Two U.S. Open champions, battling it out in sudden death for the 2013 RBC Heritage title – what more could one ask?
On a brutally windy Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links
, when flags stood straight out and shots flew in all directions, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, winner of the 2010 Open, outlasted 2012 champion Webb Simpson. McDowell two-putted for par on the first hole of sudden death, then watched Simpson miss from seven feet to hand the first-year Team RBC member his second title on U.S. soil and first as a PGA Tour member.
“I guess the weather was what the doctor ordered for me,” McDowell said after claiming the $1.044 million RBC Heritage paycheck. “I needed the golf course to play difficult; I needed an opportunity to get close to the leaders” after starting the day four shots off the lead.
“I managed to control my ball well, and that’s what you’ve got to do around here. (Harbour Town) is a very major-esque golf course, and someone told me there’s a link between U.S. Open champions and champions here (eight winners of 14 Heritage titles have won U.S. Opens, most recently Jim Furyk). So it’s nice to continue that link.”
McDowell grabbed the final-round lead with a birdie at No. 16 to get to 10-under, but a three-putt bogey at the 18th opened the door for Simpson, one shot back. When the North Carolinian missed from 22 feet on the final hole, the duo returned to the 18th tee. This time, McDowell’s 6-iron approach set him up for an easy two-putt, while Simpson missed the green right, narrowly missed a birdie try from off the green, and then failed on his seven-footer par attempt.
“I didn’t hit a bad shot” in the playoff, Simpson said. “I never thought I made a putt more than that birdie putt. With a foot to go, it was in the left side (of the cup). It was probably going to roll a foot (past), but the gust moved it.”
Another Team RBC member, Luke Donald, shot 2-under 69 – one of three sub-70 scores for the entire field – and tied for third with Kevin Streelman (72), while Jerry Kelly quietly shot a par 71 to earn fifth place.
Third-round leader Charlie Hoffman’s wayward tee shot found the water at the par-3 14th hole, the resulting double bogey sending him to a 6-over 77 and a tie for sixth with Daniel Island resident Russell Henley and Chris Stroud.
Both McDowell and Simpson had high praise for the tournament, especially McDowell. “RBC has done amazing things with this event, my debut RBC event,” he said. “I was excited to get back here and get my first PGA Tour as a member.”
McDowell and Simpson also both enjoyed the laid-back vibe after the stress of last week’s Masters. “I feel like I always play pretty well at the beach,” Simpson said, “(and) I have a lot of friends in the area … all in all, it feels like a home week, to be honest.”
McDowell spent his week in a beachfront house with his fiancee and friends. “After last week, this week was a low-key work week,” he said. “I took a pretty relaxed approach this week, really tried to enjoy myself.”
Beer and sodas and champagne, oh my:
Tom Donkerbrook, clad in an Oklahoma University T-shirt and cap, dipped a big hand into an ice cooler to fetch a beer Sunday afternoon at the Sea Pines Montessori Academy concession booth, located along Harbour Town’s 10th fairway. Working the freestanding cooler is a 14-year tradition for the Carmel, Ind., native, but his Sooners gear is new … and comes with a story.
“We invited the OU equipment manager (Blake Kuenzie) to the Masters last spring, and then he invited us to the Oklahoma-Texas (football) game last fall,” Donkerbrook, 70, said. “So they came here to see our tournament, and now I’ve got him serving beers.” He gestured to Kuenzie, who nodded while helping a customer.
Golf fans watching the RBC Heritage on TV have long considered the condominium-lined 18th hole along Calibogue Sound to be the tournament’s Party Central, and it is for those who can afford it. For the daily-ticket crowd, though – “the real fans,” Donkerbrook says – the 10th is a gathering spot for regulars with long Heritage histories.
Spectators line up for food at the academy booth, and at Donkerbrook’s cooler for beer, sodas, wine – and champagne. It’s as much a part of the Heritage as wearing plaid. “We sell more champagne than any other concession stand – 35-40 percent of our sales – and we have people who’ve been coming to us 14 years,” he said.
Case in point: Hilton Head Island
resident Brian Raehm and his daughter MacKenzie, 29, of Atlanta walked up to order mimosas. “We walked seven holes because we wanted to get our drinks from these guys,” Raehm, 63, said. Added MacKenzie: “They have the best mimosas – the champagne-to-orange juice ratio is superb.”
Donkerbrook, whose two granddaughters attend the school, said his customers are loyal. “We had people today get here at 9:30 a.m. – we open at 10:30 – so they sat at a table and waited for us.”
Shannon Alford and husband Gregg have patronized the academy booth for 18 years. “This has always been a special location, even when we were dating in college,” she said. “Now with our kids in the school, it’s even more so.”
Donkerbrook threw an arm around the shoulder of teacher Priscella Kelly as she explained that the concession goes through 50-60 cases of champagne by Sunday. There were more stories, but Donkerbrook had to get back to his cooler.
“He’s the best,” said USC
co-ed Sarah Baxter, and fellow USC student Laura Rose nodded. It’s a Heritage tradition, after all.
Rymer's all right: Fort Mill
native and Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer took “friendly fire” Saturday from his friends at the South Carolina Junior Golf Association – and a few former SCJGA and current PGA Tour players – but survived with his sense of humor intact.
During Golf Channel’s Saturday “Morning Drive” program – for which Rymer is a co-host – the show aired a segment about the SCJGA and its PGA Tour alumni. Producers also took a good-natured jab at Rymer, a former PGA Tour member, getting SCJGA officials and players Jonathan Byrd, William McGirt, Tommy Gainey and Bill Haas to “dis” Rymer’s inclusion in that group.
The segment took Rymer by surprise, “and it’s pretty hard to surprise me,” he said from his Florida home. “It was funny seeing Tommy throw the T-shirt (listing former SCJGA players) in the trash can. And Bill kicked the T-shirt so hard, I was afraid he was going to pull a hamstring.”
Upset? “Nah, I was tickled to death,” he said. “I even mentioned (SCGA executive director) Happ (Lathrop) by name on the air … he’s, what, 200 years old now? It was just neat that people got to see what’s going on in South Carolina with junior golf.”
Rymer said the segment likely will re-air on Morning Drive episodes, and he planned to talk up his home state. “Morning Drive” is now Rymer’s main role at Golf Channel, and “I love it,” he said. “It’s a fun crew on both sides of the cameras, and it sort of suits my personality – there’s time to tell stories and cut up.”
Rymer said he received a box of the SCJGA T-shirts, and the Morning Drive camera crew wore them on Saturday’s show. Rymer will do so, too. “I like ‘em big,” he said. “I’m a 2XL, but I like a 3XL. I want 'em as big as they get.”
Stiff winds buffeted Harbour Town on Sunday, with gusts up to 40-plus mph playing havoc with some players’ scores. A tree limb reportedly fell into a bank of bushes alongside the par-4 eighth hole, scaring a family seated nearby, but no injuries were reported.
It brought back memories of 2007, when high winds forced suspension of play at 1:10 p.m. Sunday and cancellation of the round at 4 p.m. after a falling limb on the ninth hole injured a tournament volunteer. The final round was completed the next morning, when Boo Weekley won the first of his back-to-back RBC Heritage titles.
This year’s tournament also was impacted by weather at 6:30 p.m. Friday, when lightning forced suspension of the second round, which was completed early Saturday morning.