Moving to the next level
Web.com Tour Regular Season No. 1 Patton Kizzire's change in scenery has changed his career.
September 09, 2015
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
Web.com Tour Regular Season No. 1 Patton Kizzire's change in scenery has changed his career.
The first time Teresa Hodgdon met her daughter Kari’s boyfriend three years ago, she was naturally curious about his career plans. After all, that’s what protective mothers do, right?
Since that boyfriend was professional golfer Patton Kizzire, Hodgdon wanted to know: Did he have a backup plan in case the golf thing didn’t pan out?
“There is no backup plan,” Kizzire replied. “I’m going to play golf.”
It was a bold statement, one full of confidence. It also turned out to be an accurate one, considering Kizzire has taken the Web.com Tour by storm this season, winning twice and adding nine more top-10 finishes in his 19 starts. He goes into the start of the four-event Web.com Tour Finals this week, the Hotel Fitness Championship, at No. 1 on the money list and hoping to secure fully exempt status on the PGA TOUR next season.
But a few years ago, Kizzire’s confidence level vastly exceeded his actual results. In his first four years after graduating from Auburn, Kizzire had failed to get his TOUR card through several Q-school attempts. Instead, he was toiling in obscurity on a variety of mini-tours.
OK, so he didn’t have a backup plan, but it’s doubtful his career plan included spending significant time on the SwingThought Tour or Hopkins Tour.
Meanwhile, he had decided to stay in Auburn after graduation. It wasn’t the best move, at least from a career standpoint. The temptations of reliving his college days came at the expense of spending time on his chosen profession. The full amount of dedication required to reach the highest level in golf was missing.
“You’re in your college town around a lot of the same people, and it’s tough not to go out and have a good time,” said Brian Richey, a frequent travel partner of Kizzire on mini-tours and the Web.com Tour. “Even if you don’t want to, you’ve got so many different people saying, ‘Hey, let’s go get a beer; let’s go get some dinner,’ and you’re going to do it.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, let’s go,’ and then that can lead to something else … Everybody knows how that goes.”
Though his confidence never wavered, Kizzire’s frustration level began to rise. His dreams of becoming a TOUR pro seemed so far away. It was time to rattle the cages, find a fresh approach.
Luckily, he found one. However, there was one caveat -- it required him leaving his old college haunts and hangouts, and moving to a small, friendly coastal community in southern Georgia. A community filled with golf pros who understood the dedication required to achieve world-class status.
In the end, not only would the move make Kizzire a better golfer, it would also provide him with the love of his life.
Kizzire was represented by Crown Sports, which is based in Sea Island, Georgia, before it was purchased by Lagardère. Sea Island also is the home of Davis Love III; this year’s Open Championship winner Zach Johnson; and perennial top-10 machine Matt Kuchar, among other pros.
Putting two and two together, Kizzire figured the golf-rich environment and the chance to hobnob with established TOUR stars might just be the turning point of his career. So he moved east and sought their counsel.
“I don’t know if it was a maturity thing or not, but I kind of wanted to stay in Auburn (after college),” Kizzire said. “And I finally realized that the best thing for me and my golf career was to move down there (to Sea Island).”
It didn’t take long for him to realize he had some catching up to do. When he first moved to Georgia, Kizzire said his game was not up to par. “I could play with Davis Love 10 times, and I probably wouldn’t beat him once,” he said.
He also remembered specifically the first time he played with Love; he was so nervous that he could “barely draw the club back. I was nervous, scared, worried about what he thought.”
But the more he hung around the pros, the more comfortable he became. Now, Kizzire treats a round with Love as simply “a normal, fun day and an opportunity to beat one of the best golfers to ever play.”
He enjoys playing with the other members of the Sea Island Mafia, including Johnson and Jonathan Byrd. When Johnson brought the Claret Jug back to Sea Island after winning The Open Championship, Kizzire was able to get a first-hand look at one of golf’s most historic trophies.
"I saw Zach maybe the Tuesday after he won the British,” Kizzire recalled. “We were up at Sea Island Golf Club -- Randy Myers has a workout room there, and we both work with Randy -- and he had the Claret Jug in there with him, and everyone's asking, 'Can I take a picture with it? Can I hold it?'
“I was kind of hesitant to touch it, and I was like, 'I don't want to touch someone else's trophy,' but he was cool about it.
"Playing with them, just watching them and emulating them ... most of the stuff I have learned is by seeing their work ethic. They just lead by example. They're really encouraging to me and to other players down there; everyone is pulling for each other. ... Not to discount who those guys are, but I kind of feel like I belong a little bit more now, and it's cool to look back and see that progression."
