CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If there’s one thing that can universally be said about Kevin Kisner, it’s that he’s always found a way.
When he was a junior at the University of Georgia, Kisner, mired by a severe slump, shot 90 in the first round of the 2005 SEC Championship at Sea Island. Later that season, he opened the NCAA Championship in 65 and helped the Bulldogs to a national title.
Back in 2013, Kisner contemplated quitting pro golf. He caught a case of the shanks and was embarrassed to hit balls next to his peers on the range. Five years later and Kisner is in his fifth straight season on the PGA Tour, has won twice, made a Presidents Cup team and has climbed as high as 14th in the world. (He’s currently ranked 33rd.)
This week at the British Open, Kisner is hoping to find a way to win a major championship after opening in 5-under 66 at Carnoustie.
He came close last summer at the PGA Championship, taking a one-shot lead into the final round at Quail Hollow. But he struggled for most of the day and capped his round with a double bogey to finish T-7, four shots back of winner Justin Thomas.
“I played to win … so I’ll never be upset with myself for that,” Kisner said. “I love myself under the gun and down the stretch. So I’m looking forward to that opportunity again.”
Kisner, 34, doesn’t exactly enter this week in good form. In his last six starts, he’s missed three cuts and not finished better than T-52.
“I haven’t hit it very good all year,” Kisner said.
In his last tournament, at the Greenbrier, Kisner had a better ballstriking week, only for his putter to go uncharacteristically cold. He had his worst putting week since the 2017 John Deere Classic, ranking 70th in strokes gained putting (-0.811). He also average 31.5 putts per round.
On Thursday, Kisner needed just 22 putts to get through his round.
“I putted so badly at the Greenbrier, and I just really worked hard at it,” Kisner said. “I felt like my ball position got too far back at the Greenbrier. I was missing every putt to the right. So I came here Monday and worked really hard on my speed. … The ball started coming off on the line, and when I’m doing that, I feel like I can hole them all.”
After beginning his opening round in 1 over through five holes, Kisner drained a 40-footer for eagle on the par-5 sixth to turn his day around. He holed a birdie putt from 35 feet at the par-3 eighth and added three straight on the back, at Nos. 13-15.
Kisner played it somewhat conservatively on a firm and fast Carnoustie, hitting four drivers. His last birdie came after a 3-iron off the tee set up a 9-iron to 15 feet.
Speaking of 3-irons, Kisner’s father, Steve, remembers back at the 2011 Bob Hope Classic when Kisner, then a Tour rookie, was frustrated by his lack of ballstriking.
“All these guys when they’re hitting 3-iron they’re trying to hit it to 5 feet and make birdie,” Steve said, quoting his son. “I’m trying to get 3-iron on green. Until I overcome that, I’m not going to compete out here.”
Before Kisner re-earned his Tour card for the 2013-14 season, he told his dad that if he ever lost it again, he’d retire. Hard work with instructor John Tillery has helped Kisner stay on the big tour.
Pretty good for a guy who never was supposed to be out there.
“He knew when he first got out here he didn’t hit it well enough to play out here,” Tillery said. “But he still found a way.”
That way, as Steve Kisner explains, is “with grit and determination.”
Kisner is staying with six other Tour players this week in Carnoustie – Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. The group has bonded in the evenings, kicking the soccer ball around and shooting at a goal in the backyard. Dufner, apparently, is all-time goalie.
“I just try to smash Duff in the face,” Kisner quipped.
But there is a major elephant in the garden. Only Kisner and Fowler don’t have a major championship. The others have combined to win eight.
But don’t think Kisner doesn’t think he has what it takes to run the household total to nine come Sunday.
“If you don’t believe in yourself out here, you’re going to get run over pretty quickly,” Kisner said.
Kisner has been run over before. Several times, in fact. But again, he’s gotten up each and every time.
And so far, he’s standing tall at Carnoustie.