HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) — Stewart Cink thought he was ready for the cannon. He was wrong.

“It’s a little surprising,” Cink said. “I remember being really taken aback by how loud and how much compression that cannon produces when you’re hitting the ball from about 10 or 15 feet away. So I thought I was ready for it this time, I had the earplugs in but still there was no way to be ready for that.”

Cink has heard that cannon up close and personal three times: once the year after his win in 2000, the second after his win in 2004 and the third time on Tuesday as he pounded a shot into the Calibogue Sound on the 18th hole as a cannon fired beside him.

The annual first shot, both of the ball and of the cannon, is a time-honored tradition at the RBC Heritage that dates back to 18th-century Scotland. Cink carried on that tradition just feet away from the spot where he won the plaid jacket last year after shooting a 19-under, four strokes better than the second place finisher.

The year since then has not been kind to Cink, who has finished in the top 20 just one time in 23 starts. He’s hoping a return to the Heritage, where he has traditionally played some of the best golf of his career, can remedy that.

“I’m looking to come to a place like Harbour Town and maybe get some confidence, re-live some memories, to turn things around and I’m not far off. I’m staying steadfast and focused on what I’m doing. It just hasn’t worked out for me yet this year.”

Fans were welcomed back through the gates of Harbour Town on Tuesday, as the tournament scaled back up to 100 percent capacity for the first time since 2019.

Those fans reveled in the tournament’s famously casual atmosphere. Kevin McIlhinney and his wife, Patti, came early to experience that environment and enjoy watching the pros play their practice rounds.

“We’ve been coming for four or five years and Patty has been coming for longer than that,” Kevin said. “The last couple years because of COVID, it was pretty empty. So this is quite a difference. And I’m sure it’s going to get more crowded as the week goes on.”

Tee times have been released to the public. You can find the list of them here.