By Dan Reardon
Chasing the dream in professional golf can be an endurance test as much as a measure of talent. UCLA graduate Jay Delsing played in 565 events over 26 years without ever collecting a winner’s check. Ken Duke was age 38 when he finally found a way to, not just get on Tour, but stay there, and he was 44 when he posted a win.
So when a name like Patton Kizzire shows up on a TV leaderboard, it’s natural to conclude he is one of the wave of players in their early 20s cashing in. Make that late 20s for Kizzire. The Auburn Tiger, and first team All-SEC selection, turned pro out of college in 2008, no doubt expecting imminent fame and fortune. That’s not the way it works for most, including Kizzire.
For his first seven years, Kizzire was a golf nomad wandering from desert oasis to desert oasis on golf’s mini-tours. Only six times did he crack a qualifier to get into a Web.Com event. In 2015, Kizzire finally found entry onto the green pastures of the developmental Tour and leveraged seven years of waiting for a breakout performance.
At age 28, he made six top 10s in an eight-week stretch, including two runner-up finishes. Three more top 10s through mid-summer validated that the Alabama native was arriving as a player, and in August, he posted his first Web.com win, the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank. That playoff victory was followed three weeks later with another win in Knoxville, guaranteeing a place on the PGA Tour in 2016 as the Web.Com money leader.
“The Web.com TOUR was a great experience for me, and I gained a ton of confidence just from going through the Q-school, finally making it through the Q-school. I felt like my game was solid enough to play well in all three stages, and I just got out there and got my feet wet and started getting more comfortable, and it was a great year.”
“To get that win in Utah finally after some close calls was a huge to boost my confidence even more, and to get that second win in Knoxville just kind of let me know that I was starting to get back into some winning ways.”
Starting golf on a new level wasn’t the only new path for Kizzire when the Tour’s wrap-around schedule began in the fall of 2015. Kizzire scored major husband points when he skipped the first event on the calendar to get married.
The marriage gods rewarded his decision with immediate success in his first two starts. In Las Vegas he chased eventual winner Smylie Kaufman, finishing T2 in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Two weeks later it was another top 10, with a fourth-place tie at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi.
The second-place finish at Las Vegas came with a dose of media criticism. Kaufman had posted well before Kizzire got to the eighteenth. Needing a birdie to tie and get into a playoff, Kizzire admitted he was not watching leaderboards. “I wasn’t watching the leaderboard,” he said.” I was just trying to keep my head down and make birdies, ‘cause I knew there were going to be other guys making birdies out there and I was just trying to make more than anybody else.”
Working on the telecast for the Golf Channel, former Tour player Gary Koch disagreed with the rookie’s choice. “I understand what some of these young guys are being taught by these sports psychologists, but I, for the life of me, can’t understand how you wouldn’t want to know how you stand playing the final hole of a golf tournament.” He then added, “I’d go as far as saying if you can’t handle the heat of knowing how you stand, maybe you ought to be doing something else.”
In the hunt on Sunday at the 2016 RBC Heritage Classic, leading into the final round, Kizzire gave no indication that he is thinking about a career change. “I’ve been able to win at every level. And I plan on doing it here. There’s a lot of good players, and everybody is really good. It felt like it came a little bit more naturally to me. So I learned a lot from the Web.com Tour, and they prepared me big time for the PGA Tour. And I’m excited about seeing what I can do tomorrow.” A final-round 74 left him tied for 14th.
More importantly, with over $1 million in earnings early in the 2016, he’s assured of a sophomore season. Kizzire currently ranks 38th in the FedEx points race. Nothing statistically stands out in his game with one notable exception. In his young PGA Tour career, he has never missed a putt from three feet or less — a perfect 394 in a row.
When it takes eight years to get where you always thought you should be, three feet can become precious real estate.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.