Ending the Sea Island mafia’s RSM Classic drought now falls on Brian Harman

Ending the Sea Island mafia’s RSM Classic drought now falls on Brian Harman
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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Davis Love III winces at the reference to the Sea Island mafia, a nod to the southern sensitivities that rule this idyllic seaside enclave. 

But if the reference is a tad crude, the sentiment is not.

No fewer than a dozen PGA Tour players live within a bike ride of Sea Island Resort, the site of this week’s RSM Classic, and they all enthusiastically call the layout home. It might not be a mafia, but it’s undeniably one of professional golf’s most unique and close-knit communities, which makes the local record at the RSM Classic one of the most curious on Tour.

Since Love brought the Tour stop to the Golden Isles in 2010 there has never been a local winner. There have been plenty of close calls and, some would argue, a few brushes with semantics, but no local champions.

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

“You know, they say a local’s never won here, but I mean, Kisner spends all kinds of time here. Kirk, Kirk lived here for seven or eight years,” Brian Harman countered Saturday when asked about the local drought.

Kevin Kisner did, in fact, live on the “island,” as it’s colloquially called, before moving back home to Aiken, S.C., but he wasn’t a resident when he won the RSM Classic in 2015. The same for Chris Kirk, the 2013 champion, and Charles Howell III (2018), who has been a regular in the area since his junior days when he would drive over from Augusta, Ga., for golf lessons. But neither were living there when they won.

There is no shortage of reasons for the drought. As many locals have pointed out, the Seaside and Plantation courses that host the event aren’t normally dialed into tournament shape the other 51 weeks a year. As resort courses, it wouldn’t make sense to keep the greens firm and fast and the rough thick for the guests.

There’s also something to be said for the event’s November slot on the schedule. While the date works well for the sponsor and the Tour, it’s not the best option for those looking for warmth and sunshine as evidenced by this week’s forecast.

“Under no circumstances would I have been playing golf today,” Harman said Thursday when the temperatures never reached 50 degrees and a cold wind made both courses an exercise in diminishing returns.

The St. Simons Island residents also enjoy an embarrassment of golf riches when it comes to practice options. Along with the two courses at Sea Island many of the area’s Tour players are also members at Ocean Forest Golf Club and Frederica Golf Club, both world-class facilities with plenty of opportunities for competitive games.

“I wouldn’t say I play Seaside and Plantation every day, but I play it a good bit throughout the year,” said Harris English, who is playing the RSM Classic for the 11th time this week and yet has just a single top-10 finish (2021). “You want to play better for your friends and family and everybody coming out and you feel like you should play well.

“There’s a lot of good players in this field and they all can play really good golf. Just because I’ve putted on these greens more than they have or played these golf courses more than they have doesn’t mean that I have that much of an advantage over them.”

Harman is the island’s best option to end the drought this week. After opening rounds of 67-69, he played his way into contention with a third-round 64 and was two shots off the lead and tied for sixth place. Like English, this is Harman’s 11th start at the RSM Classic with his closest brush with victory coming in 2018 when he finished a distant fourth. 

For the 35-year-old, the event means more to him than any other (non-major championship division) and he contends that like the growing number of local Tour pros who call the island home, it’s simply a matter of when not if.

“There’s a lot of talent on this island and one of us is going to win this tournament sooner or later,” Harman said.

Whether that breakthrough comes sooner rather than later now falls to Harman, the lone hope for the Sea Island mafia — or whatever title Love prefers for the local contingent.

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