Kisner walks fine line between confident and cocky

By Rex HoggardMay 13, 2015, 6:02 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There’s a fine line between confident and cocky.

One man’s windbag is another’s winner; the trick is always remaining balanced in the razor-thin area between the two. It’s a road that Kevin Kisner has deftly navigated since he first picked up a club at storied Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, S.C.

“He’s never been afraid of anything. When you have abilities like he has there’s no reason not to be confident,” said Tom Moore, the pro emeritus at Palmetto.

Along the way Kisner – dubbed “Kiz” by those closest to him – has never lost that edge. Not at the University of Georgia where he was a four-time All-American, not through a languid transition to the professional game, and certainly not on Sunday at The Players.

On the eve of the final round last week at TPC Sawgrass, Kisner was asked how he would deal with the pressure of competing for his first PGA Tour title on such a large stage. His answer was everything you need to know about the fourth-year Tour player.

“Everybody talks about pressure and nerves and all that, but we've been through it all. If we've gotten here, we've done Tour [Q-School], we've won tournaments,” reasoned Kisner, who was one shot behind 54-hole front-runner Chris Kirk at the time. “Just because it's a bigger stage doesn't mean we're going to suck all of a sudden.”

It’s why Georgia head golf coach Chris Haack was drawn to him, and young Kisner didn’t disappoint. During his freshman year in Athens, Ga., Kisner approached Ryan Hybl, a senior on the Bulldogs golf team, on the practice tee and started hitting out of the same shag bag.

“When the balls were all gone, Ryan told him, ‘Freshman, go get some more balls,’” Haack recalled. “Kiz was like, ‘I’m not getting anything.’”

The two ended up wrestling over the incident and the moment stands as a testament to Kisner’s competitiveness, although Haack was quick to point out how he evolved into the quintessential teammate.

During the 2005 SEC Championship, for example, Kisner was struggling with his game and began the week with a first-round 90, but Haack kept him in the lineup for the NCAA tournament because “He was always a good team guy,” he said.

Kisner helped lead the Bulldogs to the national title in ’05, rising to the pressure of the moment just as he did last week at TPC Sawgrass and in April at the RBC Heritage, where he lost to Jim Furyk in a playoff.

It’s all part of a unique “closer’s” mentality that made an average ball-striker such a dogged competitor. 

“Kiz was my camp counselor when I was 12 when I went up to Georgia for a PGA golf camp and I remember him telling me, ‘You can’t play golf scared,’” recalled Russell Henley, who followed Kisner to Georgia and later onto the Tour. “He’s tough.”

He’s also cut from a vastly different mold than many of his Tour frat brothers.

When Kisner is at home in Aiken he can normally be found tooling around in a custom golf cart complete with speakers and a Bluetooth connection, or wandering through the woods looking for something to hunt or hook.

After another playoff loss at The Players, thanks in large part to Rickie Fowler’s historic finish that included three birdies from inside 7 feet on the par-3 17th hole on Sunday, those with lesser fortitude would have needed a timeout. Instead, Kisner just needed time in the woods.

On Sunday, he drove to his brother-in-law’s hunting camp in Georgia, dubbed “Duck Bottom,” to hunt hogs. There was no self-indulgent lapses or counter-productive second-guessing because that simply wouldn’t be Kisner’s style.

“I’ve always wanted the ball in my hand coming down the stretch,” Kisner said on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Championship. “I felt like I’ve had it two out of the last three weeks.”

It was a similar message Kisner gave swing coach John Tillery a year and a half ago when the two first began working together.

“When he first showed up he just said, ‘Look, if you can get me to hit it where I can get in contention, I’m good when I’m in contention,’” recalled Tillery. “He felt that way when he didn’t have the results to show.”

The results, however, have arrived.

In 2013, Kisner ranked outside the top 100 in driving accuracy and strokes gained-tee to green. This season he’s 36th in accuracy off the tee and 50th in strokes gained-tee to green thanks to dramatically improved leg action and a much tighter swing that has eliminated the block that plagued him earlier in his career.

True to his word, Kisner has converted those technical improvements into tenacious finishes. At Harbour Town he rallied to catch Furyk with three birdies over his last five holes and added another on the first extra hole before losing in the second frame of overtime.

On Sunday at The Players, he was equally clutch with a birdie at the second playoff hole before Fowler closed him out at the fourth extra hole.

“One of these days I’m going to shoot 65 on Sunday and come up and somebody is going to hand it to me,” Kisner smiled on Wednesday.

Like objects in the rearview mirror, that future “Sunday” may be closer than it would appear. After another pedestrian West Coast swing – put bluntly, Kisner hates the West Coast – he has settled into a familiar early summer run, preceding his runner-up finishes with solid starts at Bay Hill and in San Antonio.

As he closes in on that elusive first victory Kisner’s legend grows, and not just the Twitter account created for his caddie Duane Bock’s massive calves. The confidence has always been there, and it seems just a matter of time before the championships follow.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.