Kisner becoming a Match Play demon
March 31, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Kevin Kisner wins WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
AUSTIN, Texas – Kevin Kisner loves having a good time, and the 2017 Presidents Cup was the most fun he’s ever had playing golf. The U.S. team camaraderie, the match play format, the New York City backdrop – and the winning, of course. Domination, really, in front of the home crowd.
Naturally, he wants to be part of the next American team, which travels to Australia in December for this year’s Presidents Cup against an International Team seeking revenge. “I’d love to get a try on foreign soil,” Kisner said, “and see if we couldn’t be the bad guys.”
Kisner took a big step toward that goal Sunday at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. First, he knocked off previously undefeated Francesco Molinari, 1-up, in the Semifinals. Then in the Championship match, he beat fellow American Matt Kuchar, 3 and 2, a sort of redemption for being routed in last year’s Championship final by Bubba Watson. It wasn’t necessarily beautiful golf on an unusually chilly day at Austin Country Club, but it was effective -- and it moved Kisner from 30th to 15th in the U.S. Presidents Cup standings.
Even though the U.S. team won’t be determined until after this season, it’s difficult to imagine Captain Tiger Woods not making Kisner a Captain’s Pick if he doesn’t make it on merit. Of course, Tiger – currently 17th in the standings -- may also need a pick himself. “I think there’s no doubt he’ll be a playing captain,” Kisner said. “I hope to be a part of it.”
What Kisner wasn’t a part of last year was the Ryder Cup in Paris. Despite showing off his match play proficiency a year ago in Austin, and also proving that he could handle European crowds by tying for second at the Open Championship in Carnoustie, Kisner was not one of U.S. Captain Jim Furyk’s picks.
He was certainly under consideration, but Kisner struggled in the FedExCup Playoffs at courses that did not suit his game – a T-73 at Ridgewood, a T-24 at TPC Boston and a T-58 at Aronimink. Bad results at the worst time. Kisner said he didn’t even bother trying to talk Furyk into giving him a spot.
“I didn’t play well in the Playoffs,” Kisner said. “I gave Jim no reason to pick me. And that’s what I told Jim. He kept calling me all week. I’m like, ‘Dude, these golf courses are terrible for me, but I’m trying my best.’"
“I was not on form to go over there. I know the golf course suited me perfectly. He had it terribly hard. Who was he going to take out? Was he going to leave Phil [Mickelson] at home and take Kiz? Nobody is going to do that, right?”
Then he added while trying to suppress a sly grin: “Even though hindsight is 20/20, everybody should have taken Kiz.”
The power-heavy Americans were beaten soundly on a Le Golf National course that indeed would seem to be right up Kisner’s ball-striking alley. Molinari was the star for Europe, going 5-0-0 while teaming with Tommy Fleetwood to form a duo the Americans could never figure out.
Sunday morning, Kisner figured out Molinari.
Then he figured out Kuchar.
Kevin Kisner vs. Matt Kuchar highlights from WGC-Dell Match Play
But then Kisner’s figured out many things lately. A year ago, in losing to Watson, 7 and 6, he felt rushed heading into the Championship match. It had taken him 19 holes to defeat Alex Noren in the Semifinals, and he attempted to go through his entire pre-round routine in an hour. “That’s just not feasible,” he said.
This time, after beating Molinari, he relaxed, took a shower, “chilled out” and had some treatment. He didn’t get to the range until 20 minutes before his tee time. He hit 20 balls, then headed to the first tee and hung out there for several minutes. Kuchar was still at the range hitting balls and showed up just in time to tee off.
“I think that greatly helped my mental side of the game as much as anything,” Kisner said. “I wasn’t overhyped for it and just tried to go play a casual round of golf.”
Meanwhile, he and caddie Duane Bock were playing with a heavy heart.
On Thursday, one of their close friends, Tony Causby, died after battling ALS for the last three years. Bock put “RIP” on his cap this week, and when he was asked about Causby late Sunday after Kisner’s win, the tears started to flow.
“He was our biggest fan,” Kisner said. “Duane said he sat there every day and watched us. Even though they’d never show us on TV, he was always looking for us. So we had a little guardian angel watching over us for sure this week.”
That probably doesn’t quite explain why Kuchar had just one birdie in his first 15 holes Sunday, or why Molinari had six bogeys in the Semifinal after committing just one in his two matches combined the previous day.
But Kisner definitely had something magical going on when trouble seemed to be lurking, especially after his second shot on the par-5 sixth ended up next to the grandstands on the left side. Kisner was given relief and took a drop on trampled grass, while Kuchar was on the other side of the fairway. The match was tied at the time, and this seemed a pivotal moment.
Kisner’s shot from 95 yards finished inside 5 feet. Kuchar’s shot for 64 yards came up short of the green in the rough. Kisner made his birdie putt and took the lead – and he never gave it up.
“I feel like I've kind of built a game that I could rely on playing some good, steady golf, but I gave too many holes away,” said Kuchar, who moved into the FedExCup points lead with his runner-up finish. “It's one of the things I pride myself on is not ever giving holes away. I knew against Kisner I couldn't do it, and he just plodded along and played good, steady golf, and let me make mistakes.”
It’s a perfect way to play match play – and Kuchar saw it first-hand at Liberty National two years ago when Kisner partnered with Phil Mickelson to form an effective duo. They were 2-0-1, and then Kisner halved his Singles match with Anirban Lahiri – thus keeping Kisner unbeaten for the week with 3 points.
“Everyone likes him and they know they are going to get a great putter who is a real grinder and a bulldog,” Kuchar said of Kisner. “He is fun to have in the team room. He is such a great competitor.”
Later this year, they might be teammates again at Royal Melbourne. Given how Kisner performed this week in Austin, he’s leaving nothing to chance.