RBC Heritage Tournament Preview

2021 RBC Heritage Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Harbour Town Golf Links Before Tee Off

After the whirlwind of emotions that was the 2021 Masters, we get a surprisingly appetizing hangover event in the RBC Heritage, which boasts a very strong field of the world’s best who’ve decided to hang around the greater Augusta area for one more week in Hilton Head. I’m scared as hell to bet this week to be honest, because this field features ALL of my guilty pleasure bets (Russell Henley, Sam Burns, Matthew NeSmith, Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer, etc.) and they’re all going to open with great odds, given the number of elite players in this field; Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay, Daniel Berger, and Collin Morikawa are the expected favorites this week.

The RBC Heritage is also a very special, momentous tournament for The PGA Tout brand. I created the @PGATout Twitter Account in June 2020, and began tweeting picks with the RBC Heritage as my first tournament. My first card featured Webb Simpson +3000 for the win, as well as Abraham Ancer +7000, which made for a no sweat debut cash (wish it were always that easy). Ten months later and we are back where it all began!

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It’s no Major, but it’s still an exciting crop of talent in the field, so I’m excited for another week of golf action down South.

Harbour Town Golf Links Course Specs

  • Yards: 6,889
  • Par: 71 (4x 3’s / 11x 4’s / 3x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Architect: Pete Dye
  • Historic Cut Line: +1
  • Comp Courses: Waialae CC, Sea Island GC (Seaside), TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course, Austin Country Club, TPC River Highlands
  • Past Winners: Webb Simpson (20), CT Pan (19), Satoshi Kodaira (18), Wesley Bryan (17), Branden Grace (16)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: Jim Furyk (15, 10), Matt Kuchar (14), Graeme McDowell (13), Brandt Snedeker (12), Brian Gay (09), Stewart Cink (04)

It’s a very consistent story to profile the list of past winners at the RBC Heritage: Ball Strikers who lack Distance. It really does feel like every player on tour who fits that profile has either won here, or consistently contended to win. And so it’s no surprise that last year’s contest came down to two players who excel in ball striking despite their lack of distance in Webb Simpson and Abraham Ancer.

Luke Donald is a name you’ll probably hear a lot this week. He ranks out as #1 SG: TOT at the RBC Heritage, despite having never won here before. He has 3 Runner Up finishes at this event in his career and a T3 in 2013 to add. He has missed 9 consecutive Cuts coming into this week, so still should not be too popular of a play. After Donald, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay, Rory Sabbatini, and two-time winner Jim Furyk also round out the top Course History players this week.

You should know the drill with Pete Dye specialists by now, as this is our 4th trip to a Pete Dye track in 2021. As a recap, we’ve already seen The Stadium Course (The AmEx), TPC Sawgrass (THE PLAYERS), and Austin Country Club (WGC Dell Match Play) within the last 3 months. The Top 5 players SG: T2G on Pete Dye Tracks over the last 24 rounds are Abraham Ancer, Patrick Cantlay, Si Woo Kim, Dustin Johnson, and Paul Casey. Other notable Dye Specialists just outside the Top 5 are Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Brian Harman, Chez Reavie, and Webb Simpson.

Key Stats

  • Driving Accuracy
  • SG: ARG / SG: SG
  • SG: Ball Striking / SG: APP
  • Birdies Gained / Opportunities Gained
  • Par 4 Scoring / P4: 400-450
  • SG: Putting (Bermuda)
  • RBC Heritage Course History / Pete Dye Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • Driving Distance
  • SG: OTT
  • Eagles Gained
  • Prox: 200+
  • Par 5 Scoring

I don’t have the data in front of me to tell you there’s no other course on tour where Driving Distance or SG: OTT matter less, but looking at the crop of recent winners and correlation between Distance/OTT and success at Harbour Town, I’m rendering it relatively useless this week. I’ll of course add the age old disclaimer that it never hurts to have extra distance in golf, and clubbing down on layups or just having a shorter club into the green will always help. But there are plenty of players on Tour who can bomb and gauge to mask shortcomings in their Approach and ARG games, and those are the players I’ll be looking to avoid here. On the other hand, there are plenty of players whose lack of distance can take them out of contention at longer courses, which won’t be the case at Harbour Town. Players like Brendon Todd, Wesley Bryan, Chez Reavie, Andrew Putnam, Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk, and Tom Hoge will fit the profile of value players who are solid T2G and will not be inhibited by their lack of distance.

