ORLANDO, Fla. – On Wednesday night, Kevin Kisner was at home in Aiken, S.C., playing on the floor with his 9-month-old daughter when the PGA Tour called. He had an 8:11 a.m. tee time at Bay Hill, if he could make it.
A spot in the Arnold Palmer Invitational had opened up. Bubba Watson withdrew from the event to attend the funeral of David Miller, a close friend and former University of Georgia teammate.
Georgia coach Chris Haack said that Watson will serve as a pallbearer at Miller’s funeral this week. Miller was 36 years old.
Kisner also graduated from UGA, back in 2005. While he was still in school he played a couple of practice rounds with Watson and Miller.
“They were pretty close friends,” said Kisner, 31. “Really a sad deal. He had two little girls.”
Just last year Miller and Watson had teamed up to win Georgia’s alumni four-ball tournament. A photo of the two circulated among the Georgia alums on Tour Wednesday night.
Miller was part of Haack’s first recruiting class in Athens, in 1998, and one of the first two players signed to a scholarship. He was a co-captain in 2002, a three-time SEC selection, a two-time All-American, a first-team good dude.
Watson was the sixth man on the 2001 Georgia team that became the first in NCAA history to have all five guys earn third-team All-American honors or higher. For the next few years, Watson and Miller traveled the country on the mini tours before Watson made it big. They frequently played together at Georgia’s annual tournament, a fun kickoff to a weekend filled with football.
“David loved Bubba,” said Erik Compton, who played on the 1999-2001 Georgia teams with Miller. “He always wanted to know what Bubba was doing.”
Watson withdrew from this event at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. By that time, the top five players on the API alternate list had already informed the PGA Tour that they wouldn’t travel to Orlando if a spot in the field became available. No player had been injured. No one had seen the on-site doctor. They figured their chances of getting in were slim.
Kisner was No. 6 on the alternate list and at home in South Carolina after a 60th-place showing last week in Tampa. When the Tour called, just before 6 p.m., he didn’t hesitate.
Instead of making the seven-hour drive that would have gotten him into the area at 2 a.m., Kisner enlisted the help of a friend who owned a private, single-engine plane. He was in bed by midnight.
Alas, his caddie, Duane Bock, wasn’t quite as fortunate.
On short notice he made the late-night drive from Morganton, N.C., stopped in Jacksonville to snooze for a few hours, then finished the trip early Thursday morning. They were on the range a little after 6 a.m., preparing for their appearance in the featured group alongside Adam Scott and Brooks Koepka.
Making a tough spot even worse: Kisner had never even seen Bay Hill. No matter. He made five birdies during an opening 3-under 69 that left him just three shots off the lead.
“If I don’t shoot at least 3 under (Friday),” he said, “I know my new strategy. Don’t practice and only sleep about three hours.”