RSM CLASSIC: The PGA Tour’s 2021 Fall Series, which has made stops in five states, four countries, and three continents, wraps up this week with the RSM Classic in lovely Sea Island, Georgia, where a stronger than expected field will look to finish the year on a high note with a victory and a $1.29 million check.
This of the 12th edition of this event and it’s been held at the gorgeous Sea Island Resort since its inception, with both the Plantation and Seaside courses now used for tournament play. Southeast Georgia has become a mecca for pro golfers in recent years so this will essentially be a “home game” for several players, as the so-called “Sea Island Mafia” includes full-time residents like Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Harris English, Keith Mitchell, J.T. Poston, Brian Harman, and more. This is a family-friendly week for the players and a nice way to finish a long, grueling season, which is probably why we see more and more top guys in the field every year.
The action this week will mostly take place on the 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, Robert Streb, becoming the fifth winner in the past six years to post 19-under or better.
There’s another thing that this tournament is becoming known for: unexpected winners. Streb’s only two PGA Tour victories have come here– last year, and in 2015– and four of the five champions before him were first-time Tour winners, all of whom went off at triple-digit prices. So if there was ever a week to throw some darts at a few long-odds types, this is the week. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Harris English (34.0)- English has taken it easy this fall, only teeing it up twice since the Ryder Cup and taking the last month off entirely. So for the last few weeks he’s been fine tuning things at… Sea Island, where he’s a full-time resident. Yes, English has logged hundreds of rounds on both the Seaside and Plantation courses, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s found the top-15 three times in this event, including a T6 last year. He also has competitive results at Sea Island that won’t show up on the PGA Tour website– last year, for instance, he finished runner-up in June’s Back 2 Golf Challenge, an exhibition event held at the Seaside Course which featured dozens of PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour players. So we know English can get it done here, and he’s showed us over the past 12 months that he can get it done just about anywhere, as his 2021 season included two victories and nine top-10s. He’s the favorite in my book this week and a good value at a price like 34.0.
Patrick Rodgers (94.0)- This past year hasn’t always gone smoothly for Rodgers, as he missed 6 cuts in 9 starts at one point before getting things straightened out. He’s been playing well for a few months now, though, finishing off the 2021 season with a T5 at the Barbasol and a T13 at the Barracuda Championship and logging a pair of top-10s in this Fall Series, the most recent being a 4th place showing in Bermuda a couple of weeks ago. A terrific putter, he’s always a threat on courses that don’t require length off the tee, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s had some success in this event, finding the top-10 twice in four career appearances. He’s still seeking his first PGA Tour victory, which means he perfectly fits the profile of recent champions here– good young player with a history of success on the course(s) that is looking to break through with a win. He’s well worth a bet at better than 90/1.
Hayden Buckley (174.0)- Recent Korn Ferry grad Buckley has come out firing in his first season on the PGA Tour, logging two top-10s in four Fall Series starts. A ball-striking machine, he ranks 15th on Tour in strokes gained off the tee and 5th in GIR percentage in this young season, so he seems to be well-suited for the small targets of Sea Island. A Tennessee native, Buckley is very comfortable on Bermuda grass, as he showed with his T4 in Mississippi last month, so he should feel right at home on the greens this week. This kid is a natural fit for this tournament– if he wins this week, somebody had better tell Kuchar to extend a membership offer to the Sea Island Mafia. They can have the initiation ceremony on Davis Love’s boat, but with Patrick Reed overseas at the DP World Tour Championship, they’re going to have to find someone else to fit with the concrete galoshes.