A one-year-old’s birthday party and a cross-country family reunion are all part of Kevin Chappell’s formula for success this week in the 48th RBC Heritage.
Chappell says he plays better when he’s in a cheerful mood, and a gathering of family and friends for his son Wyatt’s birthday party Tuesday night in Hilton Head has his mind right.
The vibe is working through two rounds at Harbour Town Golf Links, as Chappell has fired a pair of 3-under-par 68s and is tied for the lead with world No. 1 Jason Day and Charley Hoffman at 6-under 136.
“For me I guess it’s not necessarily the support, but it’s getting away,” Chappell said. “It’s no secret that I play my best golf when I’m really enjoying it and smiling and being jovial. And I think having family here and getting away from the game and kind of forgetting that you’re here on a work trip [helps].”
First-round co-leader Luke Donald, PGA Tour rookie Patton Kizzire and Russell Knox, who shot the low round of the tournament with a 6-under 65, are tied for fourth and a stroke back at 5-under 137. Matt Kuchar, the 2014 Heritage champion, is one of four players tied for seventh at 138.
Chappell, 29, is a California native and resident and his wife, Elizabeth, is from Seattle, but her sister and parents, and Chappell’s parents and friends including former caddie and Galivants Ferry native Michael Maness, traveled to Hilton Head for the party and to enjoy the area.
“We don’t get to see everyone together too often because of our schedules, so it’s great to have them out,” Chappell said.
Thus far this season, Chappell is 22nd in FedExCup points with runner-up finishes in both the RSM Classic in November behind winner Kevin Kisner and the Arnold Palmer Invitational four weeks ago behind Day.
Chappell benefited from a similar off-course atmosphere in the RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort, which has a somewhat comparable setting to Harbour Town. Maness, who caddied for Chappell for 2 1/2 years through last May before changing careers, filled in as a caddie that week and had his wife and young child with him. “It was a very similar atmosphere, actually,” Chappell said.
The runner-up finishes are Chappell’s only top-25 finishes in 11 starts this season, however, and he has missed four cuts.
Chappell wasn’t eligible for the Masters so he has played just once on the PGA Tour in the past three weeks since his runner-up at Bay Hill Club in Orlando, missing the cut in Houston with rounds of 70 and 74.
“I have no made cuts since Bay Hill, so you guys see it as I’m not playing well,” Chappell said. “But my game didn’t go anywhere. I’m still on form, and really excited to be here and really excited about where things are at.”
At Harbour Town, Chappell has a tie for 29th in 2012 followed by a pair of missed cuts in 2013 and ’14, and he didn’t play last year. Chappell’s consecutive 68s to start the tournament are his first rounds better than a 1-under 70 in 10 Heritage rounds.
He hit driver just three times Friday and tried to play the tight course strategically.
“I love the feel of being here. I love being able to walk places, and people are great, the atmosphere is fantastic,” said Chappell, who has made nine birdies and three bogeys through 36 holes. “Why haven’t I played well here? I think I’ve been a little aggressive in the past. Maybe I just wasn’t playing well may be a better reason. But I feel like I have a better formula this year, a little more simple.”
Chappell, the 2008 NCAA Division I individual champion who won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the top collegiate golfer that year, is still seeking his first PGA Tour win in his sixth season on tour.
He has additional runner-up finishes in the 2013 Memorial and 2011 Valero Texas Open, and also finished third twice in 2011 after winning once on the Web.com Tour in 2010 when he was a pupil of swing instructor Nick Bradley of Sunset Beach, N.C.
Players were anticipating continuous rain and consistent winds of approximately 25 mph in the second round based on forecasts Thursday night, but it did not rain and the wind was generally 10 mph less than predicted.
“Luckily enough for us we skirted the weather and we just had some blustery conditions out there,” Day said. “It was really just tough to pick the right shot at the right time.”
Day has spoken this week of being mentally and somewhat physically fatigued after the grind of tying for 10th last week in a Masters that was played in challenging winds through the first three rounds.
But nothing keeps the mind focused like being in contention to win a title.
“If you’re in contention, you should be able to get yourself up because you’re trying to win a golf tournament,” said Day, who felt more alert Friday than he was Thursday. “I’m a little tired physically and mentally, but that’s just what it is. Last week I felt like I had gone 10 rounds of a championship fight.
“[Thursday] I didn’t feel as mentally sharp. I felt like I was kind of punch drunk a little bit, but came out today a lot more alert and on top of it.”
While Chappell is seeking his first win, Day is seeking his third win in his past four PGA Tour events and seventh in his past 15.
“I think it’s going to be a fun challenge over the weekend,” Day said. “I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully I’m there by Sunday. … I get next week off so I can take time off there.”
“It's no secret that I play my best golf when I'm really enjoying it and smiling and being jovial. And I think having family here and getting away from the game and kind of forgetting that you're here on a work trip [helps]. Kevin Chappell