Tom Kite was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday and
instead of old Ryder Cup bags and memorabilia his shrine should have
included a hard hat, lunch pail and a pair of work gloves.
We marvel at
the work ethic of Vijay Singh, but this Hogan disciple would give the
Fijian two a side when it comes to digging it out of the dirt. The first
to adopt the concept of a third wedge in competition, he won 19 times on
such demanding tracks as Riviera, Butler National, Doral, Bay Hill,
Harbour Town, the TPC-Sawgrass and of course, Pebble Beach, in the 1992
U.S. Open. That Sunday on the Monterey Peninsula was arguably the most
brutal day in major championship history, yet Kite found a way to tack
around the trouble and raise the trophy.
The ruddy complexion and the leathery neck are tell tale signs of a man
who spent too much time in the sun, but the fruits of his labor is a
legacy as one of golf's all-time great overachievers. Asked on "PGA Tour
Sunday" what percentage of it was hard work and what percentage was
talent, Kite responded by asking some rhetorical questions of his own.
"People who are trying to be the best don't care whether it's talent or
hard work," he said. "And you can't define talent ... is it on the
inside or the outside? Is it physical, emotional, or is it brains? I
think if you want to play at a high level, then you have to put your
time in. From the time I was 12 years old, I was out there hitting balls
The image I have of Kite occurred five summers ago on one of those
brutally hot days in Baltimore when the clothes mat up and stick to you
like wet wallpaper. In the Mid-Atlantic States they call it the three Hs -- hazy, hot and humid. I was invited to play in the Caves Valley
Invitational and Tom Kite was there, beating balls. We played a series
of three nine-hole matches and the club has a policy against shorts. I
remember commenting that this was what Ken Venturi felt like at
Congressional in 1964. At one point I bent over to hit a putt and the
sweat was pouring off my hat, onto my ball. If I stood over it long
enough, I could have taken relief for casual water. Yet every time we
made the turn there was Kite, on the range, a man at work.
Kite missed the cut at Westchester and drove down to Caves where he
could grind in solitude. Dennis Satyshur, the head pro, was one of Tom's
best friends coming out of college and on the mini-tours in Tampa. Tom,
you may remember, asked Dennis to serve as an assistant during the 1997
Ryder Cup. I called Dennis on Tuesday to see what he remembered about
Kite that day. He was in the Jacksonville airport, flying home from
Tom's induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"Tom's always in training," Satyshur said when asked to explain the
work ethic that has defined Kite's career. "He's very good at finding
short-term goals, things that keep him going and excited in what he's
Tom was 49 at the time, in the supposed twilight of his career, yet the
missed cut was inexcusable. He refused to accept the notion that a man
his age should be expected to miss cuts. Five years later, not much has
changed. Kite confirmed last week that he will use his exemption as one
of the top-50 all-time career money winners to turn back the clock and
concentrate on the regular tour. His first event of 2005 will be the
Sony Open in Hawaii. He will pick venues that suit his game.
"You have to be excited to wake up in the morning," Kite said. "You need
to do something that makes you pumped up about life. I love playing and
competing at the highest level." When it comes to results, the highlight
of Kite's year was bouncing back from a crushing final-round giveaway in
the U.S. Senior Open to win the following week. But when it comes to a
source of pride, Kite talks first about going through U.S. Open
qualifying, and making the cut at Shinnecock.
The idea to play the regular tour came through a conversation with Bob
Rotella, the sports psychologist. Kite is one of those competitors who
turned 50 and had a hard time getting motivated for the Champions Tour.
The been there, done that mentality is a syndrome that Raymond Floyd,
Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins all experienced after turning 50. They
didn't need to play for the money, so what was the motivation? In his
first five years of competition on the senior circuit, Kite has only won
seven times, including this year's 3M Championship, which was his first
victory since 2002.
"The Claw" putting grip has given Kite new life and physically he looks
better now than in 1981, when he recorded 21 top-10 finishes and won his
first of two money titles and Vardon Trophies. He has been working with
a strength coach from the University of Texas and length is no longer an
issue. In plotting out his schedule, he asked me what I thought about
the Fazio Course at Mirasol, where they play the Honda Classic. I told
him it was 7,400 yards but it didn't play that long. He scoffed at the
reference, sort of the way he did in 2002 when I congratulated him on
making his fifth-straight cut at The Players. Even at 52, he was
supposed to make the cut at The Players.
Part of what drove Kite as a boy was being the understudy to Ben
Crenshaw. Harvey Penick used to tell the naturally gifted Crenshaw to
practice on the golf course. With Kite, Penick would point toward the
range. It was fitting that some 42 years later Crenshaw would be Kite's
presenter in St. Augustine and that they could laugh about the old days.
"Every part of his game works together," Crenshaw said. "That's what
he's made his life work to be. There haven't been too many people to
outwork Tom Kite."