ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — It looked like a tough day at Sea Island Resort. It felt like one too. The kind of day that’s so windy that by the end your hair (if you still have it) hurts.
Scores at the RSM Classic should not have been good. Yet they were. Which proves that if you have soft greens, courtesy of Thursday’s rains, that even wind doesn’t offer much defense to a good golf course.
“I’ll be interested to see how scores will be if the wind is strong as they’re forecasting,” first-round leader Kevin Kisner said Thursday.
Kisner got his answer Friday. If you didn’t shoot 67 or 68, you probably got passed. Kisner shot 67. And got passed.
Kevin Chappell tacked on a 65 to his opening 66 and took the RSM lead at 11 under par, one ahead of Kisner and Freddie Jacobson.
A former NCAA champion at UCLA, Chappell doesn’t mind windy conditions, as long as it’s steady from the same direction. He also doesn’t mind the wind if he’s playing well at the time. Good ballstrikers can handle bad conditions. Bad ballstrikers get exposed by the wind.
Like at the 17th hole, for instance, on Sea Island’s Seaside Course. It’s a 192-yard par 3. It was playing 195 yards Friday, with a helping left-to-right wind off the tee. Chappell normally plays a left-to-right cut.
“So do we hit 7-iron and let it ride the wind or do we just hit a straight shot?” Chappell said. “We decided to hit the straight shot and it still flew over the green. I wasn’t even sure I could get there with 7-iron.”
Chappell chipped close and saved par. It was the only green in regulation he missed all day. He suffered one bogey but had four birdies and an unlikely eagle.
The latter came at the 15th hole, a par 5 where his 3-wood approach caught a bunker shot of the green, leaving him about a 45-yard shot to the pin. That distance sand shot falls into the category that starts to make golfers, even pros, a little queasy. It wasn’t a problem for Chappell, who used a pitching wedge for the shot.
“I’ve got a carry number for each wedge out of a bunker,” Chappell said. “My pitching wedge goes about 36, 38 yards. So I told myself to hit it a littler harder than you want. And it came out perfect.”
It was perfect as in it landed about eight feet short of the pin, released and rolled out, just barely with enough speed to topple into the cup for eagle.
Chappell, in the bunker below the green, couldn’t see the shot finish.
“There weren’t many people there — maybe eight — and there was applause,” Chappell said. “I had to look up and ask my caddie, ‘Did it go in?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah!’ I’m like, ‘Sweet!’”
And that’s, like, good. Dude.
Chappell has had a very successful run on the PGA Tour in the last five years. He has won more than $6.5 million, but he’s still looking for his first PGA Tour win. Chappell has a pair of runner-ups and two thirds among his 11 top-ten finishes but he hasn’t been able to close out a victory.
“This is the third year in a row I’ve been near the last group on the weekend in this tournament,” Chappell said. “Obviously, I’m in a good position to try to win a tournament. I’ve had some issues in that past in that situation. So for me, it’s about getting in that situation again and seeing what happens, trying to find a formula that works for me. It’s another opportunity.”