PGA leader an atyp­i­cal ma­jor star

New York Post - - SPORTS - Mark Cannizzaro

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — They broke the mold when they made Kevin Kis­ner. If you’re tired of watch­ing the stereo­typ­i­cal same-old, same-old in golf with the fancy slacks and shiny de­signer belts, you might find your­self root­ing for Kis­ner, a 33-year-old bull­dog in golf spikes. When you lis­ten to the straight­shooter speak, you en­vi­sion a guy who wears cargo shorts and work boots on the golf course, chew­ing to­bacco while ef­fort­lessly shoot­ing 67s. Kis­ner rep­re­sents any­thing but the norm among his PGA Tour brethren, and that is what’s so re­fresh­ing about the player who’s lead­ing the PGA Cham­pi­onship through two rounds at Quail Hol­low at 8-un­der af­ter shoot­ing a pair of 67s the past two days. He’s a late bloomer who me­thod­i­cally worked his way up the ranks from the low­est lev­els of pro­fes­sional golf to win­ning two PGA Tour events in the past two years and threat­en­ing to cap­ture his first ma­jor cham­pi­onship. Be­fore Thurs­day’s open­ing round, Kis­ner never had owned even a share of the lead af­ter any round in a ma­jor. Af­ter his Fri­day round, he said he an­tic­i­pates he will be “more anx­ious than ner­vous’’ Satur­day while wait­ing un­til midafter­noon for the fi­nal tee time. “I’ll be bored to death by then, ready to play,” he joked. “I’m sure there will be nerves in there, but that’s what we play for, and that’s what we prac­tice for.” Kis­ner, who lives in Aiken, S.C., about a two-hour drive from Charlotte, has two ca­reer PGA Tour wins, but he hadn’t fared well in the 11 ma­jors he had played en­ter­ing this week. His best fin­ish was a tie for 12th at the 2015 U.S. Open, and his best fin­ish in a PGA was a tie for 18th last year at Bal­tus­rol. “I’ve been up­set with how I’ve played in the ma­jors so far in my ca­reer,” Kis­ner said. “That’s kind of been our goal for the year. We haven’t played well in them, but ev­ery year you learn more about the ma­jors and how to ap­proach them. This is prob­a­bly the eas­i­est one I’ve had to prep for be­cause I know the golf course so well and I’ve been up here a lot.”

Kis­ner, in­deed, has familiarity with Quail Hol­low through fam­ily ties to the club.

“I’ve spent ev­ery Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas in Charlotte from child­hood to mar­riage,” he said. “I’ve been here a ton. My broth­erin-law’s fa­ther is a found­ing mem­ber here. He’s still a mem­ber here. My 93-year-old grand­mother still lives here by her­self.” How did he end up in Aiken? “When I was play­ing mini-tours and I was broke, that’s the only place I could af­ford to buy a house,’’ he said.

Kis­ner, hardly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the ho­mog­e­nized PGA Tour cul­ture, has an edge to him. In April 2016, he was the sub­ject of a video by Vice Sports called “Beer, Bets, and Golf Cart Races: Kevin Kis­ner Preps for the Mas­ters,” which fea­tured Kis­ner rac­ing golf carts and drink­ing at his home club, Pal- metto Golf Club in Aiken. Kis­ner was sus­pended by the club af­ter the video was re­leased, though his mem­ber­ship even­tu­ally was re­in­stated.

He’s a dif­fer­ent breed from the young stars in the game, like Rory McIl­roy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and the long list of play­ers who con­gre­gate to­gether down in the Palm Beach, Fla., area.

“I love to just go home and hang out with my bud­dies in the coun­try,” he said. “I like to go out where there’s no cell-phone ser­vice and spend the af­ter­noon. I love to fish, love to shoot guns, love to hunt, just get away from it. 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.

“They don’t ask me why I made bo­gey on the last hole that cost me 20 grand or any­thing like that. That’s why I hang out with them. They are a bunch of good dudes and I’m sure they will be up there hav­ing a good time this week­end.”

Kis­ner hopes to con­tinue hav­ing a good time in­side the ropes while his bud­dies party out­side them.

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