Harbour Town Golf Links isn’t for everyone. Accuracy is important. The holes are tight. Narrow, tree-lined corridors are the predominant feature, and the wind can play havoc with every shot. Tiger Woods will never play the course.
Harbour Town greens are small targets, so the bonus for hitting them is that putts are not as long as at some other courses, TPC at San Antonio, last week’s venue, for instance. For golfers who can hit to spots, who can stay out of the trees, Harbour Town is a fun test.
Who can win? It just takes the right attitude. Big hitters, like Davis Love III, have had success there. Love has won five times. Precise players, like Jim Furyk and Hale Irwin, have also won.
Defending champ, Furyk said this week that Harbour Town is "all about working the golf ball. There's a lot of strategy involved. But you have to be able to control the golf ball. You have to hit high shots, low shots, curve it right to left, left to right. If you don't have control of the golf ball you're going to struggle at this golf course."
He added that day to day depending on pin positions, it can be a matter of hitting the drive to a certain side of the fairway to have a shot a the pin.
"If you don't hit the right side of the fairway, you have to carve a shot around trees and hit it low or hit it high or hit it around branches. It's actually a very fun golf course to play," he added.
What that also says is, unlike some courses, any length player can succeed so long as he has a good ball-striking week. Now, with The Heritage played two weeks before The Players, it may act as a tune up and a predictor of success at the TPC Sawgrass. The reason is that Pete Dye designed both Harbour Town Golf Links and TPC Sawgrass.
Furyk’s game is so well suited to Harbour Town that he might even be favored to repeat.
“There's a few courses on Tour, there's a handful that I really feel like suit my game,” he said after winning last year. “I've always loved it here.”
But Furyk is not alone in having the style of precision play needed to be successful. Because length is not an issue this week, look for Luke Donald—if he is driving the ball straight—or Jerry Kelly to do well.
Champions Tour player Fred Funk, another straight hitter, is also a candidate. He loves the course because having Dustin Johnson–type length is not a requirement for success. Funk won at TPC Sawgrass.
Matt Kuchar was last year’s leading money winner. If he doesn’t finish on top, he’ll finish well.
Ernie Els often delivers good golf at Harbour Town. While he is not a short hitter, he is a US Open–style player where accuracy counts.
Ian Poulter has the kind of game that should suit the zigs and zags and subtle target-type strategy of one of Pete Dye’s earlier golf course designs. Poulter could also add some contemporary flair to the plaid jacket ceremony. With his outfits, it could be an interesting victory photo.
Aaron Baddeley, winner at Riviera, a noted ball-strikers golf course, is in the field at The Heritage, and he has won The Heritage previously.
Francesco Molinari, who is not known for his length but is known for ballstriking, is another name to watch this week. The greens are straightforward and supposedly putting is not Francesco’s long suit. That distinction goes to his brother Edoardo.
Jason Day looked like he could win anywhere during the final round at The Masters. He hit great shots, and he made putts.
Bubba Watson could probably play Harbour Town with the shortest seven clubs in his bag and still do well. He certainly won’t need a driver unless he wants to try to go for the short par-four ninth in one.
So, on Sunday, will it be another playoff? Will a player from Europe win? Will a veteran come up with the goods? Will Furyk repeat? Will The Heritage find a new sponsor? ( The rumor mill says yes.) These and other questions will be answered in four more days.
Once again, the PGA Tour is making some interesting groupings for Thursday and Friday.
Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Jason Day
Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els and Ian Poulter
Luke Donald, Aaron Baddeley and Mark Wilson
Lucas Glover, Justin Leonard and Brandt Snedeker
John Daly, Jesper Parnevik and Kevin Na
Brendan Steele, Stewart Cink and Davis Love III
Stephen Ames, Mike Weir and Fred Funk
Holes to watch
—The 13th, a moat of sand surrounding a green that is like a big cupcake propped four feet above the fairway supported by with railroad ties.
—The 16th, a severe dogleg left hole that takes driver out of the hands of the long hitters.
—The 17th, a nasty par three with a narrow target, railroad ties, marsh and usually wind into the golfer.
—The 18th, signature hole, where Brian Davis called a penalty on himself in the hazard last year to lose the playoff and hand victory to Jim Furyk.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained by the writer either directly or from official interview transcripts.