Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, S.C.—Tomorrow, it’s predicted to blow at Hilton Head Island. Leads have been lost and tournaments won depending on who got the best of the wind and weather.
Look no further than the British Open in 2002 when Tiger Woods—among others—couldn’t handle the worst of the weather and Ernie Els finished before the bad stuff started. It blew him right to victory. This year’s Hyundai tournament had one wind delay after another and finally concluded on Tuesday the following week.
While it’s unlikely to be as dramatic as that at Harbour Town Golf Links at the RBC Heritage on Sunday, the wind is expected to be 20-30 from the northeast. When the wind blows on a golf course, anything can happen. It is actually about the only thing that can stop today’s professional golfer.
Jim Furyk told the story of Ed Dougherty playing in the AT&T one year. It was when Cypress Point was still in the rotation.
“I can’t remember if he was on 16 or 17,” Furyk said. “But his ball was below the hole and there was a big slope he had to putt up. And the wind kept blowing the ball back to him.”
Nicklaus, Furyk said, was a hole or two behind. While officials let Dougherty and Lon Hinkle, who had similar problems to Dougherty, finish out the hole with high scores, play was stopped before Nicklaus had to endure it. Further research revealed that Ed Dougherty made an 11 and Lon Hinkle made a 14.
Furyk’s caddie Mike “ Fluff” Cowan recalled a time when he was working for Peter Jacobsen during the Western Open.
“It was the second shot on the 72nd hole,” Cowan said. “We were thinking the wind was hurting one to two, and it wasn’t, and it got sailing and ended up in the water to lose by a shot.”
“We’ve all had penalties where balls move on the green,” said Stewart Cink. “It can blow so hard that you can’t get to the fairway here on the 18th hole.” He said you can end up in the trees right or not carry the marsh off the tee. “Then the hole becomes stupid. Usually the PGA Tour officials do a better job than that.”
Cink’s worse wind story happened in a place where most people would not expect it: Las Vegas. He said it was because of the layout of the Hilton Hotel, which has two wings that come together on one of the golf holes.
“It was the 17th hole, a par three,“ he explained. “The tee had the wind off right and into, and the green was opposite.” He could see the flag coming at him.
Tim Clark said the worst wind he has seen recently was at last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. “You could hardly play,” he said,” but unfortunately they sent us out.”
Marc Leishman, who contended at The Masters last week, said his best wind story happened at a covered range in Melbourne, Australia. “The wind was into us, and I hit a 5-iron and it blew back and landed up on the roof!”
Had there been video, it would have gone viral.
What all that means for golfers at Harbour Town GL tomorrow is that the wind can help one guy and hurt another, but it’s not as hard on golf balls as it used to be.
“You take an extra club and hit it easy to control the spin and trajectory,“ Luke Donald said about playing in the wind.
Bill Haas said that it’s important to hit it solid. “Golf balls today don’t curve a lot. You’re not trying to do anything extra.”
However, he also added, "Most of the course is somewhat protected (by the tall pines). It’s not a factor until the very end.”
Ah, the very end.
When players reach the 16th, 17th and 18th holes, golfers will come out into the elements.
They will be hitting their second shot at 16, a short, dogleg, par four, with the wind helping from the left shoulder. It will tend to push balls to the right side of the green or over the green on the right.
At the par three 17th, the tee shot will be a crosswind from the golfer’s left to right.
And finally, at the 18th, if the wind is not blocked by the condos along the right side of the fairway—which is out of bounds actually—golfers run the risk of having tee shots and second shots blow into marsh and lowlands of Calibogue Sound. As Stewart Cink said, “It’s a big wide fairway, but sometimes you can’t hit it.”
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.