CHARLOTTE, N.C. — By day’s end Thursday, Kevin Kisner had a share of the PGA Championship lead at Quail Hollow. It was the first time in his career he had at least a share of the lead after any round in a major championship.
After Friday’s second round — a second consecutive 4-under 67 to get to 8-under par for the tournament — Kisner walked off the golf course with sole possession of the lead, four shots ahead of his nearest opponents with the afternoon wave of tee times just starting.
So two days in at the PGA and Kisner is taking in two new experiences.
He anticipated he will be “more anxious than nervous’’ Saturday.
“I’m sure there will be nerves in there, but that’s what we play for and that’s what we practice for,’’ Kisner said.
Kisner, who’s from Aiken, S.C., which is about a two-hour drive from Charlotte, has two career PGA Tour wins — the 2016 RSM Classic and the 2017 Dean & DeLuca Invitational. But he hasn’t fared well in the 11 majors he has played. His best finish was a tie for 12th at the 2015 U.S. Open. His best finish in a PGA was a tie for 18th last year at Baltusrol.
“Yeah, I’ve been upset with how I’ve played in the majors so far in my career,’’ Kisner sad. “I feel like I have the game to compete in majors and [yet I’ve had] tons of 30th- to 40th-, 50th-place finishes. That’s kind of been our goal for the year. We haven’t played well in them yet this year, but every year, you learn more about the majors and how to approach them.
“This is probably the easiest one I’ve had to prep for because I know the golf course so well and I’ve been up here a lot. I feel real comfortable here, and I really like the golf course. I’m just excited about the opportunity. I’m really fired up about it the way I’m hitting the golf ball. I haven’t hit it this well this whole summer. I’ve had a lot of average finishes.’’
Kisner has a familiarity with Quail Hollow with some family ties to the club.
“I’ve spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas in Charlotte from childhood to marriage,’’ he said. “I’ve been here a ton, got a lot of ties to Quail Hollow. My brother-in-law’s father is a founding member here. He’s still a member here, my 93-year-old grandmother still lives here by herself.’’
Asked how he ended up in Aiken, Kisner said, “When I was playing mini-tours and I was broke, that’s the only place I could afford to buy a house. I just love it. I have a core group of friends that we hang out with that don’t pester me about golf, and we hang out and have a couple beers on the back porch. That’s what I love about it.’’
Kisner, 33, is a different breed from the young stars in the game, like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and the guys who congregate together down in the Palm Beach, Fla., area.
“I love to just go home and hang out with my buddies in the country,’’ he said. “I like to go out where there’s no cell phone service and spend the afternoon. I love to fish, love to shoot guns, love to hunt, just get away from it. That’s my favorite part.
“I love my core group of friends at home that they don’t ask me why I made bogey on the last hole that cost me 20 grand or anything like that. That’s why I hang out with them. They are a bunch of good dudes and I’m sure they will be up there having a good time this weekend.’’
Kisner, too, is not a player to whom success has come easily. He’s anything but an overnight success. He methodically has climbed the ladder to get where he is today.
“I’ve kind of progressed my whole career in that stage,’’ Kisner said. “I’ve played mini-tours, learned how to win there; played the Web.com Tour, learned how to win there; got to the PGA TOUR, learned how to win there. The next step is competing and winning major championships. I think a big step is just understanding that no lead is safe.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things people don’t understand is how good guys play coming down the stretch, and you have to continue to make birdies. You can’t just expect that somebody is going to hand you the tournament out here.’’
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