The RBC Heritage at Hilton Head Island, S.C., is the traditional tournament where many players like to decompress after a long Masters week.
Nobody will understand that better than Brooks Blackburn.
Blackburn, the head pro and general manager at Aiken’s Palmetto Golf Club, won a spot in his first PGA Tour event through the first-day section qualifier at the Carolinas head pro championship. After a week of welcoming a constant flow of guests at Palmetto during the club’s busiest week of the year, he’s ready for the relative relaxation of the toughest event he’s ever competed in.
“I’m looking forward to a week off,” Blackburn said. “It’s been crazy. It’s so much fun to have all the visitors out here and show them Palmetto. But it’s a tough week – 200 rounds a day Tuesday through Saturday. So this is a week off for me for sure, not for (the tour pros).”
Blackburn has lived and worked in the Aiken area for about 30 years – he was an All-American at USC Aiken – but he’s never actually played the heralded Pete Dye course at Harbour Town.
“I take a few days off after Masters and go down every year to follow the boys around,” he said. “But never played it.”
“The boys” the 47-year-old Blackburn is talking about are local pros Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown, who both live near Palmetto. Kisner is an Aiken native who played golf at Georgia while Brown is from North Augusta and was a star at USC Aiken. Blackburn has known them both for years, even watching Brown grow up since he was in kindergarten.
The first thing Blackburn did when he qualified for the Heritage was text them both to set up a practice round with the boys. On Tuesday, Blackburn partnered with Augusta’s own Vaughn Taylor in a match against Kisner and Brown – all three of them PGA Tour winners.
“Had a blast,” he said. “Me and VT played them and they got lucky, and beat us 1 up. They were awesome.”
The tour pros were at least as excited as Blackburn that he won a chance to play with them, even if it turns out to be a one-time deal. They often play at Palmetto when they are at home and the former Carolinas PGA Head Pro champion can keep up with them quite well.
“He’s a good player,” said Kisner, who ranks No. 37 in the world. “I played with him (recently) and we had a match, and I was three down through 15. I said, ‘I’m going home; to hell with you.’ He was like 7 under. I think he’s ready. He’s not going to go embarrass himself by any means. Just around the greens and stuff like that is where he’ll struggle on tour.”
While he never played the course before this week, he’s watched it enough to know most of the course management he’ll need to employ.
“I hit it pretty similar to (Kisner and Brown), so I sort of know where to hit it out there,” he said. “It’s nice to pick their brains and walk around with them.”
His boys were happy to help.
“We’re pumped to do that because he needs it after (Masters) week,” Kisner said during his second Masters. “He works 15-hour days seven straight days this week, so I’m sure he’s going to want to get down there.”
Kisner said he’d lobby the tour to try to get Blackburn paired with him in the first two rounds, but he didn’t have the kind of pull to get a club pro slotted in with the tour winners. Blackburn instead will tee off on the 10th hole in the last group at 1:30 p.m. with former U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau and Trey Mullinax.
That he’s playing a PGA Tour event at all is just a bonus he never really expected. He’s played in a few U.S. Open qualifiers in the past, but never reached the big event.
“I don’t think it will change my life at all,” he said of his tour debut. “If I ever played in a tour event, I just assumed at this point in my life it’d be a senior event.”
With his brother, Jay, as his caddie, Blackburn plans to get the most of his week in Hilton Head – whether he makes the cut to play the weekend and earn a paycheck, or not. His biggest winning check was for $1,720 at the head pro event, and the purse this week is $6.5 million with the last place guy to make the cut getting at least $10,000.
“Like all club pros, I have no expectations,” Blackburn said. “I’d like to play well, but probably nobody will have more fun than I am.”