The boys at Palmetto can't quite pull Kiz to PGA win

By Rex HoggardAugust 14, 2017, 1:07 am

AIKEN, S.C. – Interstate 77 south goes from four lanes to two in a hurry just outside Charlotte, N.C., as clear a sign as any that you’re quickly descending into the Old South.

Just two hours down I-77 from Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club, site of this week’s PGA Championship, just off exit 22 on the road to Augusta, Ga., is Aiken – think Mayberry, USA, with Uber and a thriving restaurant district.

It’s where Kevin Kisner was born and where he continues to live despite the unwritten mandate that with fame and fortune on the PGA Tour comes the need to upgrade to a tony new zip code.

Kisner stayed in Aiken after he left the University of Georgia and turned professional because, “when I was playing mini-tours and I was broke, that's the only place I could afford to buy a house and I went back there. I just love it.”

And he became a member at Palmetto Golf Club, an 1892 Alister MacKenzie gem hidden behind a row of shrubs just off Berrie Road, because, “I have a core group of friends that we hang out with that don't pester me about golf and we hang out and have a couple beers on the back porch.”

On any given day, Kisner can be found with long-time friend and playing partner, but never opponent, Scott Brown tooling around in a tricked out golf cart with big speakers and a cooler.

In Palmetto you’ll find the perfect metaphor for Kisner: laid back, edgy and perfectly southern.

He could have bolted to the warm skies and clear waters of South Florida like so many other Tour types and become a member of a secluded club with big fences and a fancy pool. Palmetto isn’t that club.

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Just across the gravel parking lot on the other side of the 16th tee is the Palmetto pro shop, the property’s original structure that is part pro shop, part halfway house, part 19th hole. Think of it as an open floor-plan hang.

More than two hours before Kisner was scheduled to tee off in the 99th PGA Championship an assortment of members marched through the multifunctional clubhouse.

There were the normal Sunday games at Palmetto, which anecdotally were not allowed during the Blue law days until Palmetto Golf Club vs. Aiken County changed all that in 1927. They still talk about those days at Palmetto so, you’re welcome.

Groups pay off bets and talk about their rounds and eventually ask, “How’s Kiz doin’?”

He’s one of their own, not just a fellow member, but a friend you can tease and catch the needle from and someone to drink a beer with, which will run you $1.50, or as head pro Brooks Blackburn winks, “PGA prices.”

2:49 p.m.

After finding the fairway at the first, Kisner’s approach drops 12 feet from the hole for a two-putt par to maintain his one-stroke lead at Quail Hollow.

“Was that a cut?” Blackburn asks of Kisner’s approach shot. “We call that a cut block.”

This is where Kisner learned the game. At 7 years old, his father, Steve, who is a local contractor in Aiken, sent him to a clinic at Palmetto.

“He was the same as he is now,” says Tom Moore, who served as Palmetto’s head pro for 30 years and ran that clinic 25 years ago. “He’s always had that air that he was good. He had the attitude no matter what shot he hit it was going to be good.”

3:20 p.m.

It’s a measure of the ownership the club has with their resident Tour winners, that for every member who made their way through the clubhouse during Sunday’s final round at Quail Hollow there were just as many, “How’s Brownie doin’?”

At the Zurich Classic, Kisner and Brown teamed to finish runner-up. It’s a partnership that began when they were juniors, Brown growing up in North Augusta and Kisner in Aiken. They both have houses that border Palmeto – with Kisner’s adjacent the 17th fairway and Brown’s next to the third hole –  and share the same swing instructor, John Tillery.

Brown has seen the best of Kisner, and when asked how he would described his regular partner, “He’s humbly confident. He’s not going to go around telling everyone he’s great, but his belief in himself is very high,” he says.

Another way to describe the two-time Tour winner is competitive, sometimes to the extreme.

“If he’s in here drinking beers he’ll talk trash,” laughs Matt Nesmith, an Aiken native and aspiring professional “He’s always been like that.”

3:30 p.m.

At the par-4 third, Kisner finds a bunker off the tee, hits his approach short and faces a slippery 6-footer for par. About a dozen members mulling around the clubhouse watch anxiously, but Blackburn shrugs, “Just give it to him. He never misses those.”

Kisner converts the par putt to a round of applause.

They’ve all seen it, Kisner’s machine-like ball-striking and effortless putting stroke on Palmetto’s slick Bermuda grass greens that are nothing more than smaller versions of the putting surfaces at this week’s PGA.

“We tried to take those two on [Kisner and Brown] in an alternate-shot game right before they left for the Zurich [Classic] and they killed us,” Nesmith says. “We lost everything, the front, the back, the overall. They were 8 under.”

4 p.m.

The local middle school team arrives for a practice session and one by one they run from the range, which measures just 240 yards, to check on Kisner’s progress.

Kisner rinses his second shot at the par-5 seventh hole on his way to a bogey to drop a stroke off the lead.

“I can’t watch this,” moans Richard Anaclerio, an 11-year-old with the short game of a 21-year-old, before darting back to the practice putting green.

5:05 p.m.

A dozen members linger in the 19th hole or on the porch looking over their shoulders at a pair of flat-screen televisions and the place comes alive when Kisner converts from 17 feet for birdie at the 10th hole to, temporarily, move back into the lead.

“He made it, he made it,” member Jay Jasmin announces.

5:20 p.m.

With Kisner facing a 6-footer for par at the 11th hole, the broadcast predictably posts a graphic of Kisner’s performance from 6 feet and in this week – 53-for-53.

“I think they’re going to jinx him, no . . ,” Nesmith says.

Kisner misses the putt and follows that with another bogey at the 12th hole to fall to 5 under par and three strokes behind Justin Thomas.

6 p.m.

With the crowd thinning like the last two minutes of a University of Georgia football game with the home team down by three touchdowns, Kathy, the bar attendant, closes for the night.

“What is happening?” Anaclerio sighs as he peaks through the door.

6:20 p.m.

Following a birdie at the 14th hole, Akien’s favorite son taps in for another at the par-5 15th to move to within a stroke of the lead.

“Go Kiz!” yells an elderly member to no one in particular on his way to the locker room.

Although arguably the most brutal stretch in major championship golf awaits – Nos. 16, 17 and 18 – Moore explains why Kisner is uniquely suited to do what few were able to this week and play the Green Mile under par.

“It’s just like the greens here [at Palmetto], you have to just let them die in the hole and that’s exactly what these [the PGA greens] do,” he says.

6:30 p.m.

Kisner three-putts the 16th hole for a bogey to drop three back and a groan echoes from somewhere in the locker room. Blackburn gazes at the television shaking his head at the 10-footer for par that Kisner left inexplicably short.

“Don’t leave it short. What is this a Calcutta?” Blackburn asks before pausing and being reminded that Kisner may need some time before he can joke about his seventh-place finish at the PGA. “He’s pretty good about [losses], it’s amazing what hunting and fishing and Budweiser can do to help ease the pain.”

Well, all that and a place called Palmetto.

Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

The awards and winners:

William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.