OPELIKA, Ala. -- Patton Kizzire was given a preliminary copy of the Barbasol Championship Pro-Am pairings and knew he'd received his wish.
"I was looking forward to playing with Gus Malzahn because of some of that magic he gives players to have a good finish in the event and I need one," Kizzire said.
Kizzire, a former medalist at the 2007 Southeastern Conference Championship while at Auburn, was well aware of former Auburn star Michael Johnson finishing tied for third in this event last year in his professional debut. On the day before he began his professional career, Johnson was the professional player in Malzahn's foursome and the Tigers head coach raved about Johnson's maturity at just 23 years old.
After missing five cuts in his last eight PGA Tour starts and seeing his world golf ranking slip to No. 217 amidst major swing changes, Kizzire was in desperate need of what he referred to as "Malzahn magic".
"Patton is a real golfer now. I think he shot 7 or 8 under by himself, so I'm going to pick him to win it," Malzahn said following his Pro-Am round Wednesday.
The Tigers fifth-year head coach downplayed his contribution to Johnson's breakthrough debut but had confidence in Kizzire's ability to be around this weekend.
"I don't think I had anything to do with (Johnson's performance in 2016) but appreciate (Kizzire) thinking that way," Malzahn said about Kizzire requesting him as a Pro-Am partner.
According to the unofficial leaderboard, Kizzire's confidence was well deserved after he fired a bogey-free 9-under-par 62 in front of the Tigers football coach Wednesday afternoon. At this point last season, Kizzire was finishing tied for 68th at The Open Championship overseas while solidifying his spot among the top 60 players in the official world golf rankings. Now he's hoping that a little football talk and luck from Malzahn will allow him to make a deep run in the PGA Tour playoffs later on this season.
"We talked a little Auburn football, (a little) Auburn golf," Malzahn said. "It was a lot of fun, just kind of fellowship and getting to know him. It's my first time getting to spend some quality time with (Kizzire). It was a lot of fun."
Malzahn's bosses got to go home Wednesday and say that he played 18 holes with a Ryder Cup captain as Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs and Auburn president Steven Leath were paired with former U.S. Open championship Jim Furyk.
"The joy of the day was playing with Jim Furyk because you want to talk about a prince of a gentlemen and a great competitor, that's him," Jacobs said. "You could tell he loves being here and loves being in the Auburn-Opelika area. That was the highlight of the day."
Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open, missed six straight cuts in a two month stretch starting with The Masters in April to FedEX St. Jude Classic in early June in Memphis, Tenn. Furyk's calendar year hasn't been all bad as he was named the next United States Ryder Cup captain for the 2018 event to be played September 28-30, 2018 at Le Golf National in Guyancourt, France.
"My family and I had a vacation planned for a couple years...a river cruise over in Europe and was hoping to be able to stay over there and play The Open," Furyk said Wednesday. "Meanwhile, I stopped and saw Le Golf National and got to see the Ryder Cup venue and the golf course, got to see the hotel, kind of look at facilities, kind of look at what we may have for the team and I got a chance to also play the course."
Furyk, a 17-time winner on the PGA Tour, said he was surprised that Leath introduced himself as "Steve" but said he enjoyed the five-hour experience of playing with two high-ranking Auburn officials at the RTJ Grand National in Opelika, Alabama.
"I had a great time with the both of them and actually had a fun group, enjoyed myself," Furyk said. "I didn't realize Jay had been here for 13 years, but very personable, obviously done a good job here and easy to see why you all have wanted to keep him around for so long."
Furyk, who did not qualify for The Open Championship for the first time since 1995, said he decided to tee it up in Alabama this week in the hope of earning PGA Tour FedEx Cup points to qualify for the end-of-season PGA Tour Playoffs in a few months.
"It's important and it's important to folks in the situation that I'm in where I'm sitting outside the Top 125," Furyk said. "Without, say, the Barbasol event, without the event in Reno, they might only have two more starts before the end of the year. This gives them an opportunity for two more starts and an opportunity to move up on the FedExCup list and try to finish in the top 125, secure a card for next year and make the playoffs."
This article is written by Matthew Stevens from The Montgomery Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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