Photo by Thierry Des Fontaines
On tour they call me Hard K. My last name is pronounced “Kah-Nows.” I didn't have a prestigious amateur career, and not a single Division I school recruited me. I'm the first golfer from Basalt, Colo., and the first graduate from the Colorado School of Mines to get a PGA Tour card. Of course, I love it out here: the cities we visit, the nice hotels, playing top courses where golf history was made. I've been traveling with my wife, Heidi, and our little boy, Brady, who's a year old. So far he's been doing pretty good on the flights.
GROWING UP, MY BROTHER AND I WENT SKIING EVERY DAY WE COULD GET A RIDE TO THE MOUNTAIN. After baseball season ended, we'd make laps around Ironbridge Golf Club, which was an awesome course, with severe drops and rises. Before we were old enough to drive carts, there were a few spots between greens and tees where we had to phone the golf shop for a shuttle. Five-minute cart rides aren't an easy walk, though we did it a couple times.
TYPICALLY, THERE AREN'T MANY COLLEGE COACHES SCOUTING AT THE COLORADO BOYS HIGH SCHOOL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP. My senior year, Wally Goodwin from the University of Northern Colorado was there—he was the coach at Stanford who recruited Tiger—and I topped my tee shot in front of him. Tyler Kimble from Mines was there to check out my teammate, but walking the course he stumbled across my group first and got into a conversation with my dad. Kimble would later tell me that my swing struck him as tempo-driven, smooth and old school. Almost a throwback to a Stewart Cink or Corey Pavin.
DIVISION II GOLF IS STILL PRETTY SERIOUS, THOUGH. There were 6 a.m. workouts, and we practiced to the same limit of 20 hours a week. We flew to tournaments. An important technical difference is, a D-II golf team might award only 3.6 athletic scholarships per year, but a D-I school can award 4.5. That slight shift back toward academics is meaningful. I continued to get good grades, and even though I was surrounded by students who took their work seriously, I never planned to use my civil-engineering degree to build tunnels or bridges. I wanted to play pro golf, and a few very smart professors told me I'd be stupid not to try.
OUR INDOOR PRACTICE FACILITY HAS SINCE BEEN EXPANDED AND UPDATED, BUT DURING MY TIME IT WAS VERY BASIC. A single hitting net, a putting strip and a couple cameras. I logged serious hours there with Coach Kimble. When I was about to graduate, he wrote letters to alumni asking for money to help me turn pro. But that start-up cash wasn't all I got from the fundraising effort. I also met my wife. As a senior on the golf team, my job at our booster scramble tournament was to stand on the same tee box all day and hit drives. It was $20 for a foursome to use my drive, and Heidi was there on behalf of the school to collect the cash. She'd never played golf, and it was sweet luck that I got to chat her up all day, stopping every 10 to 15 minutes to impress strangers.
MY FIRST TOURNAMENT AS A PRO, THE NAVAJO TRAIL OPEN IN DURANGO, COLO., I BEAT ABOUT 40 GUYS TO WIN THE $5,000 FIRST-PLACE CHECK. I stayed with my brother in his dorm at Fort Lewis College, so it was a fun and profitable week. I thought, I got this pro-golf thing.
THEN I GOT SERVED HUMBLE PIE. I would enter Web.com Qualifying School five years in a row. Playing against a cutline is a different thing. As a pro, you have to learn to ignore the cut; otherwise you'll always be near it. In winters and springs I'd play the Adams Pro Tour, which is mostly in Texas, and the Gateway Tour in Phoenix, where I could stay with my grandparents. I worked on sharpening my game and practicing smarter. Then in summers I'd play most of the state opens in the Southwest. With the lower entry fees and slightly less deep competition, state opens were my bread and butter for hopefully banking a little money.
AFTER A LOT OF LEAN YEARS, I WAS SURE I';D MADE IT. Through three of four events during the 2018 Web.com post-season, a group of media members told me I'd surpassed the magic number—40 grand—in earnings. That I'd receive my PGA Tour card. In the last event I didn't play great, but I'm glad I made the cut. I'm sitting in the clubhouse watching the projections, and my rank is bouncing around: 24, 25, 26, 25. I sit there for 90 minutes, and it was as stressful a situation as I might ever know. The last hole is a par 5, and I see four guys come through who could knock me out with a birdie. None do. One of my very good friends, Justin Lower, missed a 10-footer. I got the last card by finishing 25th, and he finished 26th. So it was bittersweet. Justin's a great guy and player, and I know he'll make it out here soon.
ONE OF MY COLLEGE TEAMMATES, CORY BACON, IS NOW AN ENGINEER FOR PING AND ACTUALLY DESIGNS THE CLUBS I PLAY. If you'd told us when we were freshmen that this is how our lives would play out, we both would've laughed. Though I never did have a Plan B. Somebody told me that if you have one, Plan A never works out. I'm happy as heck to be on the PGA Tour, but I have to keep working hard if I'm going to win and stay out here.
PGA Tour rookie
LIVES Littleton, Colo.
“Somebody told me that if you have [a Plan B], Plan A never works out.”
Photo by Thierry Des Fontaines
WITH MAX ADLER