Harbour Town Golf links set a fiddly test for the professionals with some of the smallest greens on the tour where the Bermuda grass can be on the slow side.
June 18-21, 2020 at
Harbour Town Golf Links
Par 71, 7099 yards
After last week’s resumption on the PGA Tour with The Charles Schwab Challenge this week we move to South Carolina and the popular Hilton Head Island. Harbour Town Golf links set a fiddly test for the professionals with some of the smallest greens on the tour where the Bermuda grass can be on the slow side. A classic Pete Dye design course with Jack Nicklaus’s help (Nicklaus’s first attempt at course design) has the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse as a perfect backdrop to the 18th green. Heavily tree-lined narrow fairways that have a links-style and strategic golf is a must with accuracy off the tee and precision iron play a premium. First played in 1969 when Arnold Palmer was champion, the tournament usually follows the Masters played in Georgia in April.
What Did We Learn from Last Week’s Resumption of the PGA Tour in Texas?
The tournament of last week, the Charles Schwab Challenge had a very similar shape to this with a stronger field than normal. Last week was like nothing had changed as the top of the leaderboard was populated by the very best players in the world, proving that the three-month hiatus, the lack of galleries and course atmosphere was no hindrance. In fact, it felt like a WGC event rather than a regular PGA Tour tournament.
The Heritage Classic Has a Different Look to Most Years as Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and John Rahm Make Belated Course Debuts. Can Any of Them Win?
Yes, I think they all have chances although I would say Rory McIlroy is the pick of the bunch. He has won the PGA Championship on the European Tour at Wentworth, the Canadian Open last year on a fiddly Harry Cole track in Hamilton, and then last week he was impressive on his course debut at the Colonial. The Colonial has always been a similar test of golf and many players’ best career form is interlinked between the two courses. Therefore, last week’s course debut for Rory McIlroy being so impressive is an indicator that he will enjoy Hilton Head.
The other factor that may be coming into play for the NorthernIrishmanis that he is rising to a new challenge as great champions do! Golf’s next superstar after Woods has always had to be so disciplined with his schedule in a similar way concentrating on tracks where his natural power is an advantage while building preparation perfectly for the four major championships, that these two events never featured on his roster. Perhaps the enforced change and challenge is something Rory McIlroy is embracing after all, in theory, he is the complete golfer.
Is Harbour Town Links a Course Specialist Track Then?
Yes, this is a track where course experience is an advantage and certain players have produced outstanding results over the years. Davis Love was champion on five occasions and Englishman, Luke Donald has seven top 3 finishes in the last eleven seasons.
Bryson Dechambeau is a player with unfinished business at Hilton Head Island after nearly landing his first PGA Tour title here in 2016. Since he has gone onto better things winning five times on tour. 2019 was a frustrating year for Dechambeau who failed to win on the PGA Tour despite winning early in the year on the European Tour in Dubai.
Last week it was noticeable how sharp he looked last week in Texas and we can expect him to improve this week for the experience. Not only was he sharp but he had put on 20lb in weight since the lockdown, however, unlike most of us, it was a deliberate attempt to bulk up and hit the ball longer, he did just that by leading the Driving Distance stat with 300 yards on a track not ideally suited to long hitters. The idiosyncratic star of golf continues to find ways to improve that others have never considered in his quest for perfection and looks overdue his sixth PGA Tour title.
The 2016 champion, Brendan Grace looked in good form last week until a poor final round undermined his effort and we should expect him to kick on this week. Already a winner on the European Tour in 2020 back in his homeland South Africa at the South African Open he looks set to leave winless 2018 and 2019 behind him.
Another player whose effort last week was undermined by a poor final round was our selection, Jordan Spieth. He too has previous form at Harbour Town Golf Links but only played fleetingly in recent seasons due to his schedule changing. He was close to his best last week, but his erratic flaws came back to haunt him, but he remains a player who could bounce back.
