Kevin Kisner began his 2014-15 PGA Tour season with a series of blah performances – one top-10 finish sprinkled among five missed cuts and so-so finishes in his first 14 starts. He ranked 98th in the FedEx Cup standings going into the mid-April RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island.
Nine months later, he went into the Sony Open that will end on Sunday ranked first in both FedEx Points and earnings for 2015-16, owns the No. 16 spot in the world rankings and is seventh on the U.S. Ryder Cup standings.
Credit the about-face to a different outlook that changed his golfing life. He’s qualified for all the majors – his Masters invitation arrived right after Christmas – and he’ll be in the lucrative World Golf Championship tournaments.
“Before the Heritage, (swing coach) John Tillery got the message through to me,” Kisner said prior to leaving his Aiken home for the Hawaiian swing. “He told me, ‘Prepare to compete. Prepare to win. Go into tournaments with the mindset to win.’
“That’s what I did. It’s easy to forget what got you (on the PGA Tour), and sometimes you think more about making cuts than winning. I changed my focus, and I’ve been playing great since. It’s fun to be in that position.”
Kisner’s great play includes sharing first in three tournaments only to be defeated in playoffs.
He birdied the final hole, the 18th at Harbour Town, to catch Jim Furyk in the Heritage. He birdied the 18th again in the playoff, but Furyk did, too, and then won with a birdie on the par-3 17th.
In the Players, on one of golf’s biggest stages, Rickie Fowler’s magic left him second again in a playoff. Kisner watched the tape of his missed birdie putt to win on the first playoff hole during the holidays and said, “I still can’t believe it did not go in.”
A final 64 got him in a four-player shootout at the Greenbrier, and he tied for fifth at Colonial, eighth at the Memorial and 12th in the U.S. Open in his march from potential to production that ended in the Tour Championship.
Kisner’s sizzling play didn’t end there. He has his first Tour win, a second in his first World Golf Championship event and a ninth in his five starts in the wrap-around 2015-16 season.
“I’m headed in the right direction,” said Kisner, who turns 32 next month. “The Masters being so close (to his Aiken home) is going to be exciting, and I know I will be playing in the big tournaments and can set my schedule. I’ll be a rookie in terms of knowing the WGC courses, but that’s a good problem to have.”
He understands the focus that led to his breakthrough year and said, “I’m going to stick to the process.”
During the offseason, Kisner and his team looked back and ahead. They considered what worked and what improvements can be made. He’s seeking to pick up one-half shot a round – a significant achievement for top-level players – and he’s learning the value of quality practice over quantity practice.
His goals now?
“Wins, competing to win, keep playing at a high level,” he said. “Making the Ryder Cup team, too; that would be great.”
Those goals that looked so far way nine months ago now look possible.
Steve Fuller (Bluffton) was elected president of the South Carolina Golf Association at the organization’s annual meeting. Other officers: vice-president Ron Swinson (Blythewood), secretary Vic Hannon (Camden) and treasurer Jeff Connell (Blythewood). … Online registration for the 2017 Drive Chip and Putt competition begins Jan. 26 at www.drivechipandputt.com. Boys and girls ages 7-15 are eligible and will compete in age groups. Local qualifying sites include Par Tee Golf Center (West Columbia, July 22); Willow Creek (Greer, June 16); Westcott CG (Summerville, July 6); Daniel Island Club (July 18), Legend Resort (Myrtle Beach, July 12) and Callawassie Island Club (Okatie, July 14). Top performances advance to the sub-regional, set for Aug. 27 at Fort Jackson GC. Regionals will be held in September and the Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on April 2, 2017.