The RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club will be played for the 10th time Nov. 21-24, with a familiar name in the role as the defending tournament champion.
Augusta native Charles Howell, who has competed in all nine previous tournaments played on St. Simons Island, will head up a field of 156 players that features a strong group of golfers with ties to Georgia.
Howell became the fourth RSM Classic champion who is either a Georgia native or resident or played his college golf in the state, and there’s a good chance Howell or one of his Georgia-connected compatriots will make it 5-for-10 next week.
Most of the more prominent players in the field have ties to Georgia, including former champions Howell and a pair of teammates from UGA’s 2005 NCAA Championship golf team – Kevin Kisner and Atlanta area native and Athens resident Chris Kirk, the 2015 and ’13 winners respectively.
Kirk will be among the most closely watched players competing next week, as he is returning from a six-month absence from the PGA Tour to deal with some personal issues. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Kirk, who lived on St. Simons for a number of years before returning to the Atlanta area not long before his RSM Classic victory.
Also returning to action is fellow ex-Bulldog and St. Simons resident Hudson Swafford, who has been out for five months with a foot injury. Both Kirk and Swafford returned to the PGA Tour this week in Mexico.
Matt Kuchar, part of a sizeable PGA Tour contingent of St. Simons’ residents, is back in the RSM Classic after missing last year’s event prior to traveling to Australia to compete as part of the U.S. team in the World Cup. Kuchar is again headed to Australia after this year’s tournament as part of the U.S. Presidents Cup team, but has managed to fit his hometown event into his busy end-of-the-year schedule.
Other locals in the field include tournament host Davis Love, veterans Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd and Michael Thompson, youngsters Keith Mitchell and J.T. Poston – both 2019 PGA Tour winners, two-time 2017-18 winner Patton Kizzire, and two former UGA teammates who are both off to strong starts this season – Harris English and Brian Harman.
There will also be a current member of the Georgia golf team in the field – Davis Thompson, son of RSM Classic Tournament Director Todd Thompson. The younger Thompson earned his spot in the field with a runner-up finish in the annual Jones Cup earlier this year, losing in a playoff to Akshay Bhatia, who has since turned pro. The RSM Classic awards a spot in the field to the Jones Cup champion, with Thompson getting it when Bhatia turned pro. The tournament also issued an invite to Bhatia, who will be making his fourth start of the season on the PGA Tour.
Dru Love has also received a sponsor exemption and will join his father in the field. Davis will join the CBS golf broadcast crew in 2020 in a major shakeup in the booth for the network, which has dumped swing analyst Peter Kostis and Gary McCord, whose irreverence and underappreciated insight will be difficult to replace.
This year’s RSM Classic will be the fifth one in which the Plantation course has shared host duties with the Seaside course. Plantation recently re-opened after an extensive re-design kept the course closed since last year’s tournament. Love Golf Design, headed up by Mark Love, handled the renovation work, as it did several years ago with the Retreat course.
All 18 holes have been altered, most notably holes 14, 15 and 16, all three of which have changed par. The new par-5 14th has merged the old par-4 14th and par-3 15th, retaining the water-guarded green at the previous 15th hole. The former par-5 16th is now two holes – a short-ish par- 4 with the smallest green on the course and a short par 3 with a two-tier green. This returns the three holes to their original configuration.
Other changes have added about 150 yards, mostly on the front nine along with the risk/reward par-5 18th. The 10th, formerly a lengthy par 4, was shortened considerably several years ago and is now a dramatic, drivable hole with the green moved to the left to border a lake and a trio of “principal’s nose” bunkers placed in the middle of the fairway.
Both fairway and greenside bunkers have been thoroughly re-positioned on all 18 holes, and the greens complexes are significantly different, increasing the undulation of the putting surfaces, many of which feature dramatically different shapes.
Plantation remains a par 72, with the entire field playing it either Thursday or Friday. Seaside, a par 70, will again be the lone course used for the final two rounds, making the par for 72 holes 282.
