PGA Tour players accumulate FedEx Cup points all season based on performance. The Top-125 in the FedEx points standings after the Wyndham Championship are invited to the first Playoffs tournament. Rookie, Kevin “Kiz” Kisner, finished the pre-Playoffs Tour season ranked 195th in the FedEx Cup standings. He will pick back up on the PGA Tour at the first Fall Series event in Vegas in late September. Until then, Kiz is staying sharp on the Nationwide Tour. He played in the Knoxville Nationwide event last week and plays this week in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania where he is defending champion. After that, he will have a few weeks off before The Fall Series, which will present a timely opportunity for him.
Last year, Kiz gained his PGA Tour card through a successful year-long campaign on the Nationwide Tour. He won the Nationwide Tour’s Mylan Classic and was runner-up at the Miccosukee Championship. These, and other notable finishes, landed him at 11th on the final money list and comfortably qualified him for the 2011 PGA Tour. His money list position put him ahead of now recognized players, such as, Keegan Bradley. This year has been a different story, but the year is far from over.
A number of players use the Fall Series to turn an average year into a great year, or even a bad into a breakthrough year. This turnaround effect is made more possible by a number of the highest ranked FedEx Cup players foregoing the Fall Series and finishing their seasons at the Tour Championship. Examples of Fall Series turnarounds include Rocco Mediate’s in 2010. Last year, Rocco failed to break the Top-10 all year until winning 2010’s penultimate event (Frys.com Open). Jonathan Byrd also salvaged his season in the 2010 Fall Series after missing six straight cuts during the summer. Most golf fans vividly recall his ace to win a sudden death playoff at Justin Timberlake’s tournament. Such an end of year success story is waiting to happen at this year’s Fall Series. Who will be the protagonist?
Kevin Kisner has momentum and a higher comfort level on his side. As for his momentum, he made more money in his last five PGA Tour starts than in his first eleven of 2011. Aside from the money, he gained valuable experience in being near the top of the leaderboard. At the Viking Classic, he started the final round in the Top-10 and finished the first round at the RBC Canadian Open one shot from the lead. Last week, Kiz played the final round in the second to last group, so he spent most of the week around the lead. Any expert golf fan could predict that Kiz will use this momentum to continue to trend upward in the Fall Series.
As for Kiz’s comfort level, he seems to have gotten more used to life on tour. This only comes with experience. The courses are tougher, the crowds are bigger, and it simply takes time to adjust. Unlike many of last year’s Nationwide graduates, Kiz played in his first PGA Tour event at the beginning of 2011. For this, much of his competition had a significant advantage over him, but his steady improvement confirms his rising comfort level as 2011 moves along. On top of being comfortable through experience, one of the Fall Series events takes place on a course Kiz used to play every day. Sea Island Golf Club, home of the McGladrey Classic, was his home course during the first two years of his career. Kiz could play it in his sleep.
Overall, the rest of 2011 holds glaring opportunities for Kisner. Keeping a PGA Tour card, four chances to gain exempt status over the next two seasons, a better position in the World Golf Championships, and, last but certainly not least, money, all give Fall Series players more than enough motivation to treat it with the respect it deserves. At least one player will transform his season. My money is on Kiz.