JOHANNESBURG - A giant of a man by the unusual name of Patton Kizzire, a chunky; bald fellow called Ted Potter jr who had to remodel his swing after he broke his ankle and was out of the game for nearly two years; and James Hahn, a former shoe salesman who for a couple of years was almost penniless.
For anyone who doesn’t follow golf, who are these 30-something individuals? You’ve never heard of them? Well, these are three of the new stars of the PGA Tour.
While Rory McIlroy was missing the 54-hole cut in last week’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Potter, 34, shot a nine-under-par third round 62 on the Monterey Peninsula layout - one of three courses used for the tournament - en route to victory, as he outgunned such luminaries as world No 1 Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
Unlike most American kids, Potter skipped college and turned pro at age 19 in 2002. Things didn’t go well initially. In 2004 he qualified for the Nationwide Tour (now the Buy.Com Tour) and missed 24 cuts in 24 starts. How debilitating that must have been. But after grinding for another eight years, he eventually got his PGA Tour card and won the 2012 Greenbrier Classic.
Then, in 2014, he broke his right ankle in a freak accident stepping off a curb and was out for 21 months, after which he had to rebuild his wing.
Potter is right-handed but plays golf left-handed. Why? Ask him. But he’s a remarkable survivor and now he’s in the winner’s circle again. No wonder his buddies have nicknames for him. Alternatively, he’s either “The Wizard” or the “Miracle Man”.
So who, at the beginning of the 2018 PGA Tour last October, would one have expected to be leading the FedEx Cup standings right now? Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jason Day? No, it’s the curiously named, towering 31-year-old Patton Kizzire, who is just a shade under two metres tall, and is the only two-time winner so far this season. His last victory came in the Sony Open in Hawaii in January when he beat fellow American James Hahn after six holes of sudden death.
Kizzire, like Potter, also had his years in the wilderness. “At times I knew what it felt like to be strapped for cash,” he confesses. But now he’s the hottest property on tour. His sponsor describes him as a “10-year overnight success” who has paid his dues.
And then there’s South Korea-born Hahn, 36, the former shoe salesman who admits he was down to pretty much his last cent when playing the mini-tours in America a decade ago. Now he’s come close to winning three times this season. So Hahn too is a testament to how one can finally succeed by never giving up.
In my opinion, then, you have to love the PGA Tour because it’s got these great stories of resilience. And that includes the ultimate survivor, veteran left-hander Phil Mickleson, who is still producing those absolutely magic shots and contending in tournaments, and was joint second with Johnson, Day and Chez Reavie behind Potter at Pebble Beach.
Mickelson is 47 but is he over the hill? No way. He’s definitely still “Phil the Thrill!”