PGA leader an atypical major star
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.