Modest Kohles makes noise in professional golf

Two years ago, now-Sports Editor Ashley Robertson wrote an article where she interviewed then-junior golfer Ben Kohles. The article, titled “For love of the game,” detailed how little attention the golf team receives at the University. With only one home tournament, it is very difficult to develop a large following, even with the team’s national success.

But if people didn’t know Kohles in college, they should know him now.

Kohles made his professional debut this July and never looked back. Kohles was invited to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational on the Tour, because of his status as a three-time NCAA All-American, and shot 12 under par to defeat fellow rookie Luke Guthrie in a playoff.

Although it wasn’t the PGA Tour, Kohles is the only — that’s right, only — golfer ever to win on the Tour without any prior professional experience, and the first since 2007 to win his Tour debut. The win earned Kohles a modest $144,000 and propelled him to 13th on the Tour money list, the top 25 of whom are automatically awarded their PGA Tour cards for the subsequent season.

But maybe it was a fluke, right? Wrong.

After winning his first tournament, Kohles went on to compete in the next week’s Cox Classic. He didn’t need a playoff to win this time, shooting 24 under par to win by three strokes and become the only player in the history of the tour to win the first two tournaments in which he played. The kid is good.

After his first two tournaments the 22-year-old cashed a pair of checks totaling a cool $261,000, good enough for second on the money list. Talk about a starting salary, it makes me seriously consider giving up on applying to McIntire and instead start practicing golf 24/7.

After Kohles’ first two events, his play cooled off — but only slightly. In a remarkable rookie season Kohles made eight-of-10 cuts, finishing in the top 10 three times and top 25 four times.

When he was a junior at Virginia, Kohles told The Cavalier Daily, “A lot of kids strive for [the PGA Tour], but most of us know that only a very select few are going to make it.”

Well congratulations, Ben, you’ve made it. His $303,977 on the Tour put him eighth on the money list, guaranteeing him his PGA Tour card for next year.

But it won’t be his first PGA Tour event. After his first two wins, Kohles garnered so much buzz in the golf community that he earned and accepted a sponsor’s exemption to play in the 2012 Wyndham Championship.

Although he was making his PGA Tour debut, you wouldn’t have known it from how he played. Kohles made the cut in lieu of established Tour names such as John Daly, Rory Sabbatini, David Toms, and Lucas Glover. Sitting at one under entering the final day, it seems Kohles’ nerves may have got to him, as he went on to shoot four over par in the final round. Finishing three over for the tournament, Kohles tied with Tour veterans Stuart Appleby and Camilo Villegas for 70th out of the 75 golfers that made the cut.

The guy who didn’t even try out for his high school team as a freshman because he didn’t think he was good enough just won $10,296 on golf’s most competitive tour in the world.

After last Sunday’s final round of the Tour Championship, the foregone conclusion that Kohles was headed to the PGA Tour next year became official. Only a little more than five months after walking the Lawn for graduation, Kohles earned the admiration of the professional golfing world and likely the ire of any veteran golfers who have to return to the final year of Q-School to get their cards for next year.

There is nothing more pure ­— and perhaps clichéd — in sports than the athlete who plays not for the money or the fame, but for the love of the game. Too many modern professional athletes let the dollar signs and attention corrupt what may have been a genuine love of the game, yielding the obnoxious, washed up former superstar such as Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens.

I still refuse to cheer for Tiger Woods. My dad always says that it’s good for golf when Tiger wins, but I still hold out hope for poetic justice. As naïve as it sounds, I still believe Tiger deserves retribution for his vices.

As Ashley stated in her column, Kohles played for the love of the game at Virginia. The golf team didn’t have a huge fan base, and with fewer than five scholarships divided between the 11-man team, he didn’t play for the free ride either.

That’s the kind of athlete you want to see ultimately succeed.

So far Kohles has won the right way — with class and genuine enthusiasm. He loves what he does for a living and it shows.

I’m not a golf analyst, but my advice to Ben is simple: Stay gold. True sports fan will appreciate it.

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