Wooing tomorrow's star, today

Typography

rbcheritageFOR YEARS, STEVE WILMOT HAS JOKED THAT THE 15-20 POUNDS HE DROPS ANNUALLY DURING THE STRESS-FILLED RUN-UP TO THE RBC HERITAGE ALWAYS FINDS ITS WAY BACK TO HIM DURING THE PLAYERS AMATEUR, AND IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE IMPRESSIVE BUFFET LUNCHES AND LOCKER ROOM MILKSHAKE SERVICE AT BERKELEY HALL CLUB. OK, MAYBE A LITTLE.

But Wilmot's favorite wisecrack works as a metaphor for the Players Amateur's importance to the Heritage, as the amateur event allows Wilmot and his staff at the Heritage Classic Foundation an opportunity to kick up their feet a bit more while fostering relationships with promising young golfers today that pay dividends to the PGA Tour event down the road.

Aside from the obvious tie-in — the reigning Players Amateur champion is granted a sponsor's exemption into the RBC Heritage each spring — the Heritage Classic Foundation's involvement with the amateur event has helped build a bridge to the RBC Heritage. The evidence of that is apparent in a promotional video produced during this spring's Heritage, in which a number of current PGA Tour players touted the experience they had competing in the Players Amateur, which many said was the first event they played that made them feel like pros. That reputation spread quickly from the event's inception in 2000, producing a positive cycle that continues today.

"Again, we're anticipating a very strong international field with the best amateur players in the world," Wilmot said. "It really has continued to kind of snowball in such a positive direction."

The list of past champions is littered with big-name PGA Tour players, including Ben Curtis, Bill Haas and Rickie Fowler. The first 13 winners have combined to claim 12 PGA Tour victories as of May 22, and the list of players who competed in the Players Amateur and never won it is even more impressive, including Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Marc Leishman, Kyle Stanley and Nick Watney, among others.

The Players Amateur returns to Berkeley Hall Club for the second year of a new era after being played at Belfair Golf Club for the first 12 years. The change of scenery has done nothing to diminish the event's reputation as one of the top amateur tournaments in the nation — if not the world.

The international reach is evident in the number of top Australian players who compete each summer, one of whom — Daniel Nisbet — claimed the title in last year's rain-shortened event. A number of Australia's best amateur players already are committed this year, including Brady Watt (ranked sixth in the Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings as of May 30), Zander Lombard (No. 18), Nathan Holman (No. 28), Brett Drewitt (No. 43), Todd Sinnott (No. 76) and Jordan Zunic (No. 80). While commitments will continue to roll in as the tournament approaches, the field already includes several of the world's top amateurs. Leading that list is 2012 runner-up Bobby Wyatt, who has ascended to the top spot in the Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings while helping lead Alabama to the national championship. Watt (No. 6), North Florida standout Sean Dale (No. 12) and Stanford's Andrew Yun (No. 23) are among the other highly-ranked players who committed early.

Following in the tradition started by the likes of Glover, Johnson and 2008 champion Mark Anderson — a Beaufort native — this year's field also will feature its share of home-grown talent. South Carolina sophomore Matt NeSmith, who tied for second overall in the NCAA Regional, and Clemson sophomore Cody Proveaux have committed, along with Bluffton resident and former AJGA standout Michael Balzer. The Heritage Classic Foundation also extends an invitation annually to one USC Beaufort golfer, which this year went to Travis Cashion, who recently graduated after playing for the Sand Sharks for four years.

Despite the more laid-back feel relative to the Heritage, the Players Amateur is no simple undertaking. It requires more than 100 volunteers to ensure the event runs smoothly and operates like a big-time event on par with the reputation it has earned over the years.

"The volunteer support and other support from the community has been incredible," Wilmot said. "It really brings the love for golf in this area full circle. We're not just supporting pro golf, we're also supporting amateur golf."

2013 Players Amateur

What: Amateur national golf tournament
When: July 8-14; Tournament play July 11-14
Where: Berkeley Hall Club
Details: Practice rounds July 8-9; Contestant-Amateur Tournament, 8:30 a.m., July 10; Tee times 7:15 a.m., July 11-14
Admission: Open, free to spectators

PAST CHAMPIONS
2000: Ben Curtis
2001: Michael Sims
2002: Bill Haas
2003: Camilo Villegas
2004: Aron Price
2005: Brian Harman
2006: Jonathan Moore
2007: Rickie Fowler
2008: Mark Anderson
2009: Bud Cauley
2010: Kevin Tway
2011: Corbin Mills
2012: Daniel Nisbet