Consider for a moment some of Kevin Kisner’s victims (in reverse order) each of the last two years at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Matt Kuchar, reigning Open champion Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen, Tony Finau, Alex Noren, Ian Poulter, Kuchar again and Dustin Johnson. Not bad.
Now consider the final score of last year’s Ryder Cup: Europe 17½, U.S. 10½. Very bad.
“Kevin Kisner appears to be a very good match-play player,” Lee Westwood tweeted smugly on Saturday. “I’ll tell you a course that would really have suited him. Le Golf National.”
Turns out, not surprisingly, that claustrophobic Austin Country Club suited Kisner well, too. After reaching the championship match for a second straight year, the 35-year-old Kisner picked up the title this time with a 3-and-2 victory over Kuchar after a lopsided 7-and-6 loss to Bubba Watson in last year’s finale.
This PGA Tour title was the third of Kisner’s career, but by far his biggest. It also provided some salt in the American Ryder Cup wound that Westwood gladly applied.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but the Englishman wasn’t wrong. Even without that benefit it was obvious before one of the largest landslides in the event’s history that Kisner’s abilities—straight off the tee and blessed with a terrific short game and a soul-crushing putter—would have made for a nice fit in Paris.
Unfortunately, we never got the opportunity to find out. Furyk looked elsewhere, using his captain’s picks on Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. Not that he could be blamed; all were understandable picks in the moment.
“I gave Jim no reason to pick me,” Kisner said Sunday night in Texas. “I was not on form to go over there.”
In one sense, he’s right. Over Kisner’s final six starts of the 2017-’18 season, he recorded zero top-10s and failed to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship. In 23 starts, he missed seven cuts and was mostly non-existent since a runner-up at Carnoustie in July.
In another sense, there’s more to measuring Kisner’s game than how he played down the stretch in 2018 that would have made him a perfect fit in Paris. Or at most any Ryder Cup going forward. Or for this year’s Presidents Cup (he went 2-0-2 for the victorious American team in 2017). Or perhaps as an underdog at this year’s Masters, PGA Championship at Bethpage, U.S. Open at Pebble Beach or Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
When Kisner was just starting out in pro golf after finishing up his college career winning an NCAA title at Georgia in 2005, he had only $16,000 in the bank—some traveling money from his dad. It wasn’t much, even for the low-cost lifestyle of the mini-tour circuit. Not that he ever got any low balance alerts. Kisner won the third tournament he played in. Away he went.
“I never asked him for another dollar,” Kisner said of his dad. “I think that’s probably the coolest part of my career is I had to make putts when it mattered starting at a young age, and I learned to do it.
“When you've got to make a putt to clear money for the week to fill your car up or drive back home, it makes you a stronger person. So money has driven me my whole life.”
His game has, too. Be it in the early days of mini-tour golf, or the last two years at Austin Country Club, where he had to beat Poulter in a playoff last week just to make it out of group play.
“Winning that playoff I felt catapulted me to having a chance to win the golf tournament,” he said. “That's when I finally felt like we can do it.”
The bad news is that the Ryder Cup was six months ago. Can’t do much about that. The good news is the next Presidents Cup is eight months away. The better news would be having Kisner be part of that, and every team competition involving match play for the U.S. for the foreseeable future.