Kevin Streelman is only a month removed from his only PGA Tour victory in 155 starts in the Tampa Bay Championship, and he followed that up with a tie for 21st in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The win earned Streelman his first Masters invite, so he took two weeks off to prepare his game for Augusta National Golf Club. Rounds of 76 and 77 at Augusta followed.
As it turns out, all that work may have actually been for his performance this week. Streelman made six birdies and a bogey and only needed 26 putts to shoot a 5-under 66 to sit a shot behind leader Brian Davis after the first round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
“I’ve been playing pretty well,” Streelman said. “I put a ton of work in last week for Augusta. Unfortunately it didn’t come out that week. Maybe all that hard work is paying off this week. I did a ton of short-game and putting practice, and these greens seem pretty flat after seeing last week.”
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Streelman’s instructor is Darren May of The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., who he began working with in the summer of 2011 after 3½ years with Alasdair Dyer of Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach. Streelman rose from being a longtime mini-tour player to a consistent performer on the PGA Tour in the late 2000s.
“Sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes and sometimes those things stick and sometimes they don’t,” Streelman said. “He’s very knowledgeable and was always there for me and is still a good friend.”
Streelman said he’s thankful for everyone who has helped him reach the status of being a PGA Tour winner. “There have been a lot of people – be it their couches I’ve stayed on to getting a lesson here or there from somebody or a little tip,” he said. “I’ve been really blessed.”
S.C. holding its own
Several players from South Carolina opened the tournament with solid first rounds.
Greenville resident Bill Haas and Simpsonville resident Justin Bolli shot 3-under 68s and are tied for seventh, while Bishopville native Tommy Gainey, Greenville native and Clemson alum Lucas Glover, and Boiling Springs resident Williams McGirt all shot rounds of 70.
Haas played splendidly, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and all 18 greens in regulation. “Certainly I would have liked to make a few more putts, but anytime you’re in the 60s around this place is good,” Haas said.
Haas doesn’t have a good Heritage track record, having missed the cut in five of eight appearances with a top finish of 27th. But the tournament and property have more value to him than scores. His father, Jay, played in 30 Heritage tournaments, met his wife during the event and brought his sons to the event for many years.
“I made a joke of it that it’s kind of the reason I even exist,” Haas said. “It’s very special to our family. It’s one we didn’t miss as a kid growing up. I didn’t watch much golf and did what everybody does on vacation. But this area is a great area and I’ve always enjoyed coming here.”
Glover’s Harbour Town record isn’t all that great, either. He has one top-10 in 10 visits. But he’s a diehard supporter of the only PGA Tour event in his home state, and has three close to home in four weeks combining events in Augusta and Charlotte. He won the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.
“It’s nice to drive everywhere. It makes things easier and I feel I know all the courses pretty well,” said Glover, who has been struggling with his putting recently. “Of course if you’re playing well you expect to play well on courses you like and know.”
Gaining with eagle
“Two Gloves” Gainey played 17 holes Thursday 1-over par, but an 8-iron from 184 yards on the par-4 18th hole – his ninth hole of the day – with the wind helping right to left has him under par at 1 under.
“Let’s just say it was the highlight of my day,” said Gainey, who saw the ball roll close to the hole but didn’t know he made eagle until the crowd erupted. “. . . I got a good bounce, hit on the green and just rolled right in. So I guess it’s a perfect shot.”
Gainey finished third at Harbour Town in 2011 and is in his fifth Heritage. He birdied the par-4 12th and third holes, bogeyed the par-4 16th and double bogeyed the par-3 fourth.
“I hit the ball pretty well, I just had one bad hole,” Gainey said. “You just can’t go after the pin and I went after the pin. I wasn’t trying to. I was trying to hit it right of the hole in the middle of the green and let it come to it if it did, I just made a mistake and I paid the price for it.”
Top in the middle
The top-ranked player in the field struggled Thursday.
Brandt Snedeker, ranked fifth in the world and second in 2013 FedEx Cup points, shot a 73 and is tied for 93rd. The 2011 Heritage champion is coming off a tie for sixth in last week’s Masters after sharing a lead entering the final round.
“I didn’t drive it particularly well and I missed a few short putts,” Snedeker said. “I’ve actually felt pretty good. I felt I was going to play good today because I was seeing it really well. I was maybe a little overconfident, kind of thinking it was going to be really easy, and it’s never easy. It could be a wake-up call today to get back out there this afternoon and get ready for tomorrow.”
Scraping the bottom
Worst Heritage threesome ever?
The final group of the morning off the 10th tee – PGA Tour players Doug Labelle II and Fabian Gomez as well as qualifier Matt Bova of Hilton Head Island, an assistant pro at nearby Haig Point – shot a combined 20 over.
Bova and Labelle shot 78s and Gomez a 77. It could have been much worse. Bova was 10 over before playing his final five holes 3 under, LaBelle made a triple and quadruple before playing his final seven holes 1 under, and Gomez birdied his final hole.
Their worst ball score combining their worst scores on each hole was a 93. Conversely, the morning threesome of Marc Leishman, Webb Simpson and Jason Day didn’t make a bogey, had a combined score of 11 under and a best ball score of 9-under 62.
In plane view
Those attending Friday’s second round of the tournament may see Boeing’s newest wide-body 747-8 Freighter up close. The plane is scheduled to make two low-altitude passes over the 18th fairway at noon, pending final flight certificates and clear weather.
Boeing, the tournament’s presenting sponsor with a plant in Charleston, flew a new 787 Dreamliner flew over the 18th fairway last year.
Els for Autism Day
Friday has been proclaimed Els Autism Awareness Day across the state by Gov. Nikki Haley. Heritage players are wearing blue pins all week, and players and spectators are encouraged to wear blue shirts Friday. The happenings are part of an Els for Autism foundation initiative.
Els’ 11-year-old son, Ben, has autism, and Els has worked in recent years to raise awareness of autism, assist in therapy and research, and provide outlets for people with autism. The Els for Autism Amateur Golf Challenge, which is open to public play, returns to Harbour Town on Sept. 9.