It is a pretty fascinating list of players who rank Above Average in each of the above Key Stats, and there are only 6 of them: Webb Simpson, Matt Fitzpatrick, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, Chris Kirk, and Michael Thompson. Thompson especially caught my eye, as he’s a short game specialist trending in the right direction with back to back T10s at the RBC Heritage, but is the type of player who will still fly under the radar anyway.

Taking a look at the top correlated key stats this week, it’s a clear fade of the SG: OTT category, as this plummets from its usual rank of the 9th most important stat on average, all the way down to 27th at the RBC Heritage. The most notable positive jumps in importance at the RBC Heritage this week compared to average are SG: T2G, SG: ARG, Scrambling Gained, and P4: 400-450 Scoring.

Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at The RBC Heritage

Filtering the above Top 10 correlated stats into my models, there are just 12 players who rank Above Average in each: Patrick Cantlay, Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Webb Simpson, Matt Fitzpatrick, Si Woo Kim, Brian Harman, Michael Thompson, Russell Henley, Doug Ghim, and Lucas Glover. Putting a premium on the most important categories, there are just 5 players who rank in the Top 20 of the top 5 correlated stats with success at Harbour Town (T2G, Par 4 Scoring, DK Pts, P4: 400-450, Bogeys Avoided): Patrick Cantlay, Charley Hoffman, Paul Casey, Corey Conners, and Dustin Johnson.

It’s worth noting the least correlated stats to any success at the RBC Heritage are Prox 200+, Driving Distance, and Eagles Gained. So basically any stat where distance would be helpful is effectively irrelevant to have success at this course.

To summarize, I think the profile for success this week is going to be Driving Accuracy, SG: APP, SG: ARG, and Course History at the RBC Heritage and other Pete Dye Tracks. There are 6 players who rank above average in each of those categories: Paul Casey, Webb Simpson, Matt Fitzpatrick, Michael Thompson, Doug Ghim, and Jim Furyk. Furyk is the only player to rank Top 20 in all 5 categories, surprisingly enough.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 RBC Heritage

Webb Simpson wins RBC Heritage in dramatic fashion

Webb Simpson won this event in the shadows last year, and I expect he’ll be in the conversation once again in 2021. Webb has a very steady, repeatable game so if he’s had success at a track once, that tends to stick. His combination of Driving Accuracy with solid Approach play and a great Short Game should keep him in contention again in 2021.

One man whose name has not come up at all from these key stat profiles is Collin Morikawa. He had a forgettable debut in 2020, but as we remember, June 2020 was a strange time. Players were still getting acclimated to competitive golf in the midst of COVID testing and no fans, so I’m quick to look past any blips in performance last year. Positional golf off the tee on a short track paired with strong Approach play is the recipe for success with Morikawa, so I’ll be eyeing his odds when pricing opens Monday.

Keeping in mind the opportunities for shorter hitters to contend, along with the track record that Pete Dye specialists have had, this is an early short list of players I’ll be eying when odds and pricing open up on Monday.

  • Tier 1 (<20/1, $10K+): Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa
  • Tier 2 (20-39/1, $9K): Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick, Corey Conners, Sungjae Im
  • Tier 3 (40-69/1, $8K): Si Woo Kim, Charley Hoffman, Abraham Ancer, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Brian Harman
  • Tier 4 (70-100/1, $7K): Michael Thompson, Lucas Glover, Doug Ghim, Emiliano Grillo, Brendon Todd, Chez Reavie, Andrew Putnam, Brandt Snedeker
  • Tier 5 (>100/1, $6K): Matthew NeSmith, Chase Seiffert, Branden Grace, Jim Furyk, Wesley Bryan, Tom Hoge, Russell Knox

Not too surprisingly, Patrick Cantlay ranks out #1 In my models this week, followed by Charley Hoffman, Webb Simpson, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Paul Casey. Subjectively, I would expect a bit of an emotional let down from players who went 4 rounds out at Augusta the week prior, so I may knock down players like Will Zalatoris, Corey Conners, and Brian Harman just a hair. On the other hand, it would be a nice bounce back opportunity for players like Patrick Cantlay, Daniel Berger, Sungjae Im, and Dustin Johnson who had their Augusta trips cut short and have some extra time to re-focus on the tournaments ahead.