Johnson skipping Heritage

Dustin Johnson is skipping the Heritage, but several golfers with state ties will play, including Lucas Glover and Bill Haas.

Alan Diaz

Most fans go to the Verizon Heritage because of the parties.

Dustin Johnson is skipping the Hilton Head Island tournament this week in part because of the party scene.

The Columbia native, a former Coastal Carolina standout, will sit out the PGA Tour's only stop in his home state after missing the cut at the Heritage the past two years.

And while it's true the short, tight set-up at Harbour Town is not a good fit for the long-bombing Johnson, he said the 19th-hole atmosphere that permeates the tournament also played a role in his decision.

"Hilton Head is not a great golf course for me. It's a little crazy," Johnson said Sunday following his final round at the Masters. "I mean, all of my buddies are there. So I'm not quite as focused as I would be normally."

Some of the traditions that make Harbour Town such a hit with fans, including the party boats on the Calibogue Sound, make it difficult for some golfers to concentrate on what's going on between the ropes, according to Johnson.

"A couple friends have boats down there. One of my buddies has a yacht," he said. "It's fun, (but) it's not a good golf environment for me."

Officials hoped the 25-year-old Johnson would join a strong contingent of players with South Carolina ties to help sell tickets to a tournament that is losing its title sponsor. Verizon announced in September it will end the third-longest title sponsorship on tour.

There are nine South Carolinians or players who competed collegiately in the state in this week's field, including reigning U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, Greenville resident Bill Haas and former USC player Brett Quigley.

Heritage officials gave several of their sponsor exemptions to local players. Former USC golfer Mark Anderson of Beaufort and the Clemson tandem of Charles Warren and Brent Delahoussaye are playing with sponsor spots.

"They're doing their part, and the tournament's doing its part to have them play," Haas said. "Obviously, they want South Carolinians to play. I think Dustin will play in the future. I just think right now, in his eye, he doesn't think that course fits him."

Johnson is among the biggest hitters on tour. The former Coastal Carolina player is No. 3 on tour in average driving distance, at 300.5 yards, and led the Masters field in that category last week.

But at 6,973 yards, Harbour Town is nearly 500 yards shorter than Augusta National and features some of the smallest greens on tour. Ed Brill, pro at Port Royal in Hilton Head, said in an analysis on the PGA Tour Web site that a "bomber's mentality off the tee is definitely not the best way to approach" Harbour Town."

Glover, another long hitter, said he likes the "old school" conditions at Harbour Town, where players often have to contend with wind off the Atlantic.

"You shouldn't have to have 700-yard par-5s and eight inches of rough to make it hard. Hilton Head is not like that," Glover said. "It's more like a British Open or a Masters, where whatever the conditions give you is how the scoring's going to be. And that's how it ought to be."

But Haas said Johnson, No. 6 on the money list, owes no one an explanation for staying home this week.

"I don't think anyone's obligated to do anything. That's the great thing about our sport -- we're our own bosses," Haas said. "He's obviously had a great start to his year, and he's trying to pick tournaments that suit him the best. He's one of the longest hitters out here, and that's one of the shortest, tightest courses. I think everybody understands why he wouldn't play that course."

Johnson will take two weeks off before playing Quail Hollow in Charlotte. He also plans to be at the Players Championship, two tournaments in Texas and the Memorial in Ohio in the coming weeks.

But all of those are a prelude to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Johnson has won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the past two seasons. Johnson said he was "definitely excited" about playing Pebble again.

As for Hilton Head, Johnson did not rule out returning to Harbour Town in the future.

"They wanted me to come play, but it's just not going to work this year," he said. "Maybe next year."