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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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

Anxiety.

Frustration.

Anger.

Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”

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Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

"Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

"I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

"I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

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Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

"Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

"I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."