He won 19 times on the regular tour, including a U.S. Open conquest at Pebble Beach in 1992. He was the first player in PGA TOUR history to reach $6 million, then became the first to reach $7 million, $8- and $9 million. For years he was the career money leader on the regular tour.
Im excited about the possibility of getting better, he said energetically. Im excited to see if Ill be better in the future than I am today. I may have already been as good as I am ever going to get. But I dont know that yet. And Im having a great time finding out.
Kite practices what he preaches. He dabbles frequently on the young mens tour, playing half of his schedule on the under-50 circuit last year because he had a one-time exemption as a top-50 money earner. He goes to qualifying every year for the U.S. Open. He is a long, long way from slowing down and acting his age.
Kite played in 12 regular-tour events last year and finished in a tie for 13th in one, the Booz Allen Classic. But he wasnt a rousing success on that tour, and when he reverted to the Champions Tour, he wasnt too effective on that circuit, either. He confesses that he needed to choose one or the other and stick with his decision. Naturally, that choice would be the Champions. And now that he plays the elder circuit almost exclusively, he has played quite well this year.
Actually, hes playing better now than he was as a younger man, about three or four years ago. He had won six times though his first 64 events on the Champions Tour. Then he hit rough sledding, experiencing putting woes and failing to get a victory from October of 2002 until August of 2004. After winning then, he went through another drought, going 19 months until he won this year.
His win at the AT&T Classic this year broke that string of non-victories. And, it was a most welcomed respite. The longer you go without a win, the more difficult it is,' he said with a sigh.
'I know that if I play up to my caliber, said Kite, if I play up to my standard, it's good enough to win a lot of tournaments, and I think I'm as good a player when it gets to be tough as anybody out here.'
His putting has become much improved since he went to the claw grip, roughly resembling Chris DiMarcos hand position, the last couple of years. Once one of the finest putters in the world in his 20s and 30s, he had gradually gotten worse until, out of desperation, he tried the claw. That was last year, and this year as he got more comfortable with it, he has greatly improved.
'At times out here on the Champions Tour and the last few years on the PGA TOUR, I've kind of fought my putter,' he said. 'But now my putter is getting very, very good. I'm really starting to swing well again so I'm very encouraged and very, very optimistic about what's going to happen over the next year, year and a half.'
This week he tries again, trying to forget about all the miscues and mishaps of last season.
'I played terrible last year,' he said. 'Except for an occasional decent tournament, I really didn't play very well at all.
'So I've been working hard, working on my game, working on my swing, and I hope to see it all fall into place this week.'