ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga.—You know by now that 2015 was officially decreed The Year of the Young Guns by the excitable golf media.
That's all true, of course, with Jordan's Spieth's exploits, Jason Day's breakthrough and fall wins by Class-of-2011 alums such as Justin Thomas, Emiliano Grillo and the aforementioned Spieth.
Nobody gets excited about the guys who are just a little older. Maybe because we don't have a catchy nickname for them. Ex-Young Guns? The Old Young Guns? The Not-So-Young Guns? The Cougars? Nah. Nothing works.
So let’s take a moment to get excited about one of those guys in that nameless age category—The Neutral Zone?—who finally made it to the PGA Tour and looks poised for success.
Patton Kizzire dominated the Web.com Tour last season. He won twice, had 12 top-10 finishes and won more than $567,000, earning a spot on the PGA Tour, where he has already won almost as much, $524,000 in just his first three starts, thanks to a runner-up finish in Las Vegas.
Kizzire isn’t a young gun because he’s 29 and he finished school at Auburn in 2008. Unlike Spieth, he didn’t enjoy instant success after college. It’s been a long road of gradual improvement to get here.
He’s big, 6 feet 5, and can launch a drive but better still, he can get the ball in the hole. He ranks eighth so far in strokes gained putting on the PGA Tour and Thursday, the day after receiving the Web.com Tour Player of the Year Award from Web.com Tour czar Bill Calfee and Web.com CEO David Brown, he opened the RSM Classic (formerly the McGladrey Classic) with a round of 68, which left him in the middle of the pack.
“This is a dream come true to be on the PGA Tour,” Kizzire said after accepting the trophy. “And Sea Island has a special place in my heart. My wife, Kari, grew up here and it’s such a cool place.”
Kizzire and his wife relocated to Sea Island, where they live now. He’s an Alabama native. He was born in Montgomery, grew up in Tuscaloosa and went to Auburn University. After college, well, it was a tough go of mini-tour events and six years before he finally made it even to the Web.com Tour for the first time last year. And then he took names.
What took him so long? Even he wonders about that.
“I wish I could put my finger on it,” Kizzire said. “It’s a lot of small things. The move here to Sea Island was a big player in that. I started butting heads, in a good way, with good players here. Davis Love, Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd, Matt Kuchar, Harris English, Brian Harman, Hudson Swafford. I could go on and on.
“Plus my personal life came together. My wife was a big player in that, providing a lot of stability and comfort and support. It just started adding up. The confidence came with some results. I like to let the confidence snowball. That's what I did, and here I am. I didn't think I would be here this time last year, but I am. I'm excited.”
He has watched the instant success of guys like Spieth and Thomas with a mix of amazement and amusement.
“Justin and Jordan, I would put them in a Tiger Woods-ish category,” Kizzire said. “Just at a young age they were, Boom, Here I am, this is what I’ve got. They were so good right out of the gate.
“It took me a little white to figure it out. I've learned by trial and error. So there are different strokes for different folks, a different learning curve for everybody. I wouldn't change my journey for anything.”
Kizzire had plenty of adventures in his first Web.com season after years of grinding on the mini-tours. There was the time he won in Knoxville and said he’d buy dinner for fellow tour-player Wes Roach and his wife. Roach picked the site, Fleming’s, which is an expensive steakhouse and when Kizzire got there, he realized he’d forgotten his wallet.
He also had an incident traveling by air in Brazil where he changed planes and, running late, had to carry a large suitcase through security. He just kept moving despite their protests and checked the bag at the gate, and made his flight.
It’s all happened pretty fast after a long slow period for Kizzire. He is just another in a long line of players who moved on from the Web.com to the big tour.
“These guys prove every year that they deserve to be out there,” said Calfee. “The stature of our tour continues to be elevated as a result of their great play. I don’t know if proud is the right word but we feel like we’ve accomplished a lot to see these players go on. It’s funny because we say, We hope you don’t come back, but don’t forget us. When they get to the PGA Tour, we know they’re going to be successful and have an impact, like Patton is already having.”