Rickie Fowler won the best Players Championship ever, but it was Kevin Kisner who held his own right to the very end making it the best ever.
His game began to show promise this season with a T4 in the McGladrey back in late October. But he withdrew from the Sanderson Farms two weeks later. That kicked off a two month hiatus until he came back for the Sony Open in January. He finished 84 only getting three rounds in with an MDF (85 guys made the cut; way too many).
So off to the West Coast Swing…and missed every cut. All four of them. He did a little better on the Florida swing, but the best he did was a T49 at Arnold Palmer’s. He got ‘er down to a T26 in San Antonio…and then missed the cut in Houston. He wasn’t in the Masters.
And then a funny thing happened. He got in a playoff with Jim Furyk at the Heritage in Hilton Head. Furyk won, but what a wonderful boost. And then a T28 in New Orleans, a week off and a P2 in the best Players Championship ever. The tournament that everybody thinks of as the fifth major. It was a thriller, even for the giddy guys in the booth and on the Golf Channel set. Wow.
And now, he shows up in Charlotte for the Wells Fargo Championship. And this time, he may have the edge required to get his first win.
I feel at home here. Both my parents grew up in Charlotte. Spent a lot of time in this area of my life. My brother-in-law is a member here. Played the golf course a bunch. Love the golf course, sets up perfect for my game.
Played well last year. Got into the mix [T6]. Played in the last group on Saturday and second to the last group on Sunday. Very familiar with the golf course and looking forward to getting going tomorrow.
And don’t imagine for a moment that he’s not just flying right now:
Yeah. Got a lot of confidence in my game. Hitting the golf ball really solid. Working it both ways. Seeing every shot, hitting them.
So it’s one of those stretches in your career where you know you’re playing well, you’re hot so you better keep playing and do it as long as you can. Hopefully it will last the rest of the year.
The thing that was so impressive about the Players playoff is that everybody was playing great. Nobody flinched. Kisner talks about what it was like to be in the cauldron:
Yeah. It was impressive golf, obviously, but I mean that’s what we hit all those golf balls on the range for and practice for is to be in that situation and, you know, that’s the kind of stuff I live for is to be in the moment and to pull the shots off. That’s what we dream about and that’s what it’s all about.
I’ve always wanted the “ball in my hand” coming down the stretch and I felt like I’ve had it two out of the last three weeks and I’ve done just about everything I can. One of these days I’m going to shoot 65 on Sunday and come up and somebody is going to hand to it me (laughter).
So when you come that close — soared that close — to have played at the pinnacle of the game at the pinnacle of your game, there’s not a lot of disappointment. In fact, it makes the vision of the dream more real:
I haven’t really felt any sting. Obviously it would be great to win as far as job security, you know, all the exemptions that would have come along with it.
If I keep playing the way I’m playing, I’m going win one sooner or later. That’s kind of by staying focused on what I’ve been doing, stay in my process and one of these [tournaments] I’m going to knock off. You keep beating on that door long enough you’ll fall through.
A lot of that perspective comes from having played competitively forever:
That’s kind of what I’ve been keeping my head up with. I grew up playing a lot of golf with kids and all we wanted to do is beat each other. If you want to beat somebody you had to learn how to do it and just every level I’ve won and that’s what I love to be in that situation is to — I want the pressure, I want to feel it and I feel like I can perform when I have the pressure on me.
I’ve heard other guys talk like that. In this case, that’s probably why he never flinched on Sunday. No deer-in-the-headlights for him:
But at some point I’m going to hit a bad shot under pressure. That’s just part of it. The last four, five holes in Heritage and Players I don’t think I missed a shot. I hit every shot like I wanted to and shoot, even the putts.
I would think putting is probably harder than hitting the golf ball down the stretch because it’s probably where you feel the most nerves. Still can’t believe that putt [to win in regulation] didn’t go in on 18 (laughter).
And this is very cool. He talked about his work with his swing coach of a year and a half, John Tillery. Normally, players will describe their work on their swings in big elliptical terms, presumably because they don’t want to lead the conversation into the weeds. (It can’t be because they’re afraid that someone will discover their secret, because one guy’s secret isn’t universal, it’s circumstantial. And even if the secret was transferable, it’s not enough to know it, you have to know how to do it; rather, if your are doing it. But sometimes these little bits and pieces will let others know if they’re on track):
We worked a lot on width out of the top of the bad swing. [I] get narrow, causing me to get steep. And I’m working really hard on my lower body. Instead of spinning out of the top, I turn my hips really quickly and straighten my left leg so we’re trying to get some flexion in my left leg and stay on the ground more so you can use the ground and picked up a considerable amount of distance with the driver. And it’s really helping on the Tour.
Obviously we all know how far everybody hits it. You can hit an 8-iron into greens instead of a 6-iron, makes a huge difference. That’s one of the big things we’ve done.
And finally, all of this dripping confidence has him in the right frame of mind. He’s going into the week thinking there’s no reason that he won’t have a great week. Simply thinking like that is huge in how you carry yourself. Not only can you feel it, others can see it.
I don’t see any reason why I can’t compete again. I don’t feel tired. I don’t feel worn out or anything. I played great yesterday. Still hitting the ball solid. I’m going to have a little session with John this afternoon when I get done and he said he wanted to firm a couple things up and get ready to go again tomorrow.
This’ll be good, because there are a lot of really good players in the field and that always elevates the quality of play.