the state but showcasing it as well.

He joked that the local tournaments also are reducing his airfare bills because he’s able to drive to more tournaments.

The PGA Championship is May 20 through May 23 on Kiawah Island. It’s followed by the newly announced Palmetto Championships to be held at Congaree from June 7 through June 13.

At 37 years old, Kisner says he has a different mindset these days about his golf, balancing his family life with his professional duties.

He used to wake up and swing all day at the course, but with a wife and three kids he wants to be a great dad as well as a great golfer.

“I still want to be a dad and want to be a great family man, but you’ve still got to put the time in,” Kisner said. “I consider it my job, so it’s a balancing act between those two makes the time a lot more difficult.”

Bringing a sense of normalcy, a sponsor board will greet patrons as they enter this years RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing as seen on Thursday, April 8, 2021 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.
Bringing a sense of normalcy, a sponsor board will greet patrons as they enter this years RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing as seen on Thursday, April 8, 2021 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

Field newcomers

Bryson Nimmer of Bluffton is making his RBC Heritage debut, but he’s no stranger to the course.

The 23-year-old was a star at Hilton Head Christian Academy and Clemson University, where he earned ACC Freshman of the Year and first team All-American his senior year. After graduating from college in 2019, Nimmer turned pro.

Nimmer says it is different being inside the ropes compared to caddying, driving people around or working on the range.

“It’s really special, and I’m just glad to be able to do it this week and represent the Lowcountry,” Nimmer said.

Between 100 to 200 family and friends will be following him as he competes for the first time on the Harbour Town Golf Links in a professional tournament.

Nimmer estimates he’s played the course 40 to 50 times.

“It’s firm and fast this year,” Nimmer said of the conditions.

Nimmer actually grew up playing baseball, the sport he loved the most, but made the switch to golf at around 14 or 15 years old after hitting a lot of golf balls with his dad at the range — he eventually realized he had a better chance making the big time hitting golf balls than baseballs.

“Obviously baseball is like real tough as far as kind of getting to that next level, and I felt like I had a higher ceiling with golf than I did with baseball,” Nimmer said. “Ended up here, and glad I made that choice.”

Bryson Nimmer
Bryson Nimmer

All smiles and seemingly loose in speaking to the media and hanging out with PGA tour golfers on the practice areas, Nimmer says he’s gotten to know a lot of the other golfers he grew up watching on television, “and that’s really cool and special.”

“But it’s just really, really cool to see them in a different light and see them just as normal people and just up close right next to them,” Nimmer said. “There’s really awesome guys out here on this tour, and I think people should know how great some of these guys really are.”

In addition to Kisner and Nimmer, other PGA Tour players with South Carolina roots who will be competing include Lucas Glover, Bill Haas, Brian Harman, Davis Love III, Ben Martin, Will McGirt and Matt NeSmith.

Webb Simpson, last year’s champion, is in this year’s field, as are Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker.

Also committed are top-ranked Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Collin Morikawa and Lee Westwood.

Eight-time PGA Tour winner Bryson DeChambeau, who finished eighth at the Heritage in 2020, has dropped out of this year’s tournament.

Bryson DeChambeau hits a shot near the trees on the 16th hole during a first round match at the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Austin, Texas.
Bryson DeChambeau hits a shot near the trees on the 16th hole during a first round match at the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

Crowd expectations

The usual 135,000 fans won’t be flocking the Live Oak- and pine-lined fairways during this year’s RBC Heritage.

As a result of the pandemic, about 20% of fans will be allowed onto the course for this year’s tournament. That means roughly 27,000 spectators will be flowing in and out of Harbour Town Golf Links instead of the usual 135,000 people.

Along with a reduction in crowd size, signage informs patrons on Thursday, April 8, 2021 to socially distance for this years RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.
Along with a reduction in crowd size, signage informs patrons on Thursday, April 8, 2021 to socially distance for this years RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

“It’s better than what we did in June because in June there were no fans at all,” said Griff Rudolph, a Sea Pines staff member, as players whacked ball after ball at the driving range preparing for the first round.

Behind the players, a row of garbage can-sized plastic containers were filled with golf balls, which were continually refilled by kids with shag bags. The youngsters were collecting them from holes nearby where players were practicing chip shots.

“Thousands of them,” Rudolph said of the practice balls, which were sent by manufacturers of the golf balls used by the players.

The 2020 RBC, usually held in April, was moved to June in 2020, but it’s back on track in 2021 with a nod to COVID-19 that includes not only restrictions on the number of spectators but also a requirement to wear masks.

Fans won’t be able to get autographs from players or fist-bump with their favorites.

2018 champion Satoshi Kodaira signs autograph for a fan following the opening ceremonies for the 51st RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Monday, April 15, 2019, at the Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.
2018 champion Satoshi Kodaira signs autograph for a fan following the opening ceremonies for the 51st RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Monday, April 15, 2019, at the Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

Kisner, the Aiken native, says players are accustomed to playing with fans and rely on them for energy and enthusiasm. Fans also add to the pressure “coming down the stretch.”

“When we had zero fans, it felt more like a Saturday afternoon at your club with your buddies playing in a tournament, and now that we have very few fans, it’s almost oddly loud at the wrong times,” Kisner said.

Kisner would love to try on the tartan jacket on Sunday after winning a tournament that he calls special.

“A lot of great people that I know and love and care about help run this event,” Kisner said, “and I think it would be a really big deal to add to my career, a jacket from here.”