RSM CLASSIC: One of the most underrated tournaments on the schedule gets underway this week from lovely Sea Island, Georgia, where a stronger than expected field will tee it up in the PGA Tour’s final full-field event of 2023, the RSM Classic.
Sea Island is a beautiful spot on the southeast coast of Georgia that is the full-time home to dozens of Tour professionals on account of its warm weather, family-friendly atmosphere, close proximity to a major airport (Jacksonville), and, perhaps most importantly, its collection of world-class golf courses. Some of the premier spots in the area include Frederica, Ocean Forest, Retreat, King and Prince, Brunswick Country Club, and Jekyll Island Club, and then of course there’s the Sea Island Resort itself, whose Seaside and Plantation courses will be the site of this week’s action. If you’re thinking of a U.S. golf vacation and want to skip the crowded, touristy spots like Pinehurst and Pebble Beach, Sea Island should be near the top of your list.
The secret is out amongst the players, and the so-called “Sea Island Mafia” grows bigger every year. The Don, Davis Love III, is the official host of this week’s event and was the primary driving force behind the creation of this tournament, which has been a fixture on the schedule since 2010 and has grown considerably in stature and prominence. While it can’t compete with this week’s DP World Tour Championship in terms of big names in attendance, this is perhaps the strongest field in tournament history, with the likes of Ludvig Aberg, Russell Henley, Cam Young, Brian Harman, and Corey Conners crowding the top of the market.
As has been the case for the past few years, both the Seaside and Plantation courses will be used on Thursday and Friday this week, with all the action shifting to the Tom Fazio-designed Seaside over the weekend. Both courses are short by Tour standards– Seaside is a par-70 that measures just a hair over 7,000 yards, while Plantation is a par-72 that isn’t much longer at 7,060 yards– but they can both be heavily wind-affected due to their proximity to the ocean. Plantation is a more conventional, tree-lined, parkland-style course, while Seaside is more exposed and has a bit of a links feel. Neither course is particularly demanding tee-to-green, but the firm, undulating green complexes at Seaside can cause problems, particularly when the wind is whipping. Still, scores are always low here, with last year’s champion, Adam Svensson, becoming the seventh winner in the past eight years to post 19-under or better.
Here are three to consider this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Eric Cole (31.0)- It may have taken Cole awhile to get to the PGA Tour, but the 35-year-old rookie sure has made the most of his opportunity, logging 13 top-25 finishes across 36 starts and taking home nearly $5 million in official earnings. He’s steadily improved over the past year and has been a fixture on the first page of leaderboards throughout this Fall Series, finishing 4th at the Fortinet Championship, 3rd at the Shriners, and then runner-up at the star-studded ZOZO Championship last time out. He played this tournament last year in his seventh career PGA Tour start, having missed 4 cuts in his previous 6 starts, and finished T39 after a Sunday 66. Something tells me he’s going to fare much better this time around… Cole is a Floridian who is intimately familiar with Bermuda-covered, water hazard-heavy courses just like Sea Island. He’s a top contender this week and is definitely worth a bet at 30/1.
Matt Kuchar (52.0)- We tipped Kuchar in Mexico two weeks ago at 88.0 and he nearly brought it home for us, posting 25-under for the week to finish runner-up to Erik van Rooyen. So the secret’s out, I guess: the 45-year-old Kuchar has it dialed in right now, finishing 7th and 2nd in his last two starts thanks to a hot putter and typically consistent ball-striking. He was a longtime member of the Sea Island Mafia, residing in the area for 12 years before moving his family to Florida earlier this year, and he has a long, successful history at this tournament, finding the top-25 five times across 11 career appearances. Perhaps his first time back since moving away will produce some magic– given his recent form, this feels quite possible and maybe even likely. I’m telling you, don’t sleep on Kuchar this week– he’s a great value at better than 50/1.
Mackenzie Hughes (90.0)- Hughes has won twice in his PGA Tour career: one came almost exactly a year ago at the Sanderson Farms Championship, where he outlasted Sepp Straka in a playoff, and the other came at this tournament, the RSM Classic, back in 2016. Considering he also finished runner-up here in 2021, I think it’s safe to say that Sea Island is a great fit for Hughes’s game, and he should have loads of confidence and special memories anytime he steps foot on the grounds. And if his last start is any indication, when he shot 65-63-68 over the final three rounds to finish T7 in Mexico, his game is in pretty good shape at the moment, so he could be especially dangerous this week. All things considered, Hughes feels like a must-bet at a price like 90.0.