AIKEN, S.C. -- The big names in golf are on the pre-tournament interview schedule at this week's Tour Championship held at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. When the PGA released the updated slate on Monday, it had all of the usual suspects. On Tuesday, Henrik Stenson, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler will speak. The following day, golf's new "Big Three" -- Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth -- will sit with the media. Sandwiched in the timeslot between McIlroy and Spieth on Wednesday, Aiken native Kevin Kisner will take center stage.
The nod is just another sign of Kisner's progression in the game and his breakthrough season that has seen him finish in the top 10 at six events and spend most of the year ranked in the top 40 in the FedEx Cup standings. Kisner has also narrowly missed winning some of golf's biggest tournaments. Now, he's fulfilled a lifelong goal by earning a spot in the 2016 Masters, and he is on the verge of teeing off in the Tour Championship for the first time in his career.
"Four or five years ago, to say I'd be standing here where I'm at would've been somewhat hard to believe," Kisner said. "It just goes to show you what hard work and perseverance does for a career."
Although it was one of his goals for the entire season, Kisner didn't think too much about making the Tour Championship until he was able to string together a few good finishes.
Kisner is excited to be back playing in the South and hopefully in front of several friends and family members starting Thursday. His affinity for playing down south should come as no surprise. The former Georgia Bulldog's season picked up momentum in the South, starting with a playoff loss at the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island. Three weeks later, Kisner pulled off another second-place finish in a playoff at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida. Both tournaments were part of a 2 1/2 -month stretch where Kisner earned 1091 FedEx Cup Points. He capped the run with another playoff appearance at the Greenbrier Classic. Kisner entered the playoffs confident and proud of his accomplishments, but he knew there was more work to be done.
He didn't miss a step, finishing tied for 20th at The Barclays and tied for 12 at the Deutsche Bank Championship to lock up a spot in the Tour Championship before last week's BMW Championship.
"I played solid throughout the year, but you've got to play solid in the playoffs with as many points as they have up for grabs. I played solid the first two, and didn't play great last week. Luckily I was already guaranteed a spot here," Kisner said.
The approach has been simple: treat all the playoff events as if they were majors -- Kisner played in three of those this season. Players who have a path to success like Kisner's know the importance of each event. Kisner spent several years on the developmental tours and broke through in recent years. He has always played every tournament with a sense of urgency out of necessity to maintain some stability on the tour. During the playoffs, it was a similar mind set.
"Every spot is so helpful on the PGA Tour so you can advance further in your career. Obviously, making the Tour Championship helps a lot in your schedule for the next year. You're in all the majors and a lot of the World Golf Championships," Kisner said. "We looked at them like we were preparing to play a major."
The spot in the season finale means next season Kisner gets to prepare for the one major he didn't play in this season. He will play at Augusta National come April in the tournament he grew up attending since the age of 6.
"That was a lifelong goal. It's a dream come true. Obviously it's going to be an awesome experience to play there. Hopefully I'll have a lot of hometown advantage and support there," he said.
Kisner has also moved up to 33rd in the World Golf Rankings and 10th in the Ryder Cup points standings
As for this weekend, Kisner is looking to have a good time in the final event of the season. He can win the FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus that comes with it, but it would take a lot of other things falling in place that are out of his control. Kisner would need to win the Tour Championship tournament and hope that several of the other aforementioned big names finish in the perfect position.
"This is so much of a different tournament; you only have 30 guys. It'll be cool because you'll have a lot of chances to have a lot of people watch you," Kisner said. "It's kind of like a reward for playing well, so I'm going to just look at it as having fun."
Kisner tees off on Thursday at 12:40 p.m. with J.B. Holmes.
This article was written by Eric Russell from Aiken Standard, S.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.