- Farrell Evans, Golf
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With a 318.6 driving average, 6-foot-4, 225-pound Jason Kokrak was the longest hitter in 2011 on the Nationwide Tour. After two wins this season, the 26-year-old Xavier (Ohio) University grad will get a chance next year to bomb it with the big hitters on the PGA Tour. In his own words, he talks about getting big-timed by another player as an 18-year-old kid at the 2007 U.S. Open, how to hit it long and bringing more fun to the PGA Tour.
I have been playing well for the last few years. I have been the leading money winner on the eGolf Tour for the last two years. It's all about finding a comfort level on the Nationwide and PGA Tour. Once I got comfortable, I was able to play well.
My dad, my granddad and great-grandfather were all single-digit handicap players. My dad joined Trumbull Country Club in Warren, Ohio, when I was 9 or 10 years old. That's when I really took a liking to the game. I never spent too much time at the pool like my friends. I was always at the practice facility working on my game. My family saw something in me early and they gave me as much opportunity as they could afford.
I was only about 5-foot-3 after my sophomore year in high school. Then I hit a growth spurt and by the middle of junior year I was about 6-foot. I had always been the little guy who didn't hit it far, but I had a good short game. When I got some length, the short game hung around and I started to develop as a player.
My dad sent me to see Dennis Miller at the Mill Creek G.C. in Canfield, Ohio. He gave me a couple of tips on how to use my physical attributes to hit the ball a little farther. And then once I got to college in the weight room, I continued to hit it farther and farther.
I beat my dad for the first time when I was 12 at the Avalon Lakes C.C. Dad, who never let me win at anything, told me that the first time I beat him he would pay me $100. When I finally did beat him, he paid me on the spot in front of all of his buddies. It was pretty fun. I shot 77 and he had about an 81.
I qualified as an 22-year-old for the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. On Friday on the 18th hole, my ninth hole of the day, I made a 9. I'm not making any excuses, but one of my shoelaces broke and so I slipped during a swing and hit my drive out of bounds. On the same hole, I hit a ball off the grandstand and it went out of bounds. I had to make a 20-footer just to make that 9.
I didn't get along with one of the guys I was playing with, but I can't remember his name. It was kind of a mutual thing. He gave me a hard time. He was the man and I was like this 18-year-old punk kid. Some people take that and they just want to put you in your place, and then there are some guys who really want to take you under their wings. But there are guys out there who want to beat you and put you in your place simply because you're a young kid.
Next year on the PGA Tour I would like to bring a little fun to the golf course. Everybody likes to have fun and you have to interact with the crowds. The PGA Tour is in the entertainment business. It's not just about us all the time. Golf has been looked at as this snobby game, but I'm a friendly guy and I like to have a good time as much as I can. But when it comes to crunch time, you have to get yourself in the zone.
I'm in the same wheelhouse as J.B. Holmes, Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland and Bubba Watson, in terms of length. I don't hit the ball high. I can hit it high if I need to, but my normal ball flight is a pretty low, boring flight. My average ball speed is about 180 mph, but I've gotten it up to the mid-190s when I was trying to really hit it hard. I can fly it about 305 yards.
To hit it long you have to have a great shoulder turn to get that coil or what's called the X-factor, where the shoulders out-turn the hips.
My club sponsor, Cleveland Golf, recently asked me what my goals are for 2012. I told them that I wanted to go out and play solid golf. Maybe not contend for a win in the first tournament. That would be great to put myself in that position, but I want to go out and play solid golf and make cuts. My second goal would be to make it to the Tour Championship.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Jason Kokrak. Think Dustin Johnson/Gary Woodland long off the tee and a guy who won twice on the Nationwide Tour this year. In 2012, he'll get his shot at the PGA Tour, writes ESPN.com's Farrell Evans.