NORTON, Mass. — One of the things that sets the PGA Tour apart from other sports is its lack of offseason. The 2017-18 PGA Tour season began way back at the Safeway Open last October and will finally end in Atlanta at the Tour Championship in three weeks.
For those counting at home, that’s 49 events in all, and the journey can have plenty of twists and turns.
This season, no one knows that roller coaster better than Patton Kizzire. The Auburn alum raced out to an early lead in the FedEx Cup standings when he followed a T4 finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open with his first PGA Tour win at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
After years of grinding on the mini tours, a Player of the Year season on the Web.com Tour in 2015 and two years of barely hanging around on the PGA Tour, the 32-year old Kizzire left Mexico a different player.
“[It’s a feeling of] satisfaction, really,” Kizzire said after the OHL Classic. “I’m really pleased with this past week and how I’ve been playing. A lot of the hard work has been paying off. But I’m hungry for more.”
That enduring hunger paid off for Kizzire as he quickly followed up the win with another when he defeated James Hahn in a playoff at the Sony Open.
After remaining relatively anonymous for his first couple years on Tour, Kizzire’s expectations had suddenly changed with the breakthrough. Increased expectations coupled with a constant quest for improvement have made things difficult for Kizzire, who hasn’t recorded a top-25 finish since March.
“I got off to such a great start, and expectations kind of went up, and I started trying to improve some things,” Kizzire said Thursday. “Change is difficult for me. I don’t like change, but I talked to my coach Todd Anderson and he said you might struggle for a little while, but the ultimate goal is to get better.”
Statistically, Kizzire’s struggles appear to stem from his driving, as he ranks just 162nd in strokes gained off the tee, but he believes those stats can be deceiving.
“If you look at the stats sometimes they can be a little misleading,” Kizzire said. “I know my driving is getting better. I noticed that I’ve hit more fairways in the first two rounds than I have in the last two rounds of several tournaments. I’m trying to make sure I stay sharp with everything I’m doing throughout the whole tournament. But I feel good with ball striking and off the tee.”
Kizzire’s changes included his equipment, as he switched to the new Titleist TS3 driver in search of more accuracy off the tee and eradicating a one-way miss. Kizzire ranks 176th in driving accuracy.
“The new driver is a little bit faster, the ball’s going a little bit farther,” Kizzire said. “I switched to a shorter shaft. So I’m not looking for distance as much as I’m looking for accuracy. But the new driver has allowed me to switch to a shorter shaft and still hit it as far as I used to.”
While the stats show that the driver is Kizzire’s biggest issue, but he believes his putter has been the problem. Kizzire said his putter has been lagging his standard, but he’s starting to see some good signs in his game as he tries to put it all together.
“My putting is sleeping, it’s lurking. It’s ready to break out,” Kizzire said. “That’s really what’s been lacking, and that’s the strength of my game. I know it will show up soon, if not this week then hopefully next week or at the Tour Championship.”
After residing atop the FedEx Cup standings for five weeks early on, Kizzire’s early season success has him in good position to make his first appearance at the Tour Championship.
That success can make a player a bit uncomfortable, but according to Kizzire, being uncomfortable is the only way to get better.
“Knowing that I’ve been working so hard to get a win, to get two of them just feels good,” Kizzire said. “But expectations rise and you’re in a spot that you’ve never been before, and you don’t get better unless you get uncomfortable. Things that are uncomfortable make you better. It’s just new territory, dealing with that and trying to get better every day.”
Kizzire is taking the struggles in stride and believes good things are in store in the future.
“Even guys that are winning tournaments, you see Dustin Johnson he’s winning tournaments and then switching putters the next week,” Kizzire said. “We’re a different breed. I’m progressing. It’s a game of ups and downs, and I’m trying to get on one of those upward trends and see what I can do in the playoffs.”