Sea Island Mafia: Bragging rights on the line to become first local to win RSM Classic

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – In 1978, Davis Love III’s father, renowned instructor Davis Jr., was given a blank slate to start an instructional school anywhere in the country. He chose Sea Island Resort here in this picturesque corner of southern Georgia—halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida—and it’s been Love’s home ever since.

Love, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017, has a veritable museum of his achievements on display all over the island. A local restaurant, Brogen’s North, has a caddie bib worn by brother Mark at the 1995 Ryder Cup matches at Oak Hill and a framed print of Love after his cup-clinching putt at The Belfry in 1993. Some of Love’s winning hardware have been the focal point of an elegant trophy room at Sea Island Resort.

When Love won the 1997 PGA Championship, hand-painted banners and a billboard along U.S. 17 offered congratulations. After the 2016 Ryder Cup victory, Love was welcomed home by a live band at McKinnon Airport, a small airstrip on the island favored by players who fly private.

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Love has returned the community’s affection by hosting the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, a tournament that has raised nearly $29 million for local charities. He does everything from handing out the trophy to hosting the pro-am party, and is making his 788th Tour start in the tournament this week, which kicks off its 13th year on Thursday at the Resort’s Seaside and Plantation courses.

2021 RSM Classic
2021 RSM Classic

Sea Island Golf Club in Sea Island, Georgia. (Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

“The community rallies behind it every year,” said Zach Johnson, a Sea Island resident who is one of two players in the field that has competed in every edition of the RSM Classic to date (the other being Chris Kirk).

Johnson, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, already has claimed the John Deere Classic, his true home game, and now he’s gunning for his adopted hometown tourney. Somehow, none of the local boys, who are collectively known as the Sea Island Mafia, have ever had bragging rights as champion of the RSM Classic.

“Based on the amount of talent that lives here, based on the resumes that live here and having that course knowledge, it is a little bit surprising. I find it a little bit odd. But it’s hard,” Johnson said. “At some point that’s probably got to happen.”

Johnson, who has three top-10 finishes in his last five RSM starts, would love nothing more than to set off a celebration on the island. But the 12-time Tour winner hasn’t won on the since hoisting the Claret Jug in 2015 at St. Andrews.

“It completely and utterly eats at me,” Johnson said of his victory drought. “But I know how hard this game is and typically, you know, when I’ve had valleys, if you will, the motivation to go work and try to get out of that valley has never been an issue.”

It should be noted that technically a resident already has won the RSM.

Kevin Kisner, a longtime Sea Island member, won the 2015 title and was living on the island while his home in Aiken, South Carolina, was being renovated. But Kisner’s home course is Palmetto Golf Club and he’s only an unofficial member of the Sea Island Mafia. Harris English, who is attempting to climb back into the top 50 in the world, counts as a full-blooded member, one of 16 local residents in the field this week, and plays enough at the two Sea Island courses that he figures he should have an advantage.

“I never get tired of playing this place,” English said. “The challenging part about playing this week is we never play it in these kind of conditions.”

2020 RSM Classic
2020 RSM Classic

A view of the sixth green during the final round of the 2020 RSM Classic at the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club in St Simons Island, Georgia. (Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Asked where he would head on the island to celebrate with the local folks should he hoist the trophy, English smiled and said, “I don’t think Ziggy Mahoney’s will be open on Sunday, but that’s a pretty good celebration spot.”

Stat of the week

116. That is how many birdies Patrick Rodgers has made during the first seven events of the 2022-23 season, the most of 10 players who have topped 100 birdies. The annual RSM Birdies Fore Love competition concludes this week at The RSM Classic, with the player making the most birdies (or better) throughout the fall portion of the schedule receiving $300,000 to donate to a children- or family-focused charitable organization of his choice ($150,000 for second, $50,000 for third). With this being the final week of the competition, each birdie (or better) will count for two.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek