Jason Kokrak claims Charles Schwab Challenge over hometown favorite Jordan Spieth
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FORT WORTH, TEXAS - MAY 30: Jason Kokrak celebrates with the Leonard Trophy after winning the 2021 Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club on May 30, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
Jason Kokrak wins second TOUR event of season at Charles Schwab
FORT WORTH, Texas – It took Jason Kokrak more than 200 starts to earn his first PGA TOUR title. The next win came much quicker, but it wasn’t any easier. He had to outduel a future World Golf Hall of Famer on his home turf to win at an iconic venue.
Playing alongside Jordan Spieth for the final 36 holes of the Charles Schwab Challenge, and in front of the partisan patrons of Fort Worth, Kokrak came out on top. His spoils for the victory at Colonial, which has hosted the PGA TOUR for 75 years, included a tartan jacket and a custom 1946 pickup truck.
“I'm a big guy with a big truck, with a big jacket and a big paycheck,” Kokrak said after the win.
In October, he shot a final-round 64 to win THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK. It was his 233rd start in a TOUR career that began in 2012.
An even-par 70 did the job this time, giving him a two-shot win over Jordan Spieth. Kokrak finished at 14-under 266 (65-65-66-70) to hand Spieth his third runner-up in this event. Spieth also won at Colonial in 2016.
By winning, Kokrak joined Bryson DeChambeau and Stewart Cink as the only players with multiple victories this season. Kokrak moved to fifth in the FedExCup, likely securing his second trip the TOUR Championship (he also advanced to East Lake in 2019).
“All I try to do is to get better every single year,” he said. “It's not a flash in the pan.”
An improved putter has carried the 36-year-old’s career to a new level. He’s seventh in Strokes Gained: Putting after ranking 151st in that statistic last season. In his previous nine seasons on TOUR, his average ranking in that statistic was 124th.
He credits his caddie, former Korn Ferry Tour player David Robinson, with helping him with that facet of his game. Robinson reads the greens and was the one who recommended last year that Kokrak switch to a longer putter.
“Ever since we got together four years ago, I called him up and said, listen, this is going a good ride,” Kokrak said. “I'm a pretty good ball-striker and you're a great green reader. We'll make a good duo.”
Ball-striking has always been Kokrak’s strength. It’s what got him on the PGA TOUR, and kept him there for a decade, even when his putting was a weakness. He won this week with a ball-striking performance befitting of Hogan’s Alley.
Kokrak led the field in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (+6.2) and driving distance (321.8 yards) while also ranking fourth in fairways hit (41 of 56, 73.2%). He was second in greens in regulation, as well, hitting 54 of 72 (75%).
The putter played a crucial role, too. He was seventh in Strokes Gained: Putting this week.
Kokrak trailed by two shots after bogeying the first hole Sunday, but he took his first lead of the day by holing a 23-foot birdie putt on the fifth hole. He maintained that lead by making a 10-footer for birdie on the next hole after Spieth had stuffed a wedge close.
Spieth stiffed another wedge on No. 9 to tie Kokrak entering the back nine. But Kokrak holed a 13-footer for birdie on 11 and made a 17-foot birdie putt from the fringe two holes later to give himself a two-shot lead with five holes remaining.
It was anything but easy from there, however. Both players bogeyed the 15th hole before hitting their tee shots into greenside bunkers at the next hole. Spieth got up-and-down. Kokrak did not. The fans were emboldened as Spieth drew within one with two holes remaining. Spieth had to wave his arms up and down to calm the crowd after Kokrak missed his par putt.
Both players missed the 17th green, as well. Kokrak was left of the greenside bunker after his approach from behind a tree didn’t cut enough. He holed a 7-footer to save par and Spieth made his 6-footer to stay a shot back.
Spieth played an aggressive approach from the rough on the final hole, though, and his ball found the water left of the green. That took the pressure off Kokrak, who hit the green and two-putted for par and the victory.
“I've got a lot of grit and a lot of fight in me,” Kokrak said. He showed it Sunday.
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.