Jim Furyk might have turned fifty, but he is a double champion here and last week will have fine-tuned his skills for one of his favorite weeks of the year. No one is better at plotting their way around a course and strategic golf on tough layouts than Jim Furyk and describes his strengths in a nutshell. As Davis Love has proved in recent years being a Champions Tour player does not mean you cannot win on the main tour and Furyk had a solid week in Texas last.
Jim Furyk’s last win here in 2015 saw him beat Kevin Kisner in a sudden-death playoff. Both players played superbly that day and there didn’t deserve to be a loser. This track is perfect in theory for Kisner especially with the hidden gusts of wind from the sea above the tree-lined fairways. Not many players handle their ball flight as well as Kisner and he looks set for a strong showing after a solid week at Colonial.
Last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge Daniel Berger arrives in South Carolina in even better form than before the Covid-19 break, that had seen him accumulate 3 top 10 finishes in succession. He won the St Jude Classic back to back years in 2016 and 2017 but since his career has stalled until 2020. He could hardly have been more impressive last week in a stellar field as his strong tee to green game ground down the opposition as he stayed on too strongly for his higher-ranked opposition. With his confidence fully restored he will be looking forward to strutting his stuff this week at the course where he was the 36-hole leader last year when in below-average form. If he doesn’t suffer an adverse reaction, he could go back to back like Brendan Todd earlier in the season.
PGA Golf Pick
PGA Golf Banker
We have two-course specialists for our banker bets this week. Firstly, Jason Kokrak who is still a maiden on the PGA Tour despite his consistency seeing him finish 11th in the money list last year. He has a 50% strike rate for top 20 finishes here and has the confidence boost of playing superbly at Colonial last week where he eventually finished 3rd.
Slovakian veteran Rory Sabbatini has become Mr. Consistent in recent years on the PGA Tour and his five top 20s here in the last year illustrates that. In his early years, he was a regular tournament winner (5 titles, last in 2011), if rather slightly erratic due to his guns all-out attack approach at the time. With experience and age, the youthful exuberance has since disappeared, and he has become an accumulator of prize money rather than titles. Like Kokrak, he played well last week and looks primed for yet another top 20 finish this week.
PGA Golf Bankers Picks
PGA Golf Longshots
We have talked about the advantage of course experience here but there were three players who had a top 10 finish on debut last season; Sam Burns, Seamus Power and J T Poston. J T Poston from North Carolina interests me this week having won in the fall of 2019 on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship and he performed respectably last week at Colonial with a 10th place. Interestingly five time Heritage champion, Davis Love won the Wyndham Championship and there has always been a correlation between the two events.
Luke List could be ready to fulfill his potential on the PGA Tour after winning for the first time since 2012 on the Korn Ferry Tour resumption at the Korn Ferry Challenge, Sawgrass. He impressed with the lead on Sunday, something he has struggled with on the PGA Tour despite showing impressive form on some of the toughest courses. Now with his confidence re-enforced we should expect a good showing this week given he placed 3rd here in 2018. The interesting thing about List is the only time he won on the Web.com tour in 2012 he backed it up the next week with a runner up finish, both events where in Georgia which is the local state to South Carolina and thus we are definitely interested in supporting him this week.
Kevin Streelman took the opportunity to sharpen his game in the enforced break at the Scottsdale AZ Open where he figured prominently. Last week a poor end to round two meant he missed the cut in Texas but the experience will have honed his game further for a venue well suited to his strengths where he has three top 7 finishes in the last seven years and has a strong look this week.
We mentioned Luke Donald and his seven top 5 finishes in 11 years earlier and he was 11th at the last tournament before the enforced break; the Honda Classic. The former World number one who reached those heights through unflinching consistency rather than an ability to win. He is a sporadic performer these days but retains the inherent class and course knowledge to pop up and contend here.
PGA Golf Longshots Pick
Extra PGA Golf Longshots Picks (all odds via BetOnline):
- Luke List – win @ +12500
- Luke Donald – Top 5 @ +3300
- Luke List – Top 10 @ +1000