He spent the season among the leaders in FedEx Cup points and earnings on the PGA Tour. He won a tournament, finished second in another, competed in the four majors and the World Golf Championship events, and climbed as high as 14th in the world golf rankings.
Kevin Kisner wants more. He wants to turn a very good season into a great one.
“Ryder Cup and top-10 in the world,” he said in yet-to-be-realized goals for the 2015-16 season, “and I’ve got one more chance.”
That opportunity comes this week in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, and a victory over the elite field would not only work wonders in world-ranking points but also would at least get the attention of U.S. captain Davis Love III in filling the final spot on the Ryder Cup roster.
The oddsmakers might scoff at the scenario. His name has not been mentioned recently in Ryder Cup conversations, and Love has said a “hot golfer” would not necessarily receive the 12th spot on the U.S. squad that will take on the Europeans next week.
Nevertheless, Kisner -- always confident, always competitive -- made the trip down I-20 from his Aiken home refreshed and re-energized after a week off. More important, he will be better prepared for the tournament with a field of 30.
“One hundred percent more,” he estimated on the “ready”scale. “I didn’t play well last year (in his first Tour Championship appearance). You’ve got to be at your best against the best in the world at the top of their games.”
After sharing 10th place in the Wyndham, Kisner had what he called so-so finishes (T48, T46, T39) in the first three playoff events. With points quadrupled for those events, he slipped from 11th to 19th in the standings.
“That’s the nature of the playoffs,” he said. “They can make a good year great and that’s what I would like to do in Atlanta. There are only 30 players, but they all have had to play great all year (to qualify). It’s special and you don’t want to miss it.”
Kisner, 32, has been building toward moments like these since he discovered golf. He helped South Aiken High to a pair of state championships, earned the South Carolina Junior Golf Association’s player of the year award and made All-America at the University of Georgia.
He turned pro after college, spent three years (2007-09) on mini-tours before advancing to the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour in 2010. He played on the PGA Tour in 2011 and ’12, dropped back to the Web.com in ’13 before finding his first success on the PGA Tour with three top-10s a year later.
He made a giant leap forward in 2015, zooming up the world ranking on the strength of three second-place finishes -- all coming in playoff losses. His duel with Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia in the Players is one to remember, and he took Jim Furyk extra holes at Hilton Head. He placed 12th in the U.S. Open.
“My career has been a steady progression,” he said. “I’ve improved with each step along the way.”
He began the 2015-16 season still sizzling, finishing second in the WGC’s HSBC tournament in Shanghai and winning the PGA Tour’s RSM tourney at Sea Island, Ga. His 2016 started with a ninth in the Tournament of Champions and a fifth in the Sony, the eighth and ninth events of the wrap-around schedule, and he climbed to 14th in the world rankings.
But his putter deserted him.
The putter is vital; Kisner knows he will never match his junior four-ball partner, Dustin Johnson, off the tee. “I’d loved to have that extra 60 yards,” he said and laughed, “but that won’t happen. I have to putt well.”
Execute, and who knows? Maybe a very good year becomes a great one.
Where: East Lake GC, Atlanta
TV: NBC (Saturday, Noon to 3:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30-6 p.m.); Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 1-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-noon; Sunday, noon to 1:30 p.m.)