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A light-on-his feet man wearing a straw hat, knickers and the checkered black-and-white uniform of the staff at the RBC Heritage Presented Boeing strides across the first tee.
Fans, jammed three and four deep along the railing and ropes with the line stretching toward the fairway, are there to see Dustin Johnson tee off.
But not before Henry Pratt introduces the No. 1 golfer in the world.
“Please welcome,” says a clear, loud voice behind a mask that belies the svelte man behind it, “from Jupiter, Florida.
“He’s the current FedEx Champion...
The crowd roars, and Pratt’s work is done. At least for 10 minutes, when the next pairing will tee off.
Pratt is one of six tee-time announcers, or “starters,” who are calling out the names and hometowns of the golfers at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing this week, presenting them like royalty to an adoring golf kingdom.
Except this is the 27th year that Pratt, 80, has been belting out proper introductions of some of the world’s best golfers. He’s become as recognizable at the Heritage as the tartan uniforms worn by the announcers and other tournament staff.
“He’s part of the fabric of our event,” said Terry Finger, vice chairman of the Heritage Classic Foundation, the not-for-profit sponsor of the Heritage, which provides the announcers. “The pros all know him if they have played a long time.”
Old-timer Stewart Cink, a Georgia Tech alum who lives in Duluth, Ga., and surely recognizes Pratt, turned back the clock with back-to-back 63s on Harbour Town Golf Links Thursday and Friday, shattering the previous RBC Heritage 36-hole record by three strokes.
At 47, Cink is the oldest player to hold the 36-hole lead at the event.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of work still to come, and I’ve seen leads like this go away quickly, and I’ve seen leads like this expand really quickly,” Cink said Friday after his record-setting start. “I don’t see any reason to change what I’m doing.”
Cink started the third round Saturday five strokes ahead and 16 under, but he wasn’t set to tee off until 2:10 p.m., so his results were not available by deadline.
Early Saturday play started with a flurry of changes on the leaderboard.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa shot 30 on the front nine and pulled to a tie for fourth through 14 holes.
Cink was paired Saturday with Corey Conners of Listowel, Ontario.
Conners, who started the day 11 under in second place, five strokes behind Cink, is seeking to become the first Canadian to win the RBC Heritage. Argentine Emiliano Grillo is 10 under, good enough for third place.
Columbia native Wesley Bryan, who began Saturday tied for eighth place at eight under, is searching for his first victory on the PGA Tour since the 2017 RBC Heritage. His second round, 5-under 66 Saturday gave him his lowest 36-hole score in 14 rounds at the event.
A starter’s job
The time announcers have on the tee box stage is brief but important.
They give players a proper introduction, kind of like announcing the starting lineup in another sport. And they let fans know who they’re watching, if they don’t know already. They also hand out scorecards to players and let the tour know if players don’t show up for a tee time.
“My goal is to get applause, recognition for the players from the entire crowd that’s there,” Pratt, the long-time starter, said before beginning his shift at 11:25 a.m., when he took over from Bill Miles, the head of the Hilton Island Chamber of Commerce, who began the day at 8:45 a.m.
“I think it makes the players feel better appreciated,” Pratt said.
Each day of the tournament, the PGA Tour turns sheets to the Heritage Classic Foundation with the names of players and their scheduled tee times. Starters then are assigned to the 1st and 10th tees, where the players tee off during the first two rounds.
The tour also supplies scorecards to the announcers. The starters then give the scorecards to the players when they arrive. But the players receive the score cards of their opponents, not their own.
“So if you and I were playing together, I would keep your score, and you would keep mine,” said Finger, the Heritage foundation’s vice chair.
Starters try to project their voices so fans can hear what they are saying, and of course they wear the checkered red-and-black colors of the tournament. During a pandemic, that includes plaid facemasks.
“I think it’s important to hear the enthusiasm and excitement in the announcer’s voice,” Miles said, just before announcing the players scheduled to tee off at 9:40 a.m.
Miles says he enjoys seeing players up close and giving them a proper introduction.
Announcers used to be stationed on the 9th and 18th greens to recognize players walking up the fairways.
That’s where Pratt, a retired banker from Virginia who moved to Sea Pines in 1991, started. But he eventually moved up to the 10th and then 1st tee, which Pratt says is the best.
“I think this is probably the best job on the course,” he said. “We get to meet the players and talk to them a little bit.”
Announcers on the 9th and 18th holes were scrapped because of the pandemic to limit the number of people around the players.
After all of these years introducing and interacting with players, Pratt says he has no favorites, but he says 99% are polite.
Most announcers wear black slacks with their plaid jackets, but old-school Pratt prefers knickers.
“It’s part of the heritage of the tradition of the tournament,” Pratt said. “The Scottish tradition in golf.”
The Heritage began in 1969, Finger said, and starters have been used ever since.
If a player has won the RBC Heritage, or is a current major tournament winner or FedEx Cup champion, that information gets announced too. Otherwise, it’s just the hometown and name.
Pratt showed up well before his shift announcing began late Saturday morning. He’s usually early, Finger says.
“The course is always beautiful,” Pratt says. “The people you work with are great, and it’s just a lot of fun.”