Kevin Tway is ailing and leading the Sentry Tournament of Champions with round of 66

January 03, 2019
Sentry Tournament of Champions - Round One

Sam Greenwood

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Uh oh. Bob Tway might be on his way to wearing out his living room carpet again.

Tway, the eight-time PGA Tour winner, was a nervous wreck in October watching his son Kevin attempt to win his first tour event at the Safeway Open, the opening tournament of the 2018-'19 season. Having posted just six top-10 finishes in 90 career starts, Kevin hadn’t had many chances, and the Napa, Calif., tournament was by far his most promising shot. As the final round progressed, and then as Kevin climbed into a playoff with Ryan Moore and Brandt Snedeker, the elder Tway couldn’t stop pacing the floor.

“I couldn’t sit still. I’m getting all these text messages, which only makes it more nerve wracking,” Bob Tway said during a phone conversation just before the new year. “You’re nervous any time your kids are competing or doing something, and it’s 10 times worse—no, a hundred times worse—when they have a chance to do well. A win on the PGA Tour … it just means so much.”

Kevin, ranked 138th in the world at the time, eventually won on the third playoff hole with a 10-foot birdie putt. It did mean a lot. Like his first invitation to the Masters. And his first PGA Championship, which his father won in 1986, two years before Kevin was born.

And, of course, he earned a berth in this event, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, reserved strictly for winners the previous year. Which he leads after an opening seven-under-par 66 on the wind-whipped Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, one stroke ahead of defending champion Dustin Johnson, 2017 winner Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland.

Despite suffering from an ear and a sinus infection that caused him to withdraw from Wednesday’s pro-am after five holes and seek medical help, Tway used his upbringing in Oklahoma—where the winds come sweeping down the plains or fairways or wherever—and navigated the blustery conditions without a bogey. The key stats were 15 greens in regulation and 26 putts. That will keep a card clean.

“Not feeling well, but yeah, I hit the ball well, kept the ball in play, made a few putts, controlled my ball in the wind. It's windy where I'm from in Oklahoma so it's kind of like I was at home,” said Tway, who admitted that he felt like he was “walking on a water bed” during his brief pro-am appearance. He confessed to still feeling a little dizzy on Thursday.

Golf can often make you dizzy, so maybe feeling dizzy brings equilibrium. “Felt bad, but, yeah, when you're making a lot of birdies it makes everything better,” the younger Tway added.

Tway, 30, mentioned feeling at home at the Plantation Course despite Thursday being his debut round, and there was another reason for that, having visited here with his dad in 2004 when he was a scrawny 5-foot-7, 120-pound wide-eyed 15-year-old. His father had won the last of his tour titles the previous year at the Canadian Open, and he brought the family with him to Maui a week early. On the first day, father and son were playing together when Bob got stung by a bug, and his finger swelled up. He spent the rest of the week watching Kevin play the Plantation Course and then finished 28th the following week when he could finally grip a club again.

“So, he was just kind of watching me play for his preparation,” Kevin recalled.

Dad, who also won his first tour event in a playoff, in 1986 in what was then the Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open at Torrey Pines, gets to watch son again this week, but from a television at home. Kevin is off to a good start. He was so good he was sick, to use more modern vernacular, so his actual sickness made it more sick.

“People have asked me,” Bob said, “when is the easiest time to win your second event, and I say it’s right after your first because you’re playing well and you have confidence, knowing that you’ve done it.”

Bob was always telling Kevin that he could do it. Though he won the 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur before a solid All-American career at Oklahoma State, Kevin had his doubts. After he won in Napa, he said, “My dad always told me I had the talent, and I don’t think I believed him until now.”

When Kevin’s winning putt dove in, Bob felt like leaping like he was back in that greenside bunker at Inverness Club in Toledo after holing out to beat Greg Norman in the PGA. Instead, though, he started to cry. “Of course, I cry about everything anyway,” he said.

Kevin called home. He was about to head overseas to the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and wanted to share a moment with his hero. He figured that his dad was crying. His mom confirmed that his dad was crying. His dad then got on the phone and was still crying.

Dad soon learned Kevin’s win made them the eighth father-son duo to win a tour event since 1900. “It’s pretty neat. I’m proud that we are part of a select group,” Bob said. “Just to win once is hard. For both of us to win is pretty special. People don’t understand. Tiger made winning look so easy and it just is not.”

Opportunities to win aren’t all that abundant either. So, off to a good start in a field of just 33 players, Kevin isn’t going to let some virus get in his way. Meds and rest— and birdies—should keep him going.

“Oh, I was going to try to play no matter what,” he said when asked if he had contemplated withdrawing. “I mean, I can deal with a little bit of dizziness for sure. We're in Hawaii and no cut, so, I mean, I'm going to try as long as I can.”

And why not? Dad can always buy new carpet.