Howell won last year with a score of 19-under 263, winning with a birdie on the second playoff hole against Patrick Rodgers, who made up 12 shots on Howell the final two days after making the cut on the number. Rodgers set an all-time PGA Tour record for low final 36 holes, closing with scores of 61 and 62 on the Seaside course, which was virtually defenseless the last two days in windless conditions.
The top-ranked player in this year’s field is Webb Simpson, along with Kuchar the only members of the U.S. Presidents Cup team entered in the RSM Classic. Simpson is 11th in the World Golf Rankings, with Kuchar 22, Billy Horschel 32 and Kisner 35. Horschel, one of the last players to file his entry, tied for second in 2016, losing in a 5-way playoff. Canada’s Adam Hadwin, the lone member of the Presidents Cup International team in the field, is the only other top-50 player at 46.
Like Howell, who is No. 54 in the OWGR, Simpson has a track record of success in the tournament, placing second in the second RSM Classic in 2011, tying for seventh in 2013 and taking third last year, one shot out of the Howell-Rodgers playoff. Jim Furyk, 56 in the OWGR, also has played well in the tournament, finishing a close third in 2012 and tied for seventh in ’16.
Simpson, Furyk, Love and Johnson are among a group of major champions in the field, along with Stewart Cink and Jason Dufner. Also competing are three winners from the 2019-20 season – Sebastian Munoz (Jackson, Miss.), Lanto Griffin (Houston) and Brendon Todd (Bermuda), a teammate of Kirk and Kisner on UGA’s 2005 NCAA championship squad and a Georgia resident.
Griffin, a 2019 Korn Ferry Tour graduate, has enjoyed a remarkably consistent start to the 2019-20 season with six straight finishes of 18th or better. Griffin is the current leader in the FedExCup standings, with Munoz fourth on the points list.
Among the prominent veteran players in the field are 2014 tournament runner-up Kevin Chappell, Brian Gay, Russell Knox, Rory Sabbatini, Kyle Stanley and Jhonattan Vegas. European Ryder Cupper Alex Noren, 60 in the OWGR, was a late entrant, but his appearance may be contingent on whether he qualifies for the final event of the European Tour schedule in Dubai. Another late entrant was 2017 U.S. Presidents Cup team member Daniel Berger.
A trio of twenty-somethings who played their college golf at Texas head up the list of rising PGA Tour stars in the field. Dylan Frittelli won a tournament late in the 2018-19 season and began this season with back-to-back top 10s. Scottie Scheffler also has a pair of top 10s this season after ranking as the No. 1 player on the 2019 KF Tour. Beau Hossler had a pair of runner-up finishes in his rookie season in 2017-18 and has also played well in recent weeks.
Doc Redman, who won the 2017 U.S. Amateur Championship while a member of the Clemson golf team, played his way onto the PGA Tour thanks to a runner-up finish last season in Detroit, and is among the non-Longhorn category of promising youngsters, along with Virginia’s Denny McCarthy, one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour this season, and the St. Simons duo of Poston and Mitchell, both winners earlier this year.
Mitchell is one of 11 Georgia Bulldogs in the field, with Augusta’s Greyson Sigg a late sponsor exemption. Sigg has been a top 20 player each of the last three seasons on the Canadian Tour, finishing in the top 10 in 2019.
Other players of note with Georgia ties are fellow Augustans Luke List and Vaughn Taylor, Macon native and ex-Bulldog Russell Henley and Georgia Tech’s Chesson Hadley.
The first day spectators are allowed at the tournament is Wednesday, with admission to the Yamaha Pro-Am free. Daily tickets and weekly badges are still on sale locally, with the number for information 912-634-3266. The tournament web site is rsmclassic.com.
Free parking is located at the St. Simons airport, with shuttles bringing spectators to the course. The airport will also be the site of a concert Saturday night featuring country music singer/songwriter Cole Swindell.
For those unable to attend the tournament, the Golf Channel will provide live coverage of all four rounds, with cameras on both Seaside and Plantation the first two days. Broadcast times are noon to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday with prime time replays Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday re-airs from 5-8 p.m. and 11 p.m.-2 a.m.