We’re only a few days removed from one of golf’s legendary moments, a Masters already etched near the top of history’s leaderboard. Everyone who has ever touched the game — and many others who couldn’t tell you the difference between a dogleg and a hosel — remain buzzing from Tiger Woods capturing his 15th major, the most improbable of feats in which he beat a generation of players he helped create. The ground is still shaking from his heroic shot into the par-3 16th that missed being an ace by mere inches. Had it gone in, the roar would be halfway around the world by now.
As it stands, the remnants of echoes have traveled about 130 miles southeast to serene and laid back Hilton Head Island, S.C., where the RBC Heritage takes place this week. The Masters champ isn’t in the field, but four of the top 10 players have arrived to a much calmer environment than the pressure-cooker just a couple of hours up the road. Much has changed on the golf landscape since 1983, but these two tournaments have been played consecutively each year since then. It’s one of the ultimate dichotomies in professional golf, the relative quiet of Calibogue Sound arriving swiftly behind the perpetual chaos of the back nine during the season’s first major. Even the walking is much easier, the flat low country replacing the drastic elevation changes at Augusta.
“It was such a grind last week, and then to come here is like a vacation,” Kevin Kisner said.
Only two players have won both the Masters and the RBC Heritage in the same year. Jack Nicklaus did so in 1975, when the Heritage preceded the Masters by two weeks, and Bernhard Langer pulled the trick in 1985 when he added a green jacket and a tartan jacket to his wardrobe in the span of a week.
Since Langer, only 10 Masters winners have competed the following week at Harbour Town Golf Links. It’s been rare this century as only Vijay Singh (2000), Zach Johnson (2007) and Jordan Spieth (2015) have done so. All of them finished in the top 11, but they couldn’t pull off back-to-back victories. Prior to the RBC Heritage being the week after the Masters, only two men had won the week after capturing the green jacket: Jimmy Demaret won the North Fulton Open in 1950 the week after winning this third Masters, and Gary Player won the Tournament of Champions and the Houston Open to pick up three consecutive trophies in 1978.
Conversely, most recent winners of the RBC Heritage either didn’t play the Masters or missed the cut there. One of the few to win the week after a solid performance at Augusta was Matt Kuchar, who tied for fifth in the 2014 Masters before winning the next week at Hilton Head.
A man who had a near miss at the Masters is playing Hilton Head this year. Francesco Molinari led the Masters by two strokes with seven holes to play, but water-bound approaches to Nos. 12 and 15 kept him from a second major championship. Molinari is now searching for a way to be ready for the RBC Heritage after an exhausting week in Augusta.
“It was obviously intense last week,” Molinari said. “This is going to be the biggest challenge this week is to recover from last week. It was a draining week, and I need to get some energy back. You’re never, I guess, quite sure exactly how long it’s going to take (to get over last week).”
Regrouping quickly is required to conquer the tight, tree-lined Pete Dye layout players face this week. You have to be disciplined and a tactician, words that describe Molinari perfectly. They also are an apt description for Langer, who has made the cut in five of the last seven Masters even though he’s now 61. His longevity at the tournament is impressive considering that he played three groups behind Jack Nicklaus when the Golden Bear won the 1986 Masters — as the defending champion, Langer also put the green jacket on him — and then made the cut 33 years later when Woods won in a similarly epic performance. Langer was one of the last people to shake Woods’ hand before he signed his scorecard to make everything official.
“The cheers and roars reminded me of Jack’s win in ’86,” Langer said. “All of the emotions that came out of Tiger once he won, the people embraced him. It was very emotional and almost a different Tiger Woods if you want to call it that way.”
Players openly talk about how they construct their schedules to thrive during the majors, which typically includes a recharge week after the grind of golf’s biggest championships.
Langer, the premier PGA Tour Champions performer over the past decade, is still remembered for how well he played in the immediate aftermath of his biggest victories. He credits that to preparing for all tournaments with the same intensity and drive, an attribute you can argue most modern tour professionals don’t have. Players openly talk about how they construct their schedules to thrive during the majors, which typically includes a recharge week after the grind of golf’s biggest championships. That means Masters momentum often takes a pause, allowing first-time winners to break through at subsequent tournaments like the RBC Heritage and Zurich Classic.
Langer approaches every tournament the same way with the same attitude. It’s how he won in consecutive weeks six times during his illustrious professional career.
“Everyone is a little different and you just have to know yourself,” Langer said. “The whole history of my career, whenever I have won, I’ve actually felt good playing another week or another two weeks. You can get exhausted, especially around Augusta, but you know your game is in good shape … your confidence is high, your expectations are high. So I would take it easy Monday and Tuesday and then when Thursday comes around, I would gear myself up mentally.
“If you just won a major, you don’t have to go out and hit 1,000 practice balls. Your swing is there. Just go and do the same thing you just did.”
That sounds easy enough, but there won’t be anyone joining Langer as a back-to-back champion this week in Hilton Head. And it likely will take a rare confluence of circumstances for it to happen again.
Francesco Molinari called the Masters “draining” and “intense,” but he will be in action at the RBC Heritage this week. Photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images
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