ROUND TWO CONTINUES,
A little more than a two-hour drive south of Charlotte, Kevin Kisner owns a house in his hometown, Aiken, S.C., where he can get away from his life on the PGA Tour and all the headaches major championships have caused him over the years.
He lives close enough that he can regularly visit his 93-year-old grandmother in Charlotte. And he is close enough that he can spend plenty of time at Quail Hollow Club, where his brother-in-law’s father was a founding member and where he was able to play a practice round about a month ago to learn more about the trying course redesign that seems to be vexing every golfer this week at the PGA Championship.
Kisner has learned a lot about the course over the years — learned how to navigate its closing-and-intimidating Green Mile, and even learned to love the Bermuda grass added in the rough this year.
All that knowledge is part of what helped him hold the lead through two rounds at the event, the season’s final major. His 8-under-par total of 134, after a secondround 67, topped the field along with Hideki Matsuyama, who shot a 64 on Friday.
That is the best position Kisner has been in through 12 major championships in his career. His best previous finish was a tie for 12th at the 2015 U.S. Open.
It might just be that so close to home, he finally feels at home.
“I love to just go home and hang out with my buddies in the country,” Kisner, 33, said Friday. “Go out where there’s no cellphone service and spend the afternoon. Love to fish, love to shoot guns, love to hunt; just get away from it. That’s my favourite part.”
His hometown is the kind of place where Kisner can relax and have fun — sometimes too much. A year ago, according to published reports, he was suspended from his home course, Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, for racing golf carts — which he filmed in a video for Vice Sports called “Beer, Bets and Golf Cart Races.” He was allowed back a couple of weeks later, and even with the hand-slapping, Kisner has remained fiercely loyal to everything about his home.
“I have a core group of friends that we hang out with that don’t pester me about golf, and we hang out and have a couple beers on the back porch,” he said.
His life on the golf course has enough stress. Since joining the PGA Tour in 2011, he has had two victories — both since 2016. His average score has steadily improved this season, to 70.33 from 71.86, and he is ranked 25th.
Playing well in a major was not something that had happened, though. He has made the cut in eight of 12 majors, but his average finish is 31.5. This season, he tied for 43rd at the Masters, tied for 58th at the U.S. Open and tied for 54th in the British Open.
“I’ve been upset with how I’ve played in the majors so far in my career,” Kisner said. “I feel like I have the game to compete in majors — and tons of 30th- to 40th-, 50th-place finishes. That’s kind of been our goal for the year. We haven’t played well in them yet this year, but every year you learn more about the majors and how to approach them.”
So far here he is finally headed squarely toward that goal. He eagled the par-5, 546-yard No. 7 on Friday and birdied Nos. 10, 12 and 15. He hit fairways and learned how to play the firmer greens.
“Kis is on fire right now,” Rory McIlroy observed.
Kisner posted his score after starting in the morning group, and the rest of the field spent the remainder of the day chasing after him while trying to outmanoeuvre stormy weather. Twice, weather warnings were posted, and at 4:43 p.m. Eastern, play was suspended because of lightning and an approaching downpour. Play resumed 1 hour, 43 minutes later.
Matsuyama, of Japan, matched Kisner’s mark as the round wound down, logging six birdies — four in a row on his back nine.
Jordan Spieth, in his quest to complete a career Grand Slam with a win here, finished the day at 3 over and was teetering close to the projected cut line, 5 over.
Spieth had a disastrous 10th hole, driving into the pine straw right of the fairway on the par-5 592-yard hole and then striking the ball left of the fairway into pine straw again. He then hit a tree branch before landing just off the green. He escaped with a bogey.
He was not the only player to struggle on the reconfigured course, which has been playing three to four strokes higher than previous years when it hosted the Wells Fargo Championship.
“Look, it surprised me; this is not the Quail Hollow we’ve gotten to know the last 10 years,” said McIlroy, who is two over. “It’s a completely different course.”
Phil Mickelson finished the day at 11 over, well outside the mark for making the cut in his 100th major. Ernie Els, also playing in his 100th major, was on pace to miss the cut at 8 over.
“A low round used to be a 61 or a 62,” McIlroy said. “A low round now is a 66 or a 67.”
Kevin Kisner’s secret? He’s at home with Charlotte’s Quail Hallow Club, living not far from it. He shares the PGA Championship lead after two rounds.