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9 things worth knowing about round one of the 2014 RBC Heritage

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Matt Kuchar has finished T-4, second and T-5 in his last three starts, and now he's back near the top of the leader board at the RBC Heritage. On a windy-day, he opened with his lowest-ever round at the Heritage. "I would not expect to shoot my low round at tournament competition on a day like this," he said.

One of the men who Kuchar shared the 18-hole lead with was William McGirt (Scott Langley was the other). That curly-fro of his hasn't been in contention since the Northern Trust Open in February. "Harbour Town and I have a love-hate relationship," he said. "My first two years here was a lot of hate on my part, but I'm starting to like it."

A week after hitting 52 of 72 Greens In Regulation at his first Masters, Billy Horschel hit almost 80 percent of the the tiny greens at Harbour Town. His two-under 69 left him T-5. "I'm in a great groove right now," he said.

Away from the top of the leader board, Boo Weekley wore a camouflage Under Armor shirt and rain pants on Thursday, even though it was warm and sunny all day. The two-time Heritage champ shot a two-over 73, leaving him six-strokes back of leader Matt Kuchar after the first round. 

The weather at Harbour Town was glorious on Thursday, but it's not supposed to stay that way. The forecast is calling for rain and wind tomorrow, with potential for more rain over the weekend. "I still think the winning score even with the weather is probably going to get somewhere around 10 to 12 [under]," Will McGirt said.

The 10th tee starter at the RBC heritage had some trouble with names on Thursday. A group after announcing South African Charl Schwartzel from "Blair Atholl, South Carolina" (in fairness, he did correct himself), he called Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano "Fernando-Castano."

Jordan Spieth and Tom Watson played together in the first round of the RBC Heritage, shooting 69 and 75, respectively. Earlier this week, Watson said one of the reasons he was playing was to do some Ryder Cup scouting. With that in mind, he and Spieth were loving-it-up all day. "We had a great time," Spieth said. "Talking with him is priceless."

This was K.J. Choi's first week using a yellow golf ball -- he used the Srixon Z-Star Tour Yellow en-route to a first round 70. "Yellow is better," Choi said, "I can see it better when I hit it."

choi-ball-518.jpgNick Faldo shot an opening-round 77, then faced a Twitter rant from a Tour player who has definitely not won six majors (or, incidentally a Heritage title, which would have given him the option of playing this week, even if he was 56).


Ben Crane still has a very powerful mustache, which first appeared in all its glory during the Valspar Championship. Its powers, though, must be limited to off the golf course. He opened with a five-over 76 on Thursday.

One more look.


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Courses & Travel

On National High Five Day, celebrating the subtle art of the golf high five

By Sam Weinman

In golf, we love the high five. Sure, we now have the fist pump, and the forearm bash, and if you're Jason Dufner, you might even get away with the occasional butt squeeze. But when all of those run their course? Mark our words: We'll be back to the high five. 

"That cop let you off with just a warning? High five! Oh, and nice putt."

In golf, the high five is kind of like the wooden tee. There will always be something newer and purportedly cooler to try to replace it. But nothing ever lasts.

Golf high fives come in all shapes and sizes. Some are subtle. Some are emphatic. Many are painfully awkward. And today being National High Five Day (yes, it's an actual day -- shame on you for not getting us a card), we figured there's no better time to celebrate the many ways they surface on the golf course.

Naturally, the most common use of the high five in golf is the "You just made a big putt and I'm pretending to be happy for you" high five.

A close second would be the "Hey, look, we're wearing the same shirt!" high five.

Once in a while, though, five just won't do.

Baby high fives are always cool.

But not quite as cool as "I just chipped in at the Masters" high five.

The only thing that would be cooler is a "I just holed out for double eagle" high five. 

But only if you make contact. 

When you miss? Not as cool.

(Photos by Getty Images)

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Five minutes with Billy Horschel makes you realize how good he's hitting the ball right now

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Billy Horschel shot an opening round 69 at the RBC Heritage on Thursday. Two-under isn't really a special score in itself, but it's the way he did it that makes it special.

