PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Kevin Sutherland's consistency marveled by those who know him best
March 27, 2021
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- March 27, 2021
- Kevin Sutherland leads the Charles Schwab Cup standings this season. (Ben Jared/Getty Images)
Kevin Sutherland and Paul Goydos, both 56, first met as collegiate golfers in the old Pacific Coast Athletic Association, with Sutherland at Fresno State and Goydos at Long Beach State.
They competed against each other in several events then and got to know each other enough that when they met up again on what now is the Korn Ferry Tour, in their latter 20s, they decided to start playing Tuesday practice rounds together. On occasion they would drive together to the next event.
Some 30 years later, they still tee it up with each other early on Tuesdays on PGA TOUR Champions. Each has five Champs Tour wins on his resume, and Sutherland currently leads the Schwab Cup standings.
“I’ve learned so much from Paul over the years,” said Sutherland, who picked up his fifth win at the Cologuard Classic in February against a field that included Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker. “He’s one of the smartest guys about the game, how to play. He knows little tricks and kinds of intricacies of just playing the game. Over the years I’ve picked his brain a lot. He has a great intelligence, a great IQ in golf. It has been very beneficial to me.”
In fact, Sutherland credits a putting lesson from Goydos in November 2018 for really helping push him to new heights. Sutherland ranked 50th in putting average for the 2018 season; after Goydos spotted a few things Sutherland ranked first in putting average for 2019 and is currently fourth in this wraparound 2020-21 season. Not coincidentally, Sutherland has four victories since the assist from his close friend.
Goydos hasn’t won since the 3M Championship in 2017, but he has three top 20s in his past four events. And he has enjoyed watching closely the rise of Sutherland from middling PGA TOUR player to a guy who at this moment arguably is the best PGA TOUR Champions has to offer.
“The last five or six years, to watch Kevin progress as a player … Kevin already is bashing through that wall that some guys hit around 55,” Goydos said. “Kevin seems to be a lot better now than he was at 51. Watching that every Tuesday has been great.
“He’s one of the few ultra-successful professional athletes without an ego. At all. A lot of times you get told how great you are and you start to believe it. Only three people have won the Schwab Cup over the past seven years and he’s one of them and it doesn’t seem to affect him. He’s not a different person. He’s a wonderful husband and father, and our practice rounds are very enjoyable. You want to kill time with people you enjoy, and he’s one of them.”
Both players will tell you the same stories get told nearly every Tuesday, and they still laugh at them. Steve Flesch, a veritable whippersnapper at 53 years of age, has become part of the group with Sutherland and Goydos for about 15 years now.
“Paul is the storyteller and Kevin laughs at everything Paul says,” Flesch said. “Kevin keeps the energy going because his laugh is so infectious. Those two … their history is long before mine with them. They both love baseball. Kevin is an A’s and Paul is an Angels fan. They talk about trades and the money cap and those guys are into it. We just enjoy the banter.”
There’s more than just golf and baseball. Sutherland and Goydos are big fans of Monty Python. And all three start ribbing each other about any bad shots that occur early in the round.
Goydos says he’s a feel player and Flesch is a tinkerer. Flesch says Sutherland has a robotic approach that obviously is pang with no restriction.”Steve Flesch (left) and Paul Goydos (right) during the second round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
“I love being around those guys,” Flesch said. “We tease Kevin. He’s very left-brained, very routine oriented. Literally like a robot. Paul plays by feel but doesn’t change much. How we play is different. We have three different types of games. If you think about each of us going around a racetrack, I’m the guy not worried about hitting the wall. I’ll lose some paint. Paul will get close to the wall. Kevin will be in the middle of the track driving 55 mph. We all learn a lot from each other.”
It seems like right now slow and steady is winning the race.
“Kevin doesn’t get off his path much,” Flesch said. “It’s really neat to see. I would go nuts if I set up my bag and didn’t tinker. Paul will tinker but will go back to what has always worked. I’ll put 14 new ones in on Friday morning.
“Kevin is … it’s so great how he has played. He’s an easy guy to root for. He’s so unassuming. So humble. Nobody would know he has had this tremendous run.”
Sutherland took a while to hit his stride. He’d come close often enough, but he didn’t get his first win until the final event of 2017, the Schwab Cup Championship. Goydos says and the stats back him up that no one on PGA TOUR Champions has been as consistently good as Sutherland over the past six years.
Since the start of the 2016 PGA TOUR Champions season, Sutherland has finished in the top 10 57 times in 105 events. That’s a .543 percentage. And there are no dogs in the whole bunch; his worst finish since turning 50 is a T47.
He said his belief in his own game began to change in the months leading up to his breakthrough win at the 2017 Schwab Cup Championship.
“I hadn’t won, but I had played really good golf that whole year and was like fifth in the Schwab standings going to the last week,” Sutherland said. “I just started believing I was always gonna be in contention. Now I’ve gone to the other side. Now that I’ve gotten wins … it all comes with gaining confidence. I started feeling like if I played well I’d be in contention. And the last couple of years that’s manifested in wins.
“I’m comfortable there now (in contention on Sunday). In the beginning I wasn’t as comfortable as I could be. At the Cologuard it really didn’t look like I’d win, then I chip in and he (Mike Weir) bogeys and everything flipped.”
Sutherland is a closer now. He stepped to the 18th at the Cologuard with a one-shot lead and hit what he said were his best drive and best approach of the entire week.
He was in his fourth year on PGA TOUR Champions before reaching the winner’s circle. Now he has done it at 56. How long can Sutherland continue to be a force?
“You know, I don’t know. People always ask me how long will you play,” Sutherland said. “As long as I’m competitive. I didn’t have a timetable. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think anybody knows really what to expect. You start getting old and there’s no explanation why some guys play really well later on. (Bernhard) Langer is just different. No one can dream about being as successful as he is at 63. It’s incredible. Some of it is luck. For me personally I’m staying in good shape. I work out. But I’ve also been fairly injury-free, which is nice.
“I do know this. You see the guys who play well later on, they maintain their flexibility. I’m still very flexible. Bernhard looks that way. It seems like the guys who play well later on are very supple. For example, Tom Watson. How old was he when almost won the British Open? He has maintained that flexibility even to this day. I think that’s a big part of it. Stay loose, swing with no restriction.”