CHARLOTTE – The guy who won the major on Sunday is 24 years old. The guy who won the British Open was 24. The guy who won the U.S. Open was 28. The guy who won the Masters was, well, 37, but we thought Sergio Garcia would win several majors in his 20s, back when we thought he was Sergio Garcia, before it turned out he was only … Sergio Garcia.
If this is the PGA Tour, it must Kids Week.
“They’re all studs,” Kevin Kisner said Sunday. “They’re way beyond me when I was that age.
“I’m an old guy. And they tell me about it all the time.”
But Kisner learned something this week. Amid the blur of 20-somethings that have taken over golf, there’s a place for a 33-year-old who didn’t win his first PGA event until his 109th attempt.
This week, he would have to settle for almost winning a major. Justin Thomas (24) fired six birdies Sunday, including a near 15-footer on 17, to nail down the first major victory of his career in the PGA Championship at 8-under par. Kisner finished four shots back at 4-under after a go-for-it double-bogey on 18 when he needed eagle to force a playoff. (Ball, meet creek.)
The day started with a former Georgia All-American was on top. It ended was a former Alabama star on top. Damn you, Nick Saban.
Thomas is exemplifies the Tour’s millennials. They’re not only good, they seldom crack, as if they’re supposed to be there.
“I was a lot more calm than I thought I would be,” he said. “My girlfriend was supposed to fly out at 7 and I said, ‘You need to change your flight because I really think I’m going to win this.’”
He was hugged afterward by British Open winner Jordan Spieth (24) – who, tragically, now must wait until he’s at least a quarter-century old before having another chance to win a career grand slam, assuming he’s not in a walker by then. (Brooks Koepka, 28, won the U.S. Open.).
It was a nice moment for Thomas, the third generation of family pros. He was 7 years old when he watched Tiger Woods when the 2000 PGA Championship in his hometown of Louisville.
“For me the PGA had a special place in my heart,” he said.
Not heartwarming enough for Kisner. Part of him was happy for Thomas (whose caddie, Jimmy Johnson, lived for 20 years in Augusta with Kisner and his parents). But most of him knew he could have won. His Sunday included five bogeys, including the double on 18. After sitting at 10-under late in the third round, he played the last 21 holes at 6-over.
“What did I play, the last three (holes) at 6-over in the last two days?” Kisner said, knowing the answer. “That's not going to be fun to look at. I thought I had to get to 10 (under) starting the day to win, and that was about right. I had every opportunity. I just didn't finish it off.”
It wasn’t a beautiful week. The course pretty much crushed the best golfers in the world. The heat and humidity made them stink even more. It’s not a pretty sight when you watch grown rich men in $90 golf shirts cry.
Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia didn’t make the cut. The only previous major winner who was remotely in contention going into Sunday was Louis Oosthuizen (British Open in 2010). Seven of the top 11 on the leaderboard had never so much as finished in the top 10 of a major.
You know it's a strange week when Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson are all teeing off in the morning.
“You don't want to be teeing off at 9:45 in the final round of a major,” McIlroy said.
Against this backdrop, Kisner stood a pretty nice chance. His play had been solid and there was no intimidating presence on the leaderboard. But on a day he needed to make birdies, he missed too many putts.
He bogeyed No. 7 when he undershot the green with his iron and dropped it into the water. He dropped another shot on 11 when he hit his tee shot into the bunker and his second into the rough and two-putted. He lost a shot on 12 when he again missed the green, this time long and to the left, and again two-putted.
“No. 7 is going to haunt me, hitting in the water short there,” Kisner said. “I actually went back for one more club and got too greedy with it. That's one of the holes I have to make four on to compete, and to walk away with a six was painful.”
He birdied Nos. 14 and 15 to get back to 7-under, only one shot behind Thomas. But then he bogeyed No. 16 after missing a nine-foot putt and Thomas, in the group ahead, birdied No. 17. That was it.
"I didn't make the putts that I'd been making the first two days," he said. "A lot of misses inside of 10 feet, and at some point, length is going to catch up with me. Guys hitting it 30 feet by me have an advantage if I'm not hitting putts inside 10 feet."
There's an adage in golf: One must lose a major before learning how to win one. But when somebody mentioned that to Kisner, he immediately cut it off.
"I don't believe that at all. You play good. You win. Bottom line."
The right attitude to get back to this point again.
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