Professional golf in South Carolina at the highest level enjoyed another banner year in 2012 with highlights ranging from the Palmetto State’s hosting its first men’s major championship to four players winning PGA Tour tournaments.
The PGA Championship, staged in August at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course, brought the golf world’s attention to South Carolina and added to the state golf industry’s already substantial economic impact.
Viewers from across the globe watched on television as Rory McIlroy ran away with the PGA title, and the Ocean Course — ranked No. 1 in the state by the South Carolina Golf Course Rating Panel — proved a worthy test for the game’s finest players.
Kiawah’s marketing plan worked almost to perfection and saw most of the tickets sold well in advance. Television coverage provided an untold amount of exposure for the state and its golf opportunities. A negative: Problems with traffic congestion and shuttle service caused lengthy delays.
Meanwhile, the state’s fixture on the PGA Tour, the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head Island, finally escaped the endangered species list with full-time sponsors. The Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing signed on after the 2011 event to provide financial backing for five years, and the tournament unfolded to rave reviews in April. Carl Pettersson won by five strokes at Harbouor Town Golf Links.
Among individuals, Bill Haas (Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles), Kyle Stanley (Waste Management Open in Phoenix), Dustin Johnson (FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis) and Tommy Gainey (McCladrey Classic at St. Simons Island) earned PGA Tour titles, and subplots abounded.
Stanley, a former Clemson star who lives in Bluffton, charged from behind to win in Phoenix — the week after he squandered a big lead and lost in San Diego in a playoff. Johnson, a Columbia native and All-American at Coastal Carolina, triumphed in Memphis in his second start following an 11-week layoff with a back injury. Gainey, a Bishopville native who lives in Camden, won his first Tour tournament with a final-round 60. Haas, a Greer native, edged Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in an all-star playoff in the Northern Trust.
Johnson, who finished in the top 10 in all four FedEx Cup playoff events, is the state’s top-rated golfer at No. 21 in the world rankings.
Seven of the 14 South Carolinians who played the Tour full time this year will have exempt status in 2013. In addition to the four tour tournament winners, Jonathan Byrd (50, with four top-10 finishes) and William McGirt (74, with a second in the RBC Canadian Open) finished in the top 125 money winners and Lucas Glover has an exemption for his 2009 U.S. Open championship. Glover missed most of the year with a knee injury before undergoing surgery, and Byrd had wrist surgery in October.
D.J. Trahan (132) and Scott Brown (148) have conditional status on the PGA Tour by finishing among the top 150 in earnings.
The 2013 Tour opens Jan. 3 with the Tournament of Champions. The RBC Heritage will be played April18-21, the week following the Masters.
Reona Hirai (Summerville) edged Kelli Murphy (Elgin) to win the SCJGA’s Beth Daniel award, presented annually to the organization’s junior girls player of the year. ... The Sea Pines Junior Heritage at Hilton Head Island, one of the nation’s top events for juniors, will return in 2014 with the SCJGA running the tournament with support from the Heritage Classic Foundation. ... Winners in the Carolinas PGA Junior championship at the Surf Club in North Myrtle Beach: Austin Zoller (North Charleston, boys’ overall, boys’ 15-16), Austin Langdale (Townville, boys’ 17-18), Kyle Spencer (Mount Pleasant, boys’ 13-14), Madison Moosa (Charlotte, girls’ overall, girls’ 13-15) and Kelli Murphy (Elgin, girls’ 16-18). ... Mike Weiner (Kiawah Island) and Robert Albus (Johns Island) teamed to win the CGA’s Senior Four-Ball tourney in the Pinehurst area.