Coming into Monday, Kevin Kisner didn't have a spot in the field for the U.S. Open. The South Aiken product had to run the gauntlet of playing 36 holes in a day of sectional qualifying to make it into golf's second major of 2014.
But Kisner has faced similar challenges before, most recently gaining partial PGA Tour status with a marathon run at the end of the 2013 Web.com Tour season. Kisner was up for the latest challenge, posting 8-under par rounds of 69 and 66 to punch his ticket to the U.S. Open, which will be played at historic Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina next week.
“It's my first major. It's really sweet, everybody wants to play in majors and my first one is the U.S. Open, our national championship,” said Kisner, who endured a lot to qualify.
“It's the longest day of the year in golf. We had wind, rain, sunshine, clouds and more rain and had to play 36 holes.”
Kisner was at Colonial Country Club in Memphis, Tennessee on Monday. He was in the field of 145 golfers trying to get one of the top 16 spots that would result in a spot in the U.S. Open. Although he didn't finish first, his combined score of 135 was high enough on the leaderboard to leave him tied for third place and get him into the U.S. Open.
The U.S. Open berth isn't the only major one the 30-year-old Kisner will be dealing with in the coming days. His wife, Brittany, is due to give birth to the couple's first child next week. Kisner said if the doctor approves, they'll induce labor next Monday, allowing him to be at the birth and still play in his first major.
“It's a crazy week,” Kisner said. “The next two weeks will be the craziest and most exciting time of my life. To have my fist child and play in my first major all at the same time. … I'm just going to let it roll and be there Thursday for my tee time.”
Those lifetime milestones will dwarf a busy stretch for Kisner. He flew from the Memorial in Ohio to Memphis, where he signed up to qualify, not knowing if he'd be invited to play in Jack Nicklaus' tournament. It all worked out because of how well he performed.
Kisner's 36 holes included 11 birdies (five in his first round, six in the second) compared to just three bogeys (two and one respectively). He finished two strokes behind Hudson Swafford (133), with J.B. Holmes (134) the only other golfer ahead of him on the leaderboard.
“I've been playing well the last month or two and made my share of putts,” Kisner said, adding a little good fortune aided him. “I got a good draw. I played the harder of the two courses first.”
Kisner finished in a five-way tie for third place. He was knotted up with PGA regulars David Toms, Jeff Maggert, Joe Ogilvie and David Gossett. Nine more players advanced to the U.S. Open out of the Memphis sectional qualifier, with Junior Invitational champion Scottie Sheffler (69-70) just missing the qualifying number by two strokes.
Kisner was just one of thousands of players competing in sectional qualifying Monday, with events held at 10 separate locations including Memphis. Scott Brown was also looking to make the field for the U.S. Open, which will run from June 12-15.
The North Augusta and USC Aiken alum was in the Columbus, Ohio qualifying sectional that was played at Brookside Golf & Country Club as well as Scioto Country Club. Brown, a full-time member on the PGA Tour, was undone by a second-round 75 that left him among the players who failed to qualify for one of the 16 spots in the field of 120. Following a five-birdie 70 in his first 18 holes, Brown struggled with seven bogeys and only two birdies in his second round. His combined 145 left him five strokes outside of the number to qualify.
While former British Open champion Justin Leonard was part of a three-way tie on top of the Columbus leaderboard, former Palmetto Amateur champion Todd White (77-74) joined Brown in failing to qualify. White is expected to return to Aiken again this week for the 39th Palmetto Amateur, which will tee off on Wednesday.
Qualifying for the U.S. Open is the biggest breakthrough in a solid season for Kisner. He's played in 18 PGA Tour events, making the cut in a dozen. He's posted three top-25 finishes, including tying for sixth in the Wells Fargo Championship. He has earned $568,151 this season and is 103rd in the FedEx Cup rankings. A University of Georgia alum, Kisner was part of the Bulldogs' 2005 national championship team.
He said playing in the U.S. Open for his first major would be special. He said it would have extra significance because this U.S. Open will be held a Pinehurst, a course Kisner's familiar with because of all the competitive rounds he played there as part of events between North Carolina and South Carolina juniors.
“I've played a lot of golf at Pinehurst,” said Kisner, who couldn't recall the last time he's played Pinehurst No. 2, but said it hasn't been in the past 15 years. He'll be aided by his caddie, Duane Bock, who knows the course having won the North-South Amateur at Pinehurst. “It'd special to play any U.S. Open, this is one I'd love to play in.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.