Updated throughout each tournament week, 'The Starter' will provide key news, notes, and other nuggets prior to the first tee time on Thursday morning. Think of it as an all-in-one resource to help guide you in the days leading up to the start of the tournament, as you prepare your fantasy golf lineups and entries. As soon as we receive valuable news updates on things such as tee times, featured groups, withdrawals and other course reports we’ll be sure to post them all here.
Harbour Town Golf Links - Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Event #26 of the 2022-23 FedExCup Regular Season
Designated Event #8
RBC Heritage is a long-running, classic event on the PGA Tour schedule. Since 1969, this event has been played at Harbour Town in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
This season, RBC Heritage was given elevated status, so nearly all of the biggest names and top-ranked PGA players are in the field. Those who failed to win the green jacket last week will have the opportunity to win a tartan jacket at Hilton Head Island this week (or Jon Rahm will just win back-to-back, very possible).
Notable omissions include Hideki Matsuyama, who decided to take this week off after playing three events in a row. Jason Day and Alex Noren were in the originally announced field last Friday but pulled out of this tournament over the weekend.
Rory McIlroy withdrew on Monday, making this the second elevated event that he’s missing this season (the other being the Sentry Tournament of Champions). Those receiving bonus money through the end-of-year Player Impact Program (PIP) are allowed to skip one event, so it’s possible that McIlroy receives some sort of penalty. No word on that yet.
At any rate, this year’s RBC Heritage still welcomes a much stronger field than normal. 20 of the top 25 in the Official World Golf Rankings are competing at Harbour Town this week.
The 2020 RBC Heritage is the only recent year that had a comparably strong strength of field. It was the second tournament coming out of the pandemic break and everyone on TOUR was itching to play.
The words “Masters hangover” will be said an extraordinary amount of times this week. The Masters is an incredibly difficult event to follow on the schedule, and players put so much preparation and energy into Masters week that it’s understandable to think that some will struggle to keep the energy and focus levels up at Harbour Town.
Cameron Smith is a decent example of the Masters hangover from a year ago. He won The Players Championship and then finished T3 at The Masters in his two events prior to arriving at RBC Heritage and missing the cut. Matt Fitzpatrick also missed the cut at last year's RBC Heritage after he played well at The Masters.
In as much as it might be difficult for players to go from The Masters to a regular PGA event, it’s worth noting that Augusta National and Harbour Town are also just two very different venues…
Harbour Town Golf Links is a short, positional golf course. It shares a lot of similar characteristics to other Pete Dye-designed courses–some tricky doglegs and more strategy that comes into play off-the-tee at Harbour Town, which leads many to call it a second-shot golf course.
The average driving distance at Harbour Town is consistently in the bottom 3 or 4 tournaments on the PGA Tour. Last year, the average driving distance at RBC Heritage was 278.6 yards. Several holes ask players to club down and hit 3-woods or irons off the tee, making distance somewhat less of an advantage.
There's virtually no penalty for missing tee shots into the rough at Harbour Town. In fact, sometimes a tee shot in the rough might actually have a better angle to the hole location. It's ultimately valuable to put tee shots in the right spots to set up more manageable second shots.
This probably doesn't need mentioning, but it makes sense then that wide misses off the tee and misses in the wrong spots at Harbour Town are when players have to scramble for par and when big numbers can be made.
As you’ll likely hear in any course preview, Harbour Town rewards quality second shots.
The challenge is that the greens at Harbour Town are small and so unsurprisingly the GIR% (Greens-in-Regulation %) is generally below the TOUR average. In 2022, Harbour Town had the 9th lowest GIR% with greens being hit just 61.7% of the time.
According to Data Golf, the difficulty of approach shots outside of 150 yards was the 4th toughest at Harbour Town last year.
As a coastal course on Hilton Head Island, there's always the potential for the wind to add to the challenge as well. So it'll be important to look at the weather forecast this week.
Around-the-green play becomes important if greens are being missed. That said, Harbour Town has some of the least challenging around-the-green shots on the PGA Tour. Out of 38 courses in 2022, the difficulty of shots around the green from the fairway ranked 36th, and the difficulty of shots from around the green from the rough ranked 37th.
Architect: Pete Dye (1969)
Yards: 7,191 (Par 71)
Fairway: Perennial ryegrass
Rough: Perennial ryegrass
Greens: Poa trivialis
Avg. green size: 3,700 sq. ft.
Sand Bunkers: 54
Number of Holes Water is in Play: 18
Course Scoring Stats:
In 2022, Harbour Town Golf Links ranked as the 14th most difficult course on the PGA Tour (out of 38) in terms of scoring average.
