David Lauderdale

Lauderdale: Pittsburgh Steelers find peace at RBC Heritage pro-am

Pittsburgh Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney II poses for fans between holes in the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing pro-am Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Jaime Marcotte of Bluffton snaps the picture with her children, Reese and Jordan.
Pittsburgh Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney II poses for fans between holes in the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing pro-am Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Jaime Marcotte of Bluffton snaps the picture with her children, Reese and Jordan. dlauderdale@islandpacket.com

How yenz doing, Hilton Head Island?

Apparently wenz doing very well.

Local Pittsburgh Steeler fans — and there are enough of them to claim both Casey’s and Callahan’s as Steeler bars — told me to ask Art Rooney II, “How yenz doing?”

They said that’s how Pittsburgh people talk, and it would make him feel at home as he played in the Wednesday pro-am at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

But if you judge it by the number of people seeking autographs and photographs, Rooney was right at home on the Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines.

He doesn’t look like a rock star. But neither do many of the 200 or so people who threw down more than $5,000 to play in the annual slow dance with fame. All told, these distinguished guests with sometimes less than distinguished swings have done their fair share to help the Heritage Classic Foundation give $32 million to charity.

Rooney, looking fit in his shorts, black Steelers cap and sunglasses, was approached at each hole for autographs and photographs.

Maybe it’s because his name means football. It screams “NFL” as loudly as “Lombardi.” His grandfather, cigar chomping Art Rooney, the “Chief,” founded the Steelers in a city of people sturdy as steel.

Art Rooney II, son of Dan Rooney, now runs the team. So, like so many other movers and shakers hacking and whacking their way through Hilton Head Island’s most famous forest, Rooney says quietly, “I wish I had more time to play.”

He first played golf on Hilton Head when Steelers coach Chuck Noll invited him down in the 1970s. Noll, who won four Super Bowls, had a home here for many years.

An appropriate line about Noll was included in Paul Zimmerman’s excellent piece about him in Sports Illustrated two years ago. Noll was on Hilton Head, trying to decompress from the pressure that came with winning another Super Bowl

“He tells a story about the day he was out on the driving range, hitting golf balls,” Zimmerman writes.

“The pro came over and watched me for a few minutes,” Noll says, “and then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Relax. Calm down. The season’s over.’ 

Art Rooney II says that’s what Hilton Head had then, and what it has now, and what will always make it a nice place to be.

And that’s why he has come back 40 years later at the invitation of island property owner and Steelers part-owner Rob Citrone. This was Rooney’s third consecutive Heritage pro-am, and Citrone’s seventh. Playing with them along with pro Kevin Chappell was another Steelers part-owner, David Tepper.

Citrone, easy to find in the Steelers colors, said the team’s general manager just bought a home here.

And, of course, our own Episcopal rector Greg Kronz won a contest in the 1970s to name the defense. Yes. Our man of the cloth in the land of relaxation gave the world the term “Steel Curtain.”

And so they came, relaxed, signed autographs and mopped up for charity with their terrible towels.

But as these Steelers looked out over Calibogue Sound, I bet they longed for the day that the pressure of another Super Bowl win would bring them trembling to a Hilton Head driving range, with a pro asking, “How yenz doing?”

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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