One former Lowco standout had a happy homecoming in Thursday’s opening round of the 2022 RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, but a couple others with local ties were kicking themselves after coming out of the gates slow in a rare “home game” at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Heritage Academy and International Junior Golf Academy alumnus Morgan Hoffmann provided the feel-good story of the day, returning to his one-time home of Hilton Head Island for his first start since 2019.
After being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and growing frustrated with his medical treatment, Hoffmann went off the grid in the jungles of Costa Rica and adopted a holistic lifestyle. It was clear Thursday that his physical strength has not fully returned to previous levels, but his game is in awfully good shape.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy got to 2-under early and was able to grind out an even-par 71 to keep himself in position to play the weekend.
“I love this game so much,” Hoffmann said. “It's so difficult. I had a great time out there. I think the game's closer than I thought, and it's exciting. I'm pumped.”
Berkeley Hall resident William McGirt also kept himself in it with a 1-over 72, but that felt like a minor disappointment after making two birdies in his first six holes starting on the back nine. McGirt stumbled home with three bogeys on the front side and now has to play his second round in the afternoon, when Harbour Town tends to show more teeth.
Bluffton’s own Bryson Nimmer had a bumpy start to his hometown event for the second straight year, but he didn’t let it get as far away this time around. The former Hilton Head Christian Academy and Clemson star found the water on the par-3 4th for a double bogey and was 5-over through eight holes before righting the ship. Nimmer made consecutive birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 before an errant tee shot led to trouble in the waste bunker at 16, resulting in a second double, but he bounced right back to stick one to 10 feet for a birdie at 17, giving him a shot at making the cut with a Friday surge.
Hoffmann (7:32 a.m. off 10) and Nimmer (9 a.m. off 10) are out early Friday, while McGirt tees off at 12:23 p.m. on No. 1.
Former champs litter leaderboard
It takes a special kind of golfer to conquer Pete and Alice Dye’s masterpiece (we give Alice co-billing around here) so it’s common to see former Heritage champs pop up on the leaderboard years later (see Cink, Stewart). There were plenty of tartan-tinged memories scrolling the leaders after Thursday’s opening round.
The ghost of Graeme McDowell, now ranked 392nd in the world, conjured a tidy 5-under 66 some nine years after he beat eventual 2020 champ Webb Simpson in a playoff. McDowell has made just five cuts in 12 starts this season, but if he can keep up the sharp iron play (1.793 shots gained on approach Thursday) and hot putting (1.888 shots gained) for another day, he will be in position to contend this weekend.
It has been even longer since Brian Gay lassoed some neon magic at Harbour Town, setting a then-tournament record (still stands in April) of 264 to scorch the field in 2009. Gay hasn’t been that guy for a while (he currently ranks just inside the top 500 in the world) but he recaptured it for a moment Thursday, shooting 4-under on the back nine before grinding back home to stay at -4 and tied for 10th alongside defending champion Stewart Cink, who just can’t get enough tartan with three gentleman golfer trophies (2000, 2004, 2021) already in his possession.
Perennial contenders and former champs Matt Kuchar (2014, T20/-3) and Webb Simpson (2020, T33/-2) kept themselves in it, and even Mr. RBC Heritage himself, Davis Love III (T54/-1) seems to be feeling his oats as the lone member of Harbour Town’s five-timers club (1987, 1991, 1992, 1998, 2003 … he’s overdue).
• The last 18-hole leader to win the RBC Heritage was Branden Grace in 2016.
• Defending champion Stewart Cink (T10/-4) is trying to become the first player to successfully defend his RBC Heritage title since Boo Weekley won in 2007 and 2008.
• Corey Conners (T3/-5) made an ace on the 187-yard, par-3 7th hole, his fourth on the PGA TOUR since the start of the 2019-20 season (most on TOUR in that stretch)
• 2020 Heritage champion Webb Simpson (T32/-2) made five consecutive birdies to finish his round, becoming the first player on record (1983-present) to birdie Nos. 14-18 at Harbour Town Golf Links in a single round
• Zach Johnson withdrew during the first round due to illness
ROUND 2 TEE TIMES (PDF)