By Dan Reardon
Greg Norman has the credentials you would expect from a Hall of Fame golfer. He won 20 times on the PGA Tour (91 times worldwide), including the Open Championship twice. For nearly five years, he was ranked as the world’s top player.
But for many, the lingering memories of the Shark are more about what he didn’t win than what he did. We are 30 years removed from him standing in the 18th fairway with a chance to tie Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters. We are 20 years removed from the six-shot lead lost to Nick Faldo in the same event. There is Bob Tway out of the bunker at Inverness and Paul Azinger in a playoff at the same course, both PGA Championships lost. There is Fuzzy Zoeller at Winged Foot and the U.S. Open. And even more.
After one of those crushing defeats, Norman answered a question of mine by saying he believed it took the same amount talent to finish second as to finish first. Enter the PGA Tour’s Kevin Kisner — Shark-Lite.
The South Carolina native has been at professional golf for 10 years. He had two complete years on the Web.com Tour and is in his fifth full-time stay on the “big” Tour. Yet if you mention his name to followers of the game, they will remember Kisner more for what he didn’t win than what he did.
In 2015 Kisner shot 7-under 64 in the final round at the RBC Heritage to finish 18-under. But Jim Furyk shot a final day 63 to tie Kisner and birdied both playoff holes for the win. Commenting afterward, Kisner talked about his best-ever finish to date on Tour. “I hit every iron shot coming down the stretch, just like I wanted to. Just to build on that; the next time I’m in it, it can happen again. All you can do on this Tour is build on it, wake up tomorrow and go try again next week.”
Two weeks later Kisner was part of the most amazing finish in the history of The Players Championship. Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Kisner all posted 12-under totals to get into the playoff. Fowler had played the last five holes in regulation at six under to join the mix. At the end of three-hole playoff Garcia was gone, and Kisner and Fowler headed to the infamous 17th for sudden death. Fowler’s tee shot to five feet gave Kisner another bridesmaid moment.
In early July, Kisner again turned in a closing 64 at the Greenbrier to become a part of a four-man playoff with eventual winner Danny Lee, Robert Streb and David Hearn. This time Kisner was eliminated early. Then 0-3 in playoffs, Kisner was somewhat prophetic, or perhaps hopeful, with the triple defeats. “You know, it’s just confidence. Once you get in the fire and show yourself you can do it, you just build confidence each week.”
In the fall start to the 2016 PGA Tour season, Kevin Kisner finally authored the win, and as you might guess, he did it with a final-round 64. Back in South Carolina at the RSM Classic, Kisner didn’t have to sweat out a playoff, as he coasted past Kevin Chappell by six. “Man, that was fun. To come out of that front nine after sitting on a three-shot lead was pretty special. I tried to hit every green on the back nine and just give myself a look, and I did it except for one hole.”
As the calendar rolled over to 2016, Kisner appeared to have the kind of confidence a player needs after a breakthrough win. He posted consecutive top 10s in Hawaii. But the results have been considerably more pedestrian since that time. His next seven outings have included two missed cuts and no top 20s.
His statistics suggest the reason for his decline. Never long off the tee, he has improved his accuracy to rank in the first 10 on Tour. His Greens in Regulation (GIR) is in the top 50, as you might expect with the high percentage of fairways hit. But on the greens his game has shifted. Ranked 25th in 2015 — his three-playoff year — he has now slipped nearly 50 spots to 72nd in getting the ball in the hole.
With much of the season still in front of the 32-year-old, Kisner might want to revisit his comments after that Monday win last November. “I would say not only this year, but my entire career I feel like it’s been a learning process,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve ever reached my full potential and played as well as I could have until these last few months. You got to feel like you belong or you’ll get run over. That sense of belonging and having a chance to win changes your outlook on yourself and your game on the PGA TOUR.”
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.