AUSTIN, Texas – Davis Love III normally doesn’t pay attention to golf when he’s not at a tournament. He’s something of Type A sort with golf and grandchildren to keep him busy, but Saturday afternoon while practicing back home in St. Simons Island, Georgia, he made time to listen to the quarterfinals from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Love’s was more than a passing interest. As this year’s U.S. Presidents Cup captain, the field and the format compel him to pay attention. If that wasn’t enough, social media would certainly remind him.
For example, Kevin Kisner’s fifth victory this week on Saturday at Austin Country Club over Will Zalatoris was much more than a random quarterfinal bout. In a single breathless gasp, social media declared Kisner a lifetime member of both the U.S. Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams.
With social media being the exclusive home of hyperbole, the exaggeration is understandable. Kisner won this event in 2019, finished runner-up in ’18 and finds himself back in the Final Four. He has become, at least here in the Texas hill country, Mr. Match Play, and, yes, Love noticed.
“I would love to have him on the team, for sure,” Love texted. “We do put stock in this tournament. Like [Scottie] Scheffler last year showed us a lot knocking off big-name guys.”
With the Presidents Cup nearly six months away, Love will wait to see how the major championship portion of the season unfolds. It makes sense, just as it makes sense to acknowledge that Kisner is a match play artist.
It was all there on a windy Saturday that started with Kisner falling 3 down to Adam Scott with four holes to play in the Sweet 16.
“It's not looking good. But I don't ever give up,” Kisner said in a matter-of-fact tone that’s become his trademark.
Kisner birdied the 15th hole, holed out for eagle from a greenside bunker at No. 16 and won the match with a 7-footer for birdie at No. 18.
You know the cliché: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog … sorry, Dawg.
Kisner doesn’t only win, he wins with style. He holed out a 50-foot shot from a bunker at the 16th hole in that morning bout just to keep the match going and walked in a 40-footer at the 11th hole in the afternoon frame on his way to career victory No. 20 at the WGC-Match Play.
“It's kind of crazy how much good fortune I've had at this golf course and this tournament,” said Kisner, who has earned more points at Austin CC in the Tour’s version of March Madness than anyone else.
Kisner’s swing coach, John Tillery, posted a well-known gif on Twitter following the morning matches of a badger holding its own in a standoff against a much larger lion. It was apropos given Kisner’s history at the WGC-Match Play, but on this course, with this format, he probably looks more like the lion to his opponents.
In his six-year history at this event he’s beaten the likes of Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter and Justin Thomas.
“I liken it to trying to win a golf tournament in every match,” Kisner said. “I really love being in contention on Sunday in a stroke-play event. If I'm teeing off in 30th it's hard for me to get really into it. Out here it feels like Sunday every day, which is a lot of fun.”
He also likes the interpersonal component of match play. It’s rare on the PGA Tour when two players find themselves contending on a Sunday in the same group. Competitors are more often separated by tee times and leaderboards which leads to a much more clinical connection. In match play, however, every hole, every shot unfolds right in front of your opponent and the momentum of the match is real.
When asked about playing Corey Conners, who defeated Abraham Ancer in the quarterfinals, in Sunday’s semifinals, Kisner smiled, “I'll try to annoy him with my putter.”
It’s one of the true mysteries of professional golf that Kisner has never played on a Ryder Cup team and has played in just a single Presidents Cup, in 2017, when he went undefeated (2-0-2) as one of six rookies on the U.S. team. Of those rookies, only Thomas produced more points for the U.S. team (3 ½).
As social media went into overdrive following Kisner’s quarterfinals victory, traditional media joined the fun.
You're such a good match play player; do you think you should be on every Ryder Cup team and every Presidents Cup team?
“Well, it depends on where we're playing. I say it all the time, if we're playing at Bethpage, you can leave me at home,” Kisner laughed.
What if we’re playing at Quail Hollow [site of this year’s Presidents Cup]?
“I can play there,” he smiled.
Love knows that, too. This year’s Captain America will wait to see how the qualifying process plays out, but he knows, everyone knows, every team needs a Kisner.