If you've been following Billy Horschel in recent weeks, you'll realize that he hit 52 of 72 Greens In Regulation at his first Masters last week -- second only to Jordan Spieth -- and still only mustered a T-37 finish.

Related: Swing Sequence: Billy Horschel

His superb ball-striking continued into the first round at the RBC Heritage, hitting almost 78 percent of his greens. Considering the person with the highest GIR percentage on tour hits 72 percent of his greens, that's obviously impressive, but it's only when you hear him talk about it do you realize how good that actually is.

Here's a selection from his press conference after the Thursday's round. Notice how easily he rattles through his round, quickly listing his birdie chances without ever missing a beat. In retrospect, he should have probably shot in the low 60s:

"I birdied 2, par-5. . .birdied 4, hit it to about 18 feet and made it, maybe 20 feet. Had an opportunity for birdie -- just slipped out birdie at 5. . . 

"Hit it to a foot on No. 9. 10 I had it to about ten feet and missed it. 11 left it dead center short. 12 I hit it about 25 feet on the green, and somehow the ball didn't go into the hole. Did a 360 on me. Birdied the next hole, 13, especially going into 14. Hit it to about eight feet there and made the putt.

"Good par on 14 and 15. Hit it to six feet on 16 and missed it. I think the wind pushed it out of the hole. Made a good one on No. 17 from about, probably 20 feet. And then the last one I hit a good putt right where I wanted, just didn't move."

Just your average, podunk, two-under 69. 

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News & Tours

‘Faldo…REALLY??? Get back in the booth’

By John Strege

Nostalgia was involved in Nick Faldo’s decision to play in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town in Hilton Head, S.C., site of his first PGA Tour victory 30 years ago.

Yet it was not a decision favorably received in all quarters. Josh Broadaway, a veteran of the Tour, criticized the decision in a series of Tweets:


-- “Faldo...REALLY??? Get back in the booth and give the guys a chance to play that are trying to keep their job!! #STEWPID”

-- “Nick Faldo +3 thru 5.....does anybody know where his shots fall?? And how many guys are competing in the net division?? #CmonMan"

-- “my point is dont take a spot from a guy that needs to be playing. The first 5 alts aren't making a million to broadcast the wknd”

Faldo, who shot a 76, was in the field as a past champion of the Heritage. “This was the first event I won in America, so I thought that would be pretty cool,” he said Wednesday, explaining why he was playing. “And I thought Hilton Head is in theory perfect for me. It's through the trees. It's dead flat. I pick the flat courses now, because I've got dodgy ankles. So I thought, why not? It comes off after the Masters. It's a good run. I'm just trying to squeeze one in.”

Faldo, 56, last made a cut on the PGA Tour at the Bay Hill Invitational in 2006, though he withdrew after the third round. He won’t make the cut in Hilton Head, enabling him to work the CBS telecast on the weekend.

Broadaway, meanwhile, was making an old argument, that players who have no chance to contend or even make the cut deprive younger players starts that conceivably could help make their seasons.

One such player mentioned by Broadaway was Hudson Swafford, who was the first alternate at Harbour Town and is 137th on the money list. Swafford did not get into the tournament.

“so if @Hud_swafford finishes 126 on the MList he prob won't be mad he missed this week so Mr Faldo could celebrate his 1st W?” Broadaway posted.

It is an old argument, to which there is an old counterpoint. Play better and getting tournament starts won’t be an issue.

(Getty Images photo)

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Check out this photo of two Babes kissing on the golf course (It's not what you think)

By Alex Myers

What to make of this picture of Babe Ruth and Babe Zaharias kissing before a charity golf tournament?


Let's break it down:

-- First, some background. Zaharias, who was married to wrestler George Zaharias, and Ruth, who was married to actress and model Claire Merritt Hodgson, were not an item. This was a friendly kiss that occurred at Babe Ruth's Cancer Fund Golf Tournament in Miami on February 29, 1948. Sadly, the Yankees legend would die of cancer less than six months later.

Related: Babe Ruth: the Sultan of Swat and the King of celebrity golf

-- Onto more happier things, it's a picture of Babe Ruth and Babe Zaharias, arguably the greatest male and female athletes ever! Ruth re-wrote baseball record books and was a celebrity golf pioneer. Zaharias won 10 major championships as a golfer and two Olympic gold medals in track and field.

