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.