Kevin Kisner of Aiken, S.C