The Par 3's were the 5th most difficult:
Hole No. 4 Scoring Average: 3.18 (+0.18)
Hole No. 7 Scoring Average: 3.07 (+0.07)
Hole No. 14 Scoring Average: 3.27 (+0.27)
The most difficult hole at Harbour Town in 2022.
Hole No. 17 Scoring Average: 3.10 (+0.10)
The Par 5's at Harbour Town made up three of the four easiest holes in terms of scoring in 2022:
Hole No. 2 Scoring Average: 4.57 (-0.43)
Hole No. 5 Scoring Average: 4.68 (-0.32)
Hole No. 15 Scoring Average: 4.73 (-0.27)
One of the easiest holes is the short par-4 9th. Usually, players can drive the ball fairly close to the green and leave a short around-the-green shot for their second. There's also the option to lay up to a comfortable number in the fairway. Wind/wind direction can play a big factor here.
Hole No. 9 Scoring Average: 3.69 (-0.31)
Additional scoring stats last three years:
2022 Scoring Average: 70.74 (-0.26)
2021 Scoring Average: 70.33 (-0.67)
2020 Scoring Average: 69.14 (-1.86)
2022: Jordan Spieth -13
2021: Stewart Cink -19
2020: Webb Simpson -22
2019: C.T. Pan -12
2018: Satoshi Kodaira -12
2017: Wesley Bryan -13
2016: Branden Grace -9
2015: Jim Furyk -18
2014: Matt Kuchar -11
2013: Graeme McDowell -9
How Jordan Spieth gained strokes on the field in 2022:
+10.80 SG: Total
+13.32 SG: Tee-to-Green (1st)
+4.32 SG: Off-the-Tee (4th)
+4.80 SG: Approach (10th)
+4.24 SG: Around-the-Green (5th)
-2.56 SG: Putting (60th)
How Stewart Cink gained strokes on the field in 2021:
+16.08 SG: Total
+13.76 SG: Tee-to-Green (1st)
+1.64 SG: Off-the-Tee (20th)
+8.52 SG: Approach (2nd)
+3.56 SG: Around-the-Green (5th)
+2.32 SG: Putting (25th)
How Webb Simpson gained strokes on the field in 2020:
+13.76 SG: Total
+7.16 SG: Tee-to-Green (7th)
+0.88 SG: Off-the-Tee (34th)
+5.72 SG: Approach (8th)
+0.60 SG: Around-the-Green (33rd)
+6.60 SG: Putting (2nd)
Field Changes (-): Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren, and Will Zalatoris are all out.
Field changes (+): No one added.
Monday Qualifiers: None.
Sponsor Exemptions: Ben Martin, Carson Young, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Akshay Bhatia, Wesley Bryan, Luke Donald, Justin Suh.
20 of the OWGR Top-25 are in the field.
38 of the OWGR Top-50 are in the field.
C.T. Pan (wrist)
Pan has been out with a wrist injury since last November when he withdrew from the Houston Open (11/8). He made a rehab start on the Korn Ferry Tour at the Club Car Championship at the end of March (missed the cut).
Matt Fitzpatrick (neck)
Fitzpatrick did a press conference on Tuesday before The Masters in which he revealed that the neck injury he suffered at the end of January has lasted a lot longer than he expected. After missing the cut at Genesis in February, Fitzpatrick said an MRI revealed a slight disc bulge in his neck and which forced him to stop training in the gym and stop his speed training.
Fitzpatrick noted in that same press conference that he's been able to swing pain-free since The Players Championship and that it was a matter of just building back up to his usual solid form.
"I definitely feel better physically. I definitely feel better mentally. I feel like my game is kind of slowly getting there, but at the same time I'm still in an early kind of, effectively, a rebuild phase of getting strong and swinging it better."
We saw great signs last week when Fitzpatrick finished T10 at The Masters and shot all four rounds of par or better. Fitz will look to string together another strong week when he tees it up at Harbour Town.
Ryan Fox (illness)
Fox mentioned last Friday, following his second round of The Masters, that he was dealing with flu-like symptoms. He managed to play through it and finish T26 in his first-ever start at Augusta National. It appears this isn’t a big issue for Fox but is worth noting anyway
Adam Schenk (personal)
Schenk’s wife has a baby on the way and so he’s expecting to miss time towards the end of April. For now though, he’s in the field for RBC Heritage and continuing to play.
