Photo credit: Heritage Classic Foundation
By Justin Jarrett | LowcoSports@gmail.com
Lowcountry golf fans are accustomed to seeing the stars of the PGA Tour each April at the RBC Heritage, but the future stars of professional golf make their way through the area each July on their way to the PGA Tour.
The 18th annual Players Amateur gets underway Thursday morning on Berkeley Hall’s North Course, and another top-flight field of the world’s best amateur golfers is ready to tee it up. The impressive list of past champions includes Rickie Fowler, Brian Harman, Camilo Villegas, Bill Haas, and Ben Curtis.
The major drawing card for one of the nation’s most esteemed amateur golf events is a sponsor’s exemption into next year’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, and the competition for that coveted prize should be intense from Thursday through Sunday.
China’s Cheng Jin will try to become the first repeat winner in Players Amateur history, but the rising sophomore at the University of Southern California will have to beat a strong field that includes Olympian Kyle McClatchie of South Africa, the No. 5 player in the Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings, as well as college stars Patrick Martin of Vanderbilt, Gavin Hall of Texas, and Davis Riley of Alabama.
This year’s field also features a good bit of local flavor, with seven players hailing from Beaufort County teeing it up with hopes of winning the hometown tournament. Most notable among the local contingent are Clemson star Bryson Nimmer of Bluffton and South Carolina standout Will Miles of Hilton Head Island, who are playing in the event for the third consecutive year.
“The first year was a little eye-opening, being in high school and playing with those guys, but I’ve had some success there,” Miles said. “The goal is always to win the event, and especially that event, because I’ve always dreamed of playing in the Heritage. But I just want to compete the best I can, and hopefully I have a good week at home.”
The other hometown players hoping to walk inside the ropes at next year’s RBC Heritage include Bluffton residents Trace Crowe (Auburn), Alec Weary (High Point), and Michael Balzer, and Hilton Head Island golfers Tate Hoisington and Bubba Jacoby.
The Players Amateur has produced just one true homegrown champion, Beaufort’s Mark Anderson in 2008, and three others from South Carolina – Haas in 2002, Corbin Mills in 2011, and Matt NeSmith in 2015 — despite the Palmetto State’s fertile soil for producing top-level talent. That’s a tribute to the quality of field the event has attracted since its inception in 2000, beginning with the nation’s top collegiate stars and extending to the best mid-amateur players – age 25 and older – as well as a wealth of international talent.
The first round begins at 7 a.m. Thursday. The tournament is open to the public, and admission is free.