During five decades of PGA Tour golf on Hilton Head Island, several players have provided the star power to pull fans from the comfortable pockets near the clubhouse and entice them to follow a group to the far reaches of Harbour Town Golf Links as it winds through the Sea Pines forest.
A couple of those stars will be back this week and sure to again draw a crowd.
South Carolina native Dustin Johnson, who arrived last year as the world’s top-ranked player for a rare stop at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, is back again.
“If you saw him and his group...the crowds were tremendous,” tournament director Steve Wilmot said. “He’s the No. 1 player in the world — you tie in Columbia, Coastal (Carolina), junior golf, it kind of connects all the dots. It’s good stuff.”
Jordan Spieth was a late-announced commitment to the field. He made waves on Hilton Head by honoring his commitment to play the Heritage in 2015, fresh off matching the scoring record on the way to becoming the second-youngest player to win the Masters.
Johnson returns to Hilton Head again one of the world’s top-ranked players, having been overtaken as No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking by Justin Rose before the Masters. He earned his 20th career victory at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship in February, earning $1.745 million to top $58 million in career earnings.
Despite growing up in the Columbia area and attending Coastal Carolina University, Johnson had skipped Hilton Head for most of his career. In his two starts at Harbour Town before returning last year — in 2008 and 2009 — Johnson missed the cut.
Spieth received a sponsor’s exemption to first play Harbour Town in 2013 and finished tied for ninth. He finished tied for 11th in his most recent appearance in 2015, highlighted by a second-round 62 that dispelled questions about a hangover after the victory in Augusta.
He said before the 2015 tournament he liked the laid-back atmosphere and that the Heritage was a well-run event.
“And I really, really love this golf course.,” he said in 2015. “That’s No.1. — I like coming to Hilton Head, but I really love playing this course. The greens are phenomenal; it requires all types of shots. You’ve got to be smart.”
Johnson’s return coincides with him now sharing a tournament sponsor in RBC. He said last year his previous absence in the event had to do with the Heritage falling the week after the Masters and that he preferred taking time off after major championships.
The shorter layout and small greens might not immediately seem a fit to a player known for bruising power.
After insisting Harbour Town could be a favorable match, Johnson backed it up by making his first cut on Hilton Head and finishing tied for 16th. He fired a final-round 67 and parted by saying he needed to solve Harbour Town’s greens and a couple of par-4s that gave him trouble.
“I mean obviously it’s a different golf course than we play,” he said during his return in 2018. “It’s just like any other golf course. There’s a spot you’re supposed to hit it to and you go from there. It doesn’t matter where you play or what course it is, you’ve still got to hit good golf shots no matter what you’re hitting off the tee.”