Last month, Kizzire won the Web.com Tour’s News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot (his second victory, securing the Regular Season money title) on the same day Love became the PGA TOUR’s third-oldest winner at the Wyndham Championship at age 51.
Shortly thereafter, Love sent Kizzire a text message with congratulations on the victory. Kizzire responded by saying that Love’s win was “much more impressive.”
Regardless of which victory outweighed the other, Love can certainly be counted as a Kizzire advocate.
“He’s got no holes in his game,” Love said. “A confident player, really patient. Like you see with Jordan (Spieth) or Justin Thomas, real mature. Very, very mature for his age … he just looks so big, tall, strong, naturally talented. I know that people watching him go, ‘That’s not fair. He just makes it look so easy.’ He’s one of those kind of guys.”
While Kizzire’s golf game improved, so did his life outside the ropes.
Just before Kizzire moved to Sea Island, he met one of its residents – Kari Hodgdon.
Hodgdon was friends with Hudson Swafford, his wife Katherine, and Harris English from their college days at Georgia. Kizzire knew Swafford and English from junior golf, and introductions were made when Kizzire was in Athens, Georgia, helping out with a junior golf tournament.
Kizzire and Hodgdon casually stayed in touch; Hodgdon spent a year in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, shortly after the first meeting. They reconnected at a New Year’s Eve party in Atlanta, and things went from there.
Kizzire didn’t want to propose until he qualified for the Web.com Tour. After he successfully advanced through Final Stage of Q-School last December, plans were made. He proposed at the top of a ski mountain in Jackson Hole this past January. They’ll get married the week of the TOUR’s season-opening Frys.com Open.
Needless to say, Kizzire will skip the event.
“She has just been huge for my accountability,” Kizzire said of his fiancee’s influence. “She has taught me to make a plan and do it. For the longest time, I would kind of fly by the seat of my pants. She has been there to help me with little things here and there, just providing a lot of stability and support.
“When I’m at home, she has a schedule and I have a schedule, and sticking to that has been big. Like, ‘I’m going to go out to the golf course; this is my time; I’m going to do this, because I have to be at her parents’ house at 6:30 for dinner. Little things like that.”
“She has been good; a smart girl and supportive, so that has definitely helped,” said Richey. “That goes back to just having the right people around him. She is one of them.”
Another one of the “right people” has been veteran caddie Curt Peterson, who first started in the 1970s and has been on the bag for such luminaries as Sam Snead, Ken Venturi, Gene Littler and Curtis Strange.
The fact that he’s now caddying for Kizzire speaks volumes. Peterson can see the difference of the pre-Sea Island Kizzire and the one who lives there now.
“He has developed from a wild type of player into a very disciplined player,” Peterson said. “He has moved to an environment that is very conducive to doing well on the PGA TOUR. He has listened, he has applied some of the things that work for those (Sea Island) guys, and he knows quite a bit of what works and doesn’t work for him.”
It seems to all be working for him this year.
It’s not difficult to see the swing comparisons between Kizzire and the Sea Island godfather, Love. Both are tall – Kizzire is 6-foot-5 and Love is 6-foot-3 – and swing loosely, effortlessly.
But it’s another Hall of Famer standing 6-foot-3 whose swing Kizzire grew up trying to emulate – Ernie Els.
“I’ve YouTubed Ernie Els’ swing for a long time,” Kizzire said. “Just watching some of the things that he does, just trying to pick up little things here and there that he has done for a long time, that makes him so successful.”
Els enjoyed a place near the top of many TOUR statistical categories for the better part of a career that has included 19 TOUR wins and 28 European Tour titles, rising in the golf ranks with a well-rounded game.
Early in his career, it looks like Kizzire may follow the same path. During the Web.com Tour Regular Season, he ranked second in putting average and fourth in greens in regulation -- a deadly combination -- as well as first in birdie average, third in all-around ranking and 12th in ball-striking.
Els' outwardly laid-back demeanor on the golf course is mirrored in Kizzire, as well.
"He's not going to get too excited or too upset," said practice-round buddy Wes Roach of Kizzire. "He just does everything well. He drives the ball well; he putts well. He's just really good."
Whether Kizzire can get close to having the kind of career Els has produced is certainly, ahem, a tall order. But with his TOUR card secured for the 2015-16 season, Kizzire can at least start making some headway.
By all accounts – his home life, his upcoming marriage, his Web.com Tour results this season, his future prospects – he’s in a good place.
“To get a little bit of success, I just want to see how good I can get,” Kizzire said. “People say that basketball is a game of runs, and I feel like golf is a little bit the same way.
“It all has to do with your confidence and how you stick to what you do.”
No doubt Kizzire will be sticking to golf for the long haul. No backup plan necessary.