HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.—Spanish moss was in the air and birds were grounded. Outdoors, by the 10th and 16th fairways, tables were blown over at course-side snack stands. Alligators hunkered down in ponds. By the tennis club, wind screens were ripped off the fences.
The gust that got Webb Simpson’s second shot to the 18th in the playoff rocked the entire press room about 30 seconds later as it rolled over the island. The walls breathed in and out like they’d just run the 100. The ceiling trampolined but held. It was only fitting that a man who grew up playing the windy seaside courses of Northern Ireland would emerge the winner at the RBC Heritage—Graeme McDowell.
“I’m not saying that I didn’t have a God-given advantage in the wind, but I needed the golf course to play difficult,” McDowell said after victory. “ If it had been benign like yesterday, four shots back, one of the two guys (at the top) goes and shoots four or five under par, and it’s kind of all over.”
Overnight leader Charley Hoffman had a two-stroke advantage heading into Sunday where it became a matter of who would get lucky with the wind gusts. Simpson came into Sunday two shots out of the lead, like McDowell, with a U.S. Open pedigree.
The day turned on three or four holes. The key to Hoffman’s round was the par-three 14th, where he hit a tee shot into the water and made a double that dropped him to minus-seven. The key to Simpson’s round was his ability to turn around a bogey train with a birdie at the par-four 12th that righted his ship and moved him back to minus-nine.
There were four keys to McDowell’s round:
1. birdie at the 11th to bring him to minus-nine.
2. the 20-foot, par-saving putt on the 13th after what he called a mediocre bunker shot.
3. the birdie at the 16th which put him into the outright lead at minus-10.
4. the playoff victory after the 18th-hole bogey.
He said he gave himself a shot at victory after he birdied the 11th to post minus-nine.
“We picked nine on the range this morning, myself and my caddie,” McDowell said about the final score. “I just hoped I was the guy on nine.”
One of the most difficult parts of the day was finding a time to hit the ball when the wind was not blowing.
“I stood on my tee shot on five, the par five, I must have stood there for two minutes trying to get a little lull in the wind because it was pumping,” he explained. “Very often you’re standing over the shots and you hear the gust coming. And you really have to be accepting. You really just have to play on some instincts.”
For McDowell, it was an extra-special victory because it was his first as a PGA Tour member.
“It feels right. It feels good. My first real win on this side of the pond as a PGA Tour player. I feel this is building blocks for something good this year and beyond. I’m very excited about this,” he said.
“We all sit here and say you can’t measure yourself by wins, it’s not about the wins, it’s about the upper curve and getting better and all those things. What it really boils down to it, wins are very important to us personally. And you take a huge amount of confidence and belief and momentum from those.”
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.