RSM CLASSIC: It may not be Augusta National, but Sea Island, Georgia is a little slice of heaven in its own right, and this week an excellent field that includes several Masters participants will get the full Sea Island experience at the RSM Classic. If history is any guide, some may never leave– due to the weather, lifestyle, and first-class facilities, southeast Georgia has become a mecca for pro golfers in recent years, with more PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour players choosing to live and train in and around Sea Island than just about any place on earth.
The most prominent and longest-residing crew, informally dubbed the Sea Island Mafia, includes names like Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Brian Harman, Harris English, Keith Mitchell, J.T. Poston, Michael Thompson, Patton Kizzire, and of course Davis Love III, who originally founded this tournament and has called coastal Georgia home for most of his life. All those guys will naturally have intimate knowledge of the course(s), and I have a feeling that the absence of galleries this week will help at least a few of them, as off-course obligations and a crowd of familiar faces are not always positive things for tournament golfers.
The action this week will mostly take place on Sea Island’s Seaside Course, though each player will play a round on the Plantation course on Thursday or Friday. Both courses are short by Tour standards– Seaside is a par-70 that measures just a hair over 7,000 yards, while Plantation is a par-72 that isn’t much longer at 7,060 yards. Bermuda grass covers both courses, and they can both be heavily wind-affected due to their proximity to the ocean, but Plantation is a more conventional, tree-lined course, while Seaside is more exposed and has a bit of a links feel. Neither course is particularly demanding tee-to-green, but the firm, undulating green complexes at Seaside can cause problems, particularly when the wind is whipping. Still, scores are always low here, with last year’s champion, Tyler Duncan, becoming the fourth winner in the past five years to post 19-under or better. It was Duncan’s first PGA Tour victory, which is another thing that has become a regular occurrence in this tournament– five of the last six champions have been first-time Tour winners.
Ordinarily this is one of the Fall Series events that mostly features lesser-known players and the occasional big name, but due to the influx of Masters participants this year we have the strongest field in the history of the tournament, with several international stars teeing it up here for the first time. Those include Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Day, and Justin Rose, with a few others sprinkled in further down the market. Tournament vet Webb Simpson is the market leader at 10.5, but as mentioned this event has a history of producing first-time champions, so we shouldn’t be afraid of taking a chance on someone a bit further down the board. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Harris English (30.0)- This is a home game for English, who has resided in the Sea Island area for several years and has played the Seaside and Plantation courses hundreds of times apiece. He hasn’t always played well in this tournament, making the cut only 4 times in 8 career starts and finding the top-15 just twice, but that likely has more to do with the usual timing of the event and the state of English’s game than course knowledge or fit. The most recent proof of English’s comfort at Sea Island came in June of this year, when he finished second in the Back 2 Golf Challenge, an exhibition event comprised of PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour players that was held at the Seaside Course. English fired 9-under over the two days and birdied the last four holes to nearly force a playoff, so there should be absolutely no question about his comfort with the course or his ability to succeed on it. Given his recent form– top-25s in 9 of his past 12 starts, 10th at the ZOZO Championship a couple of weeks ago– English should be considered one of the favorites this week and is worth a bet at a price like 30.0.
Brendon Todd (76.0)- Todd missed the cut in his second Masters appearance last week, shooting a pair of 73s, but that is neither surprising nor off-putting, as he doesn’t have much experience at Augusta National, and frankly it’s probably too big of a course for the short-hitting Todd anyway. Sea Island is a different story– it’s a course where someone who hits it 280 off the tee can compete on even footing with someone who hits it 320. Todd thrives on courses like this, and he’s also always done his best work on Bermuda grass, so it should come as no surprise that he has an excellent record in this event, making the cut in each of his past five appearances and finishing 4th last year after a third-round 62. He’s been on a great run over the second half of 2020, logging seven top-25s since the restart, and this is one of the tournaments where the Georgia resident feels most comfortable and can really shine. For my money, Todd may be the best value on the board this week.
Denny McCarthy (94.0)- Great putters always have a chance, and there may not be anyone on the planet right now who rolls the rock better than McCarthy, the 27-year old who led the Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting last season. He’s particularly deadly on Bermuda greens, so the surfaces at Sea Island should suit him nicely, and he played splendidly in this tournament last year, shooting 14-under for the week to finish 8th. Plus, he’s been in terrific form lately, making the cut in 10 of his last 11 starts and finding the top-10 twice since the beginning of October, most recently a T4 at the Bermuda Championship a couple of weeks ago. This just feels like a great spot for McCarthy– he’s playing well, he should be rested and motivated after watching his peers in the Masters last week, and he’s teeing it up at a familiar course where he’s been successful. He’s a tremendous bargain at better than 90/1.