-- Babe Ruth's golf shirt is awesome. It's literally a Hawaiian shirt, listing places within in the state and showing people surfing and swimming. I want one.

-- Is that Raymond Floyd behind Ruth's right arm?

Here's another pic from that day:


-- Love Babe Ruth putting with a cigar hanging from his mouth. Not even Miguel Angel Jimenez pulls off that look as well.

-- Love Babe Zaharias being so excited about the other Babe's putt.

Related: Why was Michael Jordan chasing Sergio Garcia at St. Andrews?

-- Love how everyone seems to be watching intently where that ball is going -- except for the younger golfer (identified as University of Miami golfer Al Besselink) behind Zaharias. What is he looking at?! It's Babe Ruth putting! Show some respect!

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News & Tours

This yardage book that PGA Tour pros use might be the most complicated thing in the world

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Mark Long is something of a legend on the PGA Tour. Aside from his gut-busting stories, the PGA Tour caddie creates the yardage books that all the other PGA Tour caddies use.

But it's not just regular yardage books, it's also yardage books specifically designed for the greens, charting every subtle change of slope on every inch of the putting surface. On a side note, if you ever wonder why PGA Tour players are so good at putting, this kind of information is probably one of the reasons.

Here's the cover of one of those yardage books for this week's venue, Harbour Town Golf Links.

It comes with a brief set of instructions, too. The books range in price from $40 to $60 depending on how much information you want. This is the $60 version, which calculates slope by degrees.


Here's what Harbour Town's first green looks like in person (from the back of the green):

And here's what it looks like in the yardage book:

Here's what what the biggest slope on the first green looks like:

And here's what it looks like in the yardage book:

I asked Brandt Snedeker, one of the PGA Tour's best putters, to help explain the book to me and he was just as lost as I was.

Related: A look inside Dustin Johnson's Pebble Beach yardage book

"I have no idea what any of this means," Snedeker said, his eyes fixated on all the millions of little lines in the book. "Luckily I've always had a pretty good knack for reading greens, so I don't use them. Some guys love these things, but for me, I don't want to over complicate things."

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Golf & Business

TaylorMade's King elevated at Adidas

markking2_adidasgroupnorthamerica-1.jpgBy Mike Stachura

TaylorMade CEO Mark King, the most successful chief executive in the company's history since its founder Gary Adams, is moving to a new role within the corporation that owns the TaylorMade brand.

Adidas Group AG CEO Herbert Hainer has tabbed King to be the new president of Adidas Group North America. King wills serve with Hainer on the TaylorMade-adidas Golf Advisory Board. Adidas Group North America oversees the Adidas and Reebok brands. King, 54, takes over for Patrik Nilsson, who is leaving Adidas to take on the role of CEO of fashion brand Gant, which is based in his home country of Sweden. Nilsson, who had been with Adidas since 1991 and had been president of the Adidas division in North America since 2007, had replaced Uli Beckker as head of Adidas Group North America just in October. The move is effective June 1.

Taking over for King at TaylorMade-adidas Golf will be Ben Sharpe, current executive vice president of the Adidas Golf and Ashworth brands. Sharpe, 40, has been with the company since 2006, spending six years as TaylorMade-adidas Golf's managing director in Europe.

Sharpe replaces a true golf lifer who was part of  TaylorMade since its early days in the 1980s as a sales representative and one of only three employees at the time. King, 54, joined the company right out of college (he attended Northern Illinois University for two years on a golf scholarship before finishing his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay). King left TaylorMade in 1998 to become vice president of sales for Callaway's then-new golf ball business. But just 18 months later, he returned to TaylorMade as president, sparking a tense legal battle between the golf corporate giants both based in Carlsbad, Calif. 

King went on to oversee TaylorMade's rise to a dominant position in the game, taking it from $349 million in sales in 1999 to more than $1.7 billion in 2013. Under King's leadership, TaylorMade became the No. 1 driver played on the PGA Tour, and he led the company in its acquisition of the Ashworth and Adams brands. King recently predicted sales at TaylorMade-adidas Golf could reach $2 billion by 2015.

