Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Securing the famed green jacket around one's shoulders is the dream of elite golfers who gather each spring in Augusta to partake in the annual Masters event.
The names of notable winners is legendary with the likes of Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods among the most noted champions.
But there are also standout players unable to finish ahead of others but whose overall career is exemplary.
Tom Kite had a stellar pro golf career. The Texan won the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach under demanding final round conditions and his record at Augusta National in 26 Masters appearances produced 12 top ten finishes, 9 top fives and three runner-up positions. The most agonising came in the 1986 event when, faced with a 7-foot birdie putt to tie Jack Nicklaus at the final hole, the effort just missed left.
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004, Kite won 19 times on the PGA Tour and Captained Team USA in the 1997 Ryder Cup Matches, the same year the then 47-year-old finished second to Tiger at The Masters.
In 94 rounds at Augusta National Kite's scoring average was a most impressive 72.36 and is fourth best among completing 75 to 99 rounds. In 26 appearances he missed the cut just five times and during his prime competitive years was a consistent performer on the PGA Tour , spending 175 weeks ranked among the world's top ten players from 1989 to 1994.
A student of famed legendary teacher Harvey Penick, Kite was a standout collegiately at the University of Texas where he paired with friend and rival Ben Crenshaw whom he shared the individual NCAA golf title with in 1972.
Few people who have ever walked the fairways at Augusta National have a better sense of the Masters and what it means to be in the hunt for the famed Green Jacket.
Your first impression of Augusta National when you came to the course was what?
As like most everyone who first steps on the grounds, I was shocked at how hilly and steep the course was. Lots of elevation change over those 250+ acres.
It's been said Augusta National favors longer hitters but your performance record at the Masters is stellar including 12 top ten, nine top five and three runner-up finishes. Given the course upgrades that have been since carried out do you believe a Tom Kite in his prime would still remain in the competitive mix today?
I believe that the top players, in any given era, would find a way to become an equally good player in a different era. What the top players have is the drive to find a way to get the desired results and will go to great lengths to get job done.
If you were offered a green jacket in a trade-off for your US Open title would you do it?
I prefer not to deal in hypotheticals. I’m extremely proud of my US Open win. I’m also proud of my record at The Masters, though obviously wish I had been able to convert one or two of my top finishes into wins.
As a practicing golf course designer, how do you view the changes made at Augusta National with inclusions such as the "second cut," trees being added at certain holes and some being significantly altered. Are those collective changes in the spirit of what Bob Jones and Alister MacKenzie envisioned and, if you were given the opportunity, would you have followed suit or done something completely different?
The game of golf has evolved in so many ways that few, if any, could have envisioned 90 or 100 years ago. The various “booms” where the game has experienced explosive growth has encouraged everyone in the game to try and improve the game. With the new golf equipment and the agronomic improvements no one can’t say the game has changed dramatically.
Golf design must follow suit. I would have no way to guess what Jones and MacKenzie would think of the chances to the original design. But I would have to assume given entirely different parameters 90 years later they would most likely have a different viewpoint that would possibly produce a different design.
Which are the most pivotal holes on each nine of Augusta National?
The second on the front because it’s an opportunity to get off to a good start and set the tone of the day. The 12th on the back because scores from 1 to 13 can happen, and have happened, under Masters pressure.
You have one mulligan to play again during your Masters career. Is it the final putt on the 18th green during the 1986 event or something else?
Again, I hate to deal with hypotheticals but the two shots I would have liked to execute slightly better would be the putt on the 18th in 1986 and the tee shot on the 12th in 1983.
The USGA and R&A have both stated that the ongoing path of longer distances being achieved through today's clubs and more specifically the golf ball, is not sustainable. As someone in the business of designing courses do you agree a sweeping remedial effort is needed and is bifurcation between what elite and recreational players play the only meaningful pathway going forward?
I think with the fact that the USGA and R&A have not acted quicker in changing the equipment specifications indicates that there is no need for “sweeping remedial” changes. If it was that obvious, the changes would have already been enacted. Our game has gone thru ups and downs, just like every industry, but currently we are in a time of growth, so one could come to the conclusion that the game is in a very good place.
Having said that, I would like to see a slight roll back to the equipment targeted at the top players. The current design gives more advantage to those with higher speed swings. I have to believe that given the great minds of the engineers and the amount of money in the game, that balls and clubs could be produced that give more benefit to the slower swings and less benefit to those with higher speeds.
Possibly the answer could be requiring significantly more spin on the ball. This would help the slower swing players get the ball airborne easier while producing more “ballooning” shots and more side spin for high-speed swings. But in either case, I’m definitely not a fan of bifurcation.
You played against Jack Nicklaus in his prime and were still competitive when Tiger Woods entered the scene in winning the '97 Masters. Given what you know about each of them, who was the greatest?
Different players, different generations. Both the best of their generation.
The four major championships are the pinnacle in golf. Rate them in order of importance.
Who cares, they’re all important.
You've got one round to play and three people to join you. What's the location and who makes up the threesome?
It would be a fivesome with my Dad, my two sons, Harvey Penick and myself at Pebble Beach.
Best advice you ever received – what was it and who was it from?
Harvey Penick: “Go to dinner with good putters."
When people look back at your playing career, how do you wish to be remembered?
An intense competitor who never took a day off from trying to be as good a player as he could be.