Kisner not afraid of tough test at PGA

By Ryan LavnerAugust 13, 2017, 2:02 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Back down against Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day, two of the best in the world, on the biggest stage he’s ever played?

No, Kevin Kisner wasn’t about to do that.

He hasn’t folded in 15 years.

The slight country boy from Aiken, S.C., was a freshman on the stacked Georgia golf team in 2002 when he sauntered onto the range one afternoon. Kisner wanted to take a few swings, so he snagged some balls from Ryan Hybl, the Bulldogs’ team leader, who was in the next stall.

After plowing through half of the shag bag, Kisner was satisfied with his session and turned to leave.

“Hey, go get me some more balls!” Hybl barked.

Kisner stood his ground.

“Nah, I ain’t about to get you no balls.”

Hybl, whose brother played quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, tackled Kisner, flipped him over and pinned him to the ground.

“Listen you little son of a b----,” Hybl said, leaning in close. “You’re gonna go get me some more balls.”

Kisner begrudgingly grabbed another bag. It was one of the few times in his life that he conceded defeat.


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Georgia coach Chris Haack was reminded of this story Saturday night, after Kisner stared down Matsuyama and Day, showed his big-game chops and took a one-shot lead into the final round of the 99th PGA Championship. At 7-under 206, Kisner is one clear of Matsuyama and Chris Stroud.

Kisner has been unapologetically confident ever since he was a junior player. It’s one of the main reasons Haack recruited him.

“He exudes confidence,” Haack said. “He doesn’t feel like anyone can beat him if he’s on. He feels like he can beat anybody and he’s always had that attitude. Whether he can or not, if you have that attitude, it always helps you.”

To many fans at Quail Hollow, Kisner was the third wheel Saturday with Matsuyama and Day.

Kisner doesn’t hit it miles off the tee. He doesn’t hit towering iron shots. He doesn’t have a dazzling short game. But what he lacks in pop he makes up for in a self-assuredness that borders on cockiness.

Georgia has produced the most successful pros over the past decade, and Haack points to his policy of forcing his players to qualify for every event. The message is simple: Nothing is given. Tee times are earned.

Kisner was one of three players (along with Brian Harman and Russell Henley) who never missed a tournament in four years – even during his junior season, when he endured a miserable slump. That spring, in the SEC Championship, Kisner was blown off the course and shot 93 at Sea Island. (Haack believes it’s the one and only time one of his players shot in the 90s.) For an hour afterward, Kisner grinded on the range, looking for answers.

“I’m closer,” he’d tell Haack. “I’m closer.”

The next day, Kisner got up and down from everywhere and shot 73 – a 20-stroke improvement.

“It was probably the greatest 73 I’ve ever seen,” Haack said. “It should have been an 85.”

With the NCAA Championship on the horizon, Haack contemplated making a lineup change. But rather than crush Kisner’s confidence, Haack kept him in the starting five, and Kisner rewarded his coach’s faith with an opening 65 that propelled the Bulldogs to the NCAA title. He became Haack’s first four-time All-American.

Still, there was some question whether Kisner's game (and his below-average length) would translate to the PGA Tour.

Not anymore. 

After an unspectacular start to his career, Kisner has developed a reputation as a big-game hunter. During the 2014-15 season, he forced (and lost) three playoffs, none more dramatic than The Players, where he came within a millimeter of capturing one of the biggest titles in golf. He finally broke through at the end of that year, at Sea Island (no 93 this time), and then added another title this spring at Colonial.

“When he gets in big situations, he doesn’t feel like, What am I doing here?” Haack said. “He thinks, I belong here.”

And Saturday was his biggest situation yet – a share of the 36-hole lead at Quail Hollow, which was supposed to be, at 7,600 yards, a bomber’s paradise where Kisner had no chance. Instead, he went bogey-free for 24 consecutive holes between the second and third rounds and built a three-shot advantage on the back nine Saturday.

That’s when he made things interesting.

On 16, in thick rough left of the fairway, Kisner yanked his tee shot into the pond, leading to a double bogey. A bigger mistake, though, was trying to launch a 7-iron over the false front on the final green. He overcooked it, and his ball caromed off a walkway and into a horrific, downhill, downgrain lie. His only option was to hack out 60 feet past the flag and two-putt for bogey.

Watching back home in Athens, Haack noticed how Kisner didn’t slam a club or mutter an F-bomb down the stretch, even when the bogeys piled up. His confidence never wavered.

“That’s one of his strengths,” Haack said. “He’s cold-blooded. He’s a silent assassin.”

Indeed, in difficult conditions, Kisner clipped Matsuyama (73) by one shot and topped Day (77) by five.

If nothing else, he once again showed his peers that he won’t back down Sunday.

“He’s had to prove himself all along the way,” said his caddie, Duane Bock. “There’s not a chip on his shoulder or anything like that. But he believes when he’s swinging well and putting well, he’s as good as anybody.

“So why be scared? That’s his mentality, and that’s what he does.”

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.