Aiken's Kisner not your average Masters rookie

By Rex HoggardApril 4, 2016, 2:40 pm

Most days start the same at Palmetto Golf Club.

Scott Brown will arrive at the rolling layout’s modest practice tee just after sunrise. He’s a grinder – searching for answers in the rust-colored South Carolina clay.

“Scott’s always been like that, from 8 to 5 [p.m.] he’s out working,” says Brooks Blackburn, Palmetto’s head professional. “Kiz is a player, he wants to play golf.”

“Kiz” is Kevin Kisner – Aiken, S.C., native, Palmetto member and one of this week’s most unique Masters’ rookies.

After a PGA Tour season filled with near misses that included three runner-up finishes in 2015, Kisner pulled off his breakthrough last fall by winning the RSM Classic. The two-year exemption, 500 FedEx Cup points and $1.02 million in earnings were nice, but it was the invitation to play his first Masters that left Kisner speechless following his six-stroke victory last fall at Sea Island Resort.

“Growing up in Aiken that’s all we ever knew,” says Kisner of his hometown that is roughly 30 minutes north of Augusta National. “Our whole city revolved around Masters week. Our town opens our doors to everyone.”

Downtown Aiken appears plucked from the set of the Andy Griffith Show. Tree-lined streets, country stores, historic churches and a golf course that is considered by some Augusta National without the green grass.

Dr. Alister MacKenzie designed the layout in 1932 just after completing Augusta National and some of the excess materials from the National were used at Palmetto, which features virtually the same rolling terrain.

For those who grow up in the shadow of Augusta National the Masters is part of the fabric of the community.

Kisner first attended the Masters when he was 6 years old and remembers walking with Greg Norman during the third round in 1996. The next day, after church, he watched the Australian’s fateful collapse on TV, because that’s what “locals” do.

The 32-year-old played Augusta National several times while at the University of Georgia and has made five scouting trips to the club since qualifying last fall.

“Don’t want to wear out my welcome,” he smiles.

Not that he needs to actually be on property to prepare for the year’s first major, not with Palmetto’s hard, rolling greens providing arguably the best facsimile to Augusta National’s iconic putting surfaces.

“I had to learn at an early age to get it in the hole because you’re not going to hit many greens at Palmetto,” Kisner says. “Where it helps a lot is the 6- to 8-foot putts that break a lot because we get a lot of that on Tour.”

Kisner also has a built-in practice round partner in Brown, a Tour winner who figures he’s been competing against his Palmetto stable mate since they were 9 years old.

Scott Brown won the 2013 Puerto Rico Open (Getty Images)

When the two aren’t on Tour they can be found at Palmetto, tooling around the course, working on their short game and, well ... making some noise.

Kisner is currently renovating a house he purchased adjacent to Palmetto’s 17th fairway and Brown lives just left of the third fairway on the other side of Whiskey Road.

Brown will arrive first, driving his customized golf cart through a maintenance gate to start his warm up.

“Brownie is there a lot longer than me. He likes to grind, so I don’t even have to text him if he’s home. I just show up,” says Kisner, who has his own matching golf cart complete with an impressive stereo system. “Never a doubt.”

Kisner says most days the tandem will play 36 holes in about five hours, but rarely against each other.

After decades of going head-to-head, they normally don’t have a game or are teamed against two other players.

“We’ve been battling against each other our whole lives,” Brown says. “It’s always been a heated rivalry. We try to beat each other, but we enjoy playing with each other. We’re undefeated as a team. I told him if they paired us in the Ryder Cup we could guarantee three points.”

Many of the players Kisner and Brown grew up competing against in amateur and high school are members at Palmetto and, Blackburn explains, Brown spends much of his time giving members impromptu lessons both on and off the golf course.

While the idea of playing a pair of Tour winners would seem outlandish, if not intimidating, to most recreational golfers, Blackburn says that Palmetto’s members have become accustomed to regular games against Kisner and Brown.

“Obviously [handicap] shots are flying, when it’s regular members and their buddies. It’s not free,” Blackburn says.

The bigger issue for most who find themselves paired with Kisner and Brown is the music that is always coming from the duo’s golf cart.

By most accounts, Kisner’s musical tastes are an eclectic combination of country and hip-hop BBQ, which Brown describes as old school rap.

“It depends on how many beers we’ve had. It goes all over the place. There could be some rap in there, country,” Kisner says. “Brownie is an unbelievable singer and if you ride around with him all day it’s like riding around with a country music star.”

Blackburn says most members enjoy the duo’s melodic exploits on the golf course, but there are times when volume control becomes an issue.

“It sometimes gets a little loud, and you have to tell them, ‘Boys, turn it down,’” Blackburn says. “But it’s cool to see Tour guys at your course and the members have embraced them.”

Kisner and Brown were given honorary memberships last December at a celebration that included Aiken’s mayor and members of the state legislature.

Blackburn says that pride will only grow next week when one of their own becomes just the second Aiken native – the first was amateur Bobby Knowles in 1951 – to play the Masters.

It’s those expectations – not the famed drive down Magnolia Lane or his first tee shot – that Kisner says he’s looking forward to the most.

“I want to get into contention,” he says. “I want to be making those roars on the weekend coming down the stretch. For once the crowd would be in my favor playing with one of the big-named players.”

After years of watching him develop, Palmetto’s faithful will easily be able to recognize “Kiz” this week. The only thing missing will be that customized golf cart and the familiar thump of some hip-hop BBQ song wafting through the pines.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.