Chad Ramey (back)
Ramey withdrew from Corales Puntacana before his round two tee time (3/24). He returned at the Valero Texas Open but missed the cut.
Davis Thompson (undisclosed)
Thompson withdrew from the Valero Texas Open a few days before the start. No reason was ever given for Thompson’s WD, but he’s slated to return this week at RBC Heritage.
Davis Love III (hand/wrist)
Love III withdrew prior to his second-round tee time at the Valero Texas Open (3/31) citing thumb and wrist injuries. The 58-year-old is returning this week at RBC Heritage.
Brian Gay (undisclosed)
Gay withdrew from the Valero Texas Open (3/28) a few days before the start.
NOT OF FIELD
McIlroy withdrew on Monday. After missing the cut at The Masters last week, McIlroy will take an additional week off and not play at Harbour Town.
It's currently unclear if McIlroy's decision to WD from this event is injury related. RBC Heritage is a designated event on the PGA Tour this year, and top players were said to be allowed to skip just one designated event. This will be the second designated event that McIlroy is skipping (the first being the Sentry Tournament of Champions), and so it's possible that he could face some sort of penalty from the PGA Tour.
Day pulled out of the field for RBC Heritage late on Sunday. It’s currently unclear if this is injury related or not, but worth noting that Day shot an 80 in the final round of The Masters. We’ll continue to monitor his status.
Will Zalatoris (back)
Zalatoris announced on his Instagram account on Monday that he underwent successful surgery on his back this past Saturday and will now miss the rest of the season.
Less than a week ago, Zalatoris withdrew just prior to his first-round tee time at The Masters. As it turns out, Zalatoris was dealing with the same back issues (herniated discs) that caused him to be out for the last four months of 2022. Zalatoris has had a very promising start to his career, winning his first PGA Tour event last summer at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, but will now miss at least another five months following a microdiscectomy.
I've seen some confusion out there–this is the first time Zalatoris is having back surgery. He did NOT have surgery in 2022.
Noren pulled out of the field for RBC Heritage this past weekend. No information was given for Noren's WD. He shot 78-75 at The Masters and missed the cut.
Tiger Woods (ankle, foot)
Woods withdrew from The Masters prior to the resumption of play in round three on Sunday morning. The five-time Masters champion completed seven holes of his third round on Saturday but was seen in pain walking around Augusta National, and with a noticeably worse limp.
Woods' injuries have not responded well when the weather gets cold and wet, as was the case on Saturday at Augusta. He would have had 29 more holes to complete on Sunday, which would have been a lot of physical strain to put on his surgically repaired ankle and plantar fasciitis. Even with the WD, Tiger still made his 23rd-consecutive cut at The Masters this year, tying Fred Couples and Gary Player for the most consecutive cuts made in Masters history.
It’s currently unclear if Woods will play in the PGA Championship, which would be his most likely next start.
Aaron Wise (personal)
Wise announced in an Instagram story on 3/31 that he would not be playing in The Masters. He is stepping away from golf to focus on his mental health.
“Golf is just as much a mental game as it is one of physical skill, and the mental piece of it has been a struggle for me recently. I don’t take the significance of playing at Augusta lightly, but know that I need to take some time away to focus on my mental health so I can get back to compete at a level I am proud of.”
Daniel Berger (back)
Berger is hopeful to make his return to the PGA Tour sometime in May, per Daniel Rapaport of Barstool Sports. The four-time winner has been sidelined since the 2022 U.S. Open. Berger tried to play through this injury last season but said “that was definitely not the answer.” Instead, Berger has opted to take a more patient approach in his recovery. According to Rapaport, Berger has begun ramping up practice, and though he’s set no official timeline for a return it appears Berger could come back to the TOUR in May.
RBC Heritage golfers with the highest “True Strokes Gained” (avg. adjusted strokes gained) at Harbour Town Golf Links (min. two starts):
Patrick Cantlay +2.30 (18 rounds)
J.T. Poston +2.25 (14)
Erik van Rooyen +2.22 (8)
Cameron Davis +2.10 (8)
Shane Lowry +1.77 (18)
Matt Kuchar +1.75 (72)
Luke Donald +1.66 (52)
Tommy Fleetwood +1.63 (10)
Joel Dahmen +1.62 (12)
Notable one-time performances at Harbour Town:
Seamus Power - T6 (2019)
Cameron Young - T3 (2022)
Viktor Hovland - T21 (2020)
Jon Rahm - T33 (2020)
Adam Svensson - T26 (2022)
Notables playing Harbour Town for the first time:
Min Woo Lee