May
12
2012
Sea Island mafia in charge at The Players
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Matt Kuchar co-leading the Sea Island crew at Sawgrass

The crew of golfers that reside just about 80 miles up the eastern seaboard on Sea Island in St. Simons Island appear to have conspired a takeover of The Players Championship at the halfway mark. Neighbors Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar, along with “outsider” Kevin Na, shot a 36-hole total of eight-under for a three way share of the lead.

Just behind them, rookie Harris English, another Sea Islander (or to be more specific, St. Simons Islander — still not exactly sure), trails by a stroke, after a birdie-birdie finish to get him to seven-under for solo fourth in his first start at the Tour’s flagship event. Jonathan Byrd is also lurking at six-under to complete the coastal Georgian occupation of four of the top nine names on the leaderboard going into the weekend.

“It’s pretty impressive,” said Kuchar, who is paired with English on Saturday in the penultimate group. “We have got a great crew of guys up in Sea Island.  All of us hang out at Frederica Golf Club.  I played last week, played some golf with Zach Johnson before he went off to Charlotte.  I did not go to the Charlotte tournament last week.  We got a round of golf at home last week, and looking forward to getting a round of golf in tomorrow with him.”

As Kuchar mentions, all the PGA Tour players are members at Frederica Golf Club on Sea Island St. Simons Island. What is this? The Frederica member-member? What’s in the water over there that makes these guys thrive at TPC Sawgrass. It may just be a coincidence since pros have started to flock to the area.

If you’ve been there, you know it’s not very big, to say the least. It’s island living, where everyone knows everyone, and you never know when you might run into your neighborly Tour player at the grocery store.

“I don’t live too far away from them,” said English in his Friday post-round presser, referring to Johnson, Byrd and Kuchar.  “The island is not big at all.  I am probably within two miles of those guys…it’s good to play with them.

“A lot of good guys there on the island to bounce stuff off of, and it’s good to have some of those veterans to lean on in practice rounds when you’ve never seen the golf course, and they’ll kind you help you along the way.”

English, who tied for eighth at the RBC Heritage, played with J-Byrd for the first time in a Tuesday practice round.

“We had a pretty good match going,” said the former University of Georgia golfer who won a Nationwide Tour event last year as an amateur.  “It was fun.”

How much money did he take off Byrd?

“We’re going to keep that on the down-low,” said Harris, smiling.

English also played in the first twosome of the day in the final round at the Wells Fargo Championship. Zach may or may not have come from behind coming down the stretch, including a birdie on No. 18 at Quail Hollow, while Harris bogeyed, to take that match.

Harris lives with UGA teammate and good friend Hudson Swafford, who won the Nationwide Tour last week at their UGA home course in Athens, and Gator Todd, who played at University of Alabama. The three happen to rent Chris Kirk’s condo. Kirk bought a house last year just down the road.

Then there’s another rookie Sea Islander, Brian Harman, who was first alternate and nearly missed his chance to take D.A. Points’ spot due to a bizarre situation. On Thursday Points withdrew at the very last second — one of his playing partners had already teed off — and by the time officials figured it out and went to find Harman, it was too late. Tour officials reviewed the unique incident and eventually decided to let Harman play. After all, he had done everything by the book.

Harman, who had a hectic morning, shot a one-over 73 in the first round, but rallied on Friday, firing five-under on his second nine, to shoot 68 and make the cut.

“I got some fans yesterday,” he said on Friday. “I saw on Twitter there was a ‘free Brian Harman’ movement.  That was awesome.  I thought that was hilarious.”

He hit a hero shot from a bad lie through an opening between the trees and holed out for birdie on No. 8.

“My caddie said a guy was behind him and threw his beer up in the air and spilled all over him,” said Harman, who was T17 through 36 holes. “That’s why you play the game.  That’s why we’re out here; and to have that kind of support, and to have those guys freaking out, it was awesome.  It was awesome.  I’ll go right back over and buy them another beer.”

The leaders are just about to tee off in the third round at TPC Sawgrass. The odds look good for a Sea Island resident, but it’s only Saturday. Who’s your best bet?

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)