HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Satoshi Kodaira had just added to his wardrobe and verbally accepted PGA TOUR membership when he was asked a question few thought he would have to answer.
How did he like his new plaid jacket?
Kodaira looked down at the traditional winner’s coat, then out at his audience. “I will probably not wear it regularly,” he said through an interpreter, sending a burst of laughter through the winner’s press conference. “But this is special.”
Japan’s Kodaira, 28, overcame strong winds and Si Woo Kim of Korea for his first TOUR win at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town. After coming from six shots back at the start of the day, the winner rolled in a birdie putt of 24 feet, 6 inches at the par-3 17th hole, the third hole of a sudden-death playoff, and watched as Kim failed to match him with a long birdie attempt of his own.
“I wasn’t really thinking about winning,” Kodaira said of his thoughts early Sunday, when he teed off almost an hour before the final threesome of Kim, Ian Poulter and Luke List.
List, who lost a playoff to Justin Thomas in The Honda Classic, had a chance to join the playoff but missed a birdie putt from just outside 10 feet on the last hole of regulation. He and 36-hole leader Bryson DeChambeau (66) tied for third at 11-under.
Kim, who will defend his title at THE PLAYERS Championship next month, had a chance to end the tournament in regulation after knocking his approach shot 6 feet, 4 inches from the pin on the 72nd hole, but his birdie effort grazed the lip and stayed out.
“I tried my best,” he said, “and the putts didn’t drop. It is what it is.”
When his last birdie try came up short, a tournament that featured a third-round flyover by a Singapore Airlines Boeing 787, and the most accomplished male pro from Korea, had been won by perhaps the second most famous player from Japan. (Hideki Matsuyama being the first.)
“I’ve not talked to Hideki,” Kodaira said. “But I’ve been watching him on TV, and it gives me confidence and inspiration to play on the PGA TOUR.”
Sunday was always going to be a battle of attrition. With stiff winds and thunderstorms in the forecast, tournament officials moved the starting times up to 7-9 a.m. and sent the field off split tees. Although there were some good scores, lowest among them a 65 by Harris English, the leaders were left to make a few early birdies and then hang on for dear life.
Third-round leader Poulter shot a back-nine 40. List bogeyed four of his last eight holes, with just one birdie at the par-5 15th to offset the damage. Kim, after seizing the lead with a 3-under 33 on the front nine, shot a 3-over 38 on the back.
The last five winners of the RBC Heritage had trailed by at least three shots after 54 holes. Kodaira, who came into Sunday six off the lead, stayed on the offensive throughout. After scorching Harbour Town with a tournament-best 63 in easier conditions Saturday, he began the final round with three straight birdies and finished with seven of them overall. Given the tougher conditions Sunday, he said his 5-under 66 was the more impressive of the two rounds.
The two playoff combatants made pars on the first two extra holes, both at the par-4 18th, the most tenuous moment being Kodaira’s clutch up-and-down for par from behind the green the second time through. He made a five-footer to stay alive before his winning birdie on 17.
“I wasn’t that nervous on the last putt,” he said, “compared to the first two putts on 18.”
After finishing T28 at the Masters the week before, the Japan Golf Tour member had earned a spot in next season’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (among other tournaments); and his best-ever result on TOUR; and had become the first player from Japan to win since Matsuyama captured the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
“This is a stage I’ve been dreaming about,” Kodaira said. “And having this opportunity to play [the PGA TOUR] fulltime is a dream come true.”