“Mark King’s appointment underlines our clear commitment to the North American marketplace,” Hainer said in a statement. "Mark has a proven track record of success and leadership excellence. In turn, TaylorMade-adidas Golf is in best hands with Ben Sharpe. I am convinced that Ben will lead our golf business into the next era of growth.”

While this move can largely be seen as a promotion for King, it is somewhat of a blow to the golf industry in that King had taken on the role of a spokesman advocating change and grow-the-game initiatives. In January at the PGA Merchandise Show, he launched an outreach program to crowdsource grow-the-game ideas called Hack Golf. Only Monday, King hosted a 15-inch cup event as an alternative way for the game to be played, featuring TaylorMade staff players Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. He also has recently been named to a PGA of America task force investigating ways to grow the game. King, who will serve on the executive board overseeing TaylorMade-adidas Golf, reportedly will remain on the PGA of America task force and "will continue his involvement in Hack Golf."

Sharpe helped double the TaylorMade business in Europe during his tenure there. A member of Great Britain's field hockey team that competed in the 2000 Olympics, Sharpe has been a proponent of golf in the Olympics, saying in 2012, "Being able to be part of the Olympic Games and the exhilaration they create, I am sure, will provide incredible support to the sport of golf. ... I am confident if executed in the right way it will be a hugely significant event in the golf calendar."

Sharpe was born and raised in Birmingham, England and graduated from Sheffield University in 1996 with a degree in Business Studies and Financial Markets. He has led marketing groups for several companies including Motortrade Hartwell PLC and Lyle & Scott before joining TaylorMade-adidas Golf in 2006. A 7-handicap who began playing golf at age 12, he was named executive vice president of Adidas Golf and Ashworth in February 2013. His comment at the time seems right out of the Mark King playbook: “I am passionate about bringing relevant and ‘hot’ products to today’s golfer."

Said King in a statement, "Ben’s business savvy, vision, charisma and competitive drive make him the right man to lead TaylorMade-adidas Golf into the future. My role on the board will allow me to stay connected with the golf business while focusing my efforts on ensuring adidas Group reaches its full potential in North America.”

Neither King nor Sharpe were available for comment. 

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News & Tours

Throwback Thursday: That time Arnold Palmer won on Jack Nicklaus' cozy new course

By Sam Weinman

Imagine if a new Tiger Woods-designed golf course opened in time to host a PGA Tour event, which was then won by Phil Mickelson.

That was roughly the dynamic in 1969, when Harbour Town Golf Links hosted its first Heritage Classic. While it was primarily a Pete Dye project, the South Carolina course on Hilton Head Island was hailed for the involvement of Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear was touted as Dye's "design consultant" when the first Heritage was played over Thanksgiving weekend in 1969.

Best of all, the winner of that first Heritage was a 40-year-old Arnold Palmer, who hadn't won a PGA Tour event in more than a year, but who was energized by the challenge of playing his rival's new course.

Since late August (Palmer) has been doing 50 sit-ups every morning and 50 sit-ups every evening for the old hip hurt, and he was in a very pleasant frame of mind about his golf -- almost as if he had reconciled himself to the fact it would all come back sooner or later if he only stopped pressing so hard and worrying about it.

Finally, however, he was fired up about playing on Jack's course, and on a course that he wasn't supposed to be able to play well.

That was the other thing about Harbour Town. As much as we think of it today as this charming, throwback venue, it actually had the same reputation when it opened. Even by 1969 standards, Harbour Town at 6,700 yards was confining for PGA Tour players, cozy enough to negate the power advantage held by the likes of Palmer and Nicklaus.

Although Nicklaus downplayed his involvement in the course's design -- he said he contributed "1 percent" -- he was adamant about it suiting a wider base of players. 

"If there is one thing I didn't want this course to be," Nicklaus told Charles Price in the November 25, 1969 issue of Golf World, "it was a course that appeared to have been designed for my game. For every long par-4 hole, there is a short one to offset it."

Maybe Nicklaus was being magnanimous, or perhaps he had a more selfish goal in mind. As Jenkins wrote, "Nicklaus was accused of having designed a course that is thoroughly un-suited to his own game, Jack being a big hitter who likes some room. 'You've built a course for you to practice the talent shots on,' someone told him."

