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The Mustache rises: Erik van Rooyen battles wind, rises on the RBC Heritage leader board

April 15, 2022

Erik van Rooyen plays his shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the RBC Heritage.

Kevin C. Cox

HILTON HEAD ISLAND -- Once in a while, just for the heck of it and usually on a low-key afternoon like the one that settled upon Harbour Town Golf Links Friday, you'll find yourself asking someone like Matt Kuchar what he thinks of Erik van Rooyen's mustache. Not because they have any special connection, but just because van Rooyen's mustache is on your mind, and Kuchar happens to be standing in front of a microphone and looking approachable. And you'll get a quote like this:

"I have not seen it. He's got nice ankles, though."

And then, moments later, you'll ask van Rooyen what he thinks of the fact that Matt Kuchar likes his ankles—van Rooyen's pants have long stopped short of his shoes, revealing a flash of skin—and he'll smile and look at the ground and say, "Yeah, he mentioned something to me at the British Open one year as well. Yeah ... no comment."

If the general tour attitude was more relaxed than usual on Friday, that's fairly typical of the RBC Heritage; maybe it's the proximity to the ocean, maybe it's the comedown from the tension of Augusta, but here in the shadow of the big lighthouse, guards drop, and smiles are easier to come by. Van Rooyen deserved to smile, too, following a four-under-par 67 in extremely windy conditions that doled out plenty of punishment. It was the kind of day when the National Weather Service issued a small craft advisory, with northeast winds peaking around 25 mph. But while the recreational boaters on Hilton Head may want to keep their cruisers docked for the day, the golfers at Harbour Town lacked that option. Van Rooyen made the best of it, pushing his score to six under before the weekend.

The 32-year-old South African was among a small group that rose to the occasion, and though Camilo Villegas and Cameron Tringle equaled his 67, van Rooyen's effort was more impressive since it came later, in the teeth of the wind. Four birdies on the front nine girded him well for the battle on the back, in which he exchanged body blows with the course and came away with a hard-fought draw, even with a bogey on 18.

"A-plus," he said, assessing his play. "Hit the ball extremely well the last two days ... the difference was just I made a couple more putts today, which is great. Bogeyed a couple on the back nine, probably the two hardest holes out there today, so I'm not too worried about it. Just really happy with the state of my game."

The wind wasn't just blowing hard; it was switching, too, and that made the five concluding holes particularly difficult as the players made the slow march back to the clubhouse. And while it'd be hard to find a player who tells you he particularly wants the wind to blow, some are better suited to it than others.

"I do enjoy the wind," van Rooyen said. "I think it brings out the creativity in me, and you've got to hit it low and fade it and draw it around trees, and with the wind or against the wind. In this golf course you've got to do that, and I do that quite well."

With first-round leader Cameron Young falling back to the pack after a difficult front nine, van Rooyen briefly held the lead before Patrick Cantlay grabbed it for himself. It's a tug-of-war that will likely go on the rest of the day, but in any case, the South African will have his chances on the weekend.

Finally, talk turned to the increasingly famous mustache. It's inspired by his grandfather's lifelong mustache, and it turns up smartly at the ends, like in the portraits of old Civil War generals. Was it naturally buoyant, we wondered, or did it require more hands-on maintenance?

"No, this is a grooming process in the morning," he said. "The wax that I had actually didn't hold strong enough; now that's just straight up pomade hair product that's in there."

Van Rooyen has long grown the mustache for Christmas, but this time it stuck around. He says there's no branding intent, just a goof, and he let us in on a big problem.

"My wife dislikes it," he admitted, "so there's definitely a shelf life."

Like the wind, this particular force of nature cannot last forever. But it's a blast while it does.