No South Carolinian has ever won the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing
, the state’s only annual PGA Tour event, in its first 45 years. Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey came closest in 2011, when the Bishopville
native finished a thrilling third, then bowed to the appreciative Hilton Head
crowd on the 18th green afterward.
But Ben Martin, who grew up in Greenwood
and played his college golf at Clemson
, was positioned to change that situation after Saturday’s early completion of the tournament’s rain-delayed second round and a darkness-racing third round.
The 26-year-old, with parents Jim and Suzie and others from Greenwood following his every step around Harbour Town Golf Links
, wrapped up a 3-under par 68 despite a closing bogey, and took a share of first place at 5-under par 137. He finished his final 14 holes of the second round early Saturday, and was grouped with K.J. Choi and former Heritage champion Jim Furyk when the third round began at 12:20 p.m.
Martin, in his second season on the PGA Tour, then stayed within range of third-round leader Luke Donald late Saturday. He knows what winning his first PGA Tour title, especially in his home state, could mean.
“That would be awesome,” he said. “This is one (tournament week) we circled at the start of the year. We rented a house months ago, got the whole family down. It’s a hometown event, you could say, since it’s in South Carolina. If there was any event I could pick to be my first win, it would be this one.”
Martin’s career to date has been something of a roller coaster. He qualified for the PGA Tour in 2011, but failed to retain his PGA Tour exemption. But he made the most of 2012-13 on the Web.com Tour, winning twice last year to return to the big time.
So far in 2014, “I’ve been a little inconsistent,” he said, with nine missed cuts in 13 tournaments, though he finished third at the Puerto Rico Open. “Last year was probably the best golf I’ve played over an extended period of time. So that’s really what I was looking to get back to.
“I felt like I was focusing a lot on results (earlier) this year. I just got back last week, thought a lot about staying focused on my process, and really controlling what I can control. If I give myself the best opportunity to hit good shots out there, that’s really all I can do.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Martin has little experience at Harbour Town. This week is only his second in tournament conditions, and “even growing up in the state, I’d never played the course before.”
Despite that, Martin says Harbour Town is a course that fits his game. “I’m a pretty analytical guy, so I like to get out on the course where you’ve got to kind of think your way around it,” he said.
“The ball just is kind of going where I’m seeing it. I think that’s what you have you have to do around here.”
If Martin continues doing that Sunday, he could make history.
Holding court, clad in plaid
Sir Willie Innes, the official ambassador of the RBC Heritage, has been a constant presence around Harbour Town this week, but Saturday – Plaid Nation Day, also known as Tartan Day – was special for the Scottish-accented actor, who dons Colonial-era costume and a Tartan jacket.
Tartan Day featured family-friendly contests including hole-in-one putting, fastest (contestant) dressed in plaid and best dressed. A centerpiece of the exhibits was Sir Willie, seated on a “throne” and posing for photos with fans. Spectators also had chances to win RBC Heritage goodies and tickets to the 2015 tournament.
“It’s been a fine day,” Sir Willie said in his trademark brogue, “some fine-looking lads and lassies.” A number of the latter took turns sitting on his knee, as if he were a Tartan-clad, beardless Santa Claus.
“I’m giving away things,” Sir Willie said with a laugh, “so you could say I’m the Heritage’s Santa.”
Ready for Easter
The Heritage’s annual Concert on the Lawn by popular local group The Headliners, scheduled for Saturday evening, had to be cancelled because the grounds around Heritage Lawn were too wet. Live music Saturday night was still planned for The Quarterdeck, a popular bar/hangout in the shopping village surrounding Harbour Town’s marina.
Sunday’s traditional Easter Sunrise Service remains set for 7:30 a.m. on the 18th green, featuring a local minister, music and non-denominational prayer. Greenwood’s Ben Martin and fellow PGA Tour player Richard H. Lee will lead a responsive reading, while player Chesson Hadley will give his testimony.
Also set for Sunday is the Heritage Easter Egg Hunt, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Heritage Lawn. Children ages 10 and younger are invited to bring their ticket-holder parents; those 5 and younger, and those ages 6-10, will be grouped separately. Each child can hunt up to 10 eggs, plus one golden egg, each with a ticket inside good for a special RBC Heritage prize.