The practice eventually paid off. Six years later, Nicklaus claimed his sole win at "his" cozy, little course.

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News & Tours

Vagaries of match play can't keep USC women from their No. 1 ranking

By Ryan Herrington

Could match play unfairly level the playing field among college golf's top women's teams? That's the fear some have when the NCAA Women's Division I Championship committee agreed to add match play to help determine the team winner at nationals starting in 2015. If a certain team is the dominant force in stroke play thanks to its depth, but finds the vagaries of match play working against them, is that really how you want to determine the best team in college golf?

Yet the USC women did they best to prove that the vagaries of match play don't always work against the best teams. Playing at the Liz Murphey Collegiate last month in Athens, Ga., (sight of their 2013 NCAA title), the Trojans finished fourth in the 18-hole stroke-play qualifier, yet marched through the match play bracket to win their eighth title of the 2013-14 season. When you're good, you're good, no matter what format you play an event (and kudos to Georgia and coach Josh Brewer for deciding to try match play, providing a nice chance for top teams to give the format an early look before it goes into place next season).

After knocking off Arkansas in the championship match, USC remained the unanimous choice of the 20 voting coaches in the latest Golf World/WGCA women's Division I college coaches' poll. 

poll-women-d1-top-0421-518.jpgpoll-women-d1-bottom-0421-518.jpgA few tidbits from the latest D-I poll:

* The Trojans have been ranked No. 1 for 15 straight polls dating back to October 2012. It's the longest such streak since Golf World resumed the poll in 2001-02.

* Jumping from No. 10 to No. 6, South Carolina once again broke its own school record for its highest ranking.

* N.C. State fell out of the top 25 for the first time since October 2011.

Lynn University remained the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest Division II coaches’ poll. The Fighting Knights claimed their eighth team title of the 2013-14 season at the Bash at the Beach en route to receiving all 19 first-place votes. After the voting closed, the squad claimed its ninth victory, winning the Sunshine State Conference title by four strokes. The team takes this momentum into the NCAA postseason where it will try to defending its 2013 national title.

poll-women-d3-0421-250.jpgWashington U. of St. Louis held strong to the top spot in the latest Division III coaches’ poll. The Bears earned 16 of the 20 available first-place votes after winning four of their eight tournament starts. After the voting closed the squad claimed its fifth victory of the 2013-14 campaign with at the Illinois Wesleyan Spring Fling.

Methodist remained No. 2 in the poll, earning three first-place votes, with UT-Tyler hang in on to the No. 3 spot in the poll. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps moved up to No. 4 spot, earning the other first-place vote, with Williams rounding out the top five.

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News & Tours

Who is the most naturally gifted golfer on the PGA Tour? Four pros chime in

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- When it comes to "natural talent" on the PGA Tour, there are  two things casual golf fans often want to know: What is it, and who has the most of it?

We asked those two questions to a smattering of pros while they were preparing for the first round of this week's RBC Heritage. When it comes to what is natural talent -- or natural ability -- pros generally define that it's an innate skill within a golfer to imagine, and then execute, the unexpected, often on short-notice or in high-pressure situations. It's that indefinable "X" factor that you either have or don't; it's not something you can learn.

Related: 19 Things You Should Know About Bubba Watson

So who on tour has the most of it? Here's what four high-profile PGA Tour players say:

Hunter Mahan

"Rory McIlroy obviously does things his way, but, I mean, Bubba Watson basically created his own style of golf and he's using it to win. It's amazing some of the shots he can hit."

Brandt Snedeker

"Phil Mickelson. He's got the best hands in golf. Around the greens he can hit any shot, and he has great creativity that transfers to his full shots."

Billy Horschel

"DJ [Dustin Johnson] and Gary Woodland are up there. Their build, their body, they've got everything. But overall, I think it's got to be Tiger Woods. Some of the things that guy has done on the golf course during his career has just been unreal."

Graeme McDowell

"Bubba claims to be self taught. I obviously can't speak to that, but that's remarkable. There's really no limit to what he can do with a golf ball."

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