PGA Tour journey sometimes requires long rides, cheap motels

By Doug Ferguson
Published on

HONOLULU (AP) — Kevin Kisner has earned just over $5 million over the past 12 months.

Just don't get the idea it was always this way.

For three years after graduating from Georgia, the 31-year-old Kisner played whatever tour he could. There were times he would finish an event on the Hooters Tour and drive most of the night to try for Monday qualifying on the Nationwide Tour.

"I always remember I won a Tar Heel Tour event in Greensboro and I had to be in Memphis the next day for my U.S. Open sectional qualifying," he said. "And I drove all through the night to get there. I remember getting there thinking, 'Man, this is brutal.'"

Ultimately, it was the worth the journey.

Kisner certainly isn't the only player to take the long road to the big leagues. Zach Johnson can still remember his car — a Dodge Intrepid — that he drove across the heartland of America to play the Teardrop Tour, the Dakotas Tour and even something called the Prairie Tour. William McGirt remembers one season on the mini-tours when he saw his wife for eight days during a four-month stretch.

Russell Knox still considers a Hooters Tour victory in Mississippi nearly as significant as the World Golf Championship he won in Shanghai.

They have such vivid memories of what might look like the worst times of their lives.

Knox can remember the yardage (185 yards) and club (6-iron) from the shot that made him believe he should keep pursuing his dream. Kisner was talking the other day about his history in match play because he will be eligible for the Dell Match Play this spring.

It must have been when he was at Georgia. No, wait. There was a Tar Heel event that was match play that he won.

Who did he beat? There was no hesitation.

"Reid Edstrom," he said.

Sure enough, archives show him beating McGirt, of all people, in a 21-hole semifinal and then Edstrom in the final.

These are great times for Kisner. The tough times made it possible, and it shaped him.

"I look at it as experience. All that stuff is a culmination of where I am now," Kisner said. "It's what makes me hopefully look the way I am on the golf course, as someone who is appreciative of all we have. I never want to be the guy that people say, 'Well, he's gone to the other side where he doesn't appreciate playing the PGA Tour.'"

He remembers one time during his days on what is now the eGolf Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina, when his wife (then girlfriend) Brittany came up to watch him play. He was staying in what he described as the worst hotel of all his days in the minor leagues.

"She made me move," he said. "I went to a Holiday Inn Express and thought we were living in luxury."

Don't be mistaken. He wouldn't trade his life on the PGA Tour for anything. Kisner is No. 16 in the world, eligible for the Masters for the first time, dreaming of a chance to play in the Ryder Cup in the fall. It was hard work, and it was worth it.

He recalls his father giving him a check for either $16,000 or $18,000 to support his dream, and he never had to ask for any more money. Kisner said there were two straight years when he played well enough on the eGolf Tour to bring in $100,000.

That's nearly what 18th place paid at Kapalua last week. Then again, expenses were different. He was staying in the Sleep Inn, not the Ritz-Carlton at Kapalua.

He doesn't miss those days. Even so, the memories are strong. It wasn't about seven-figure checks or five-star hotels.

It was about the grind.

"I always thought what was cool was the camaraderie of the players," he said. "We all holed up in hotels together. We all ate together every night. And we traveled together. You get in the car and four Tahoes would be driving down the interstate for six hours through the night, and that's how we got by. We looked out for each other. And you don't get that anymore. I have a family, and that's who I look out for.

"It changes. Your life changes," he said. "It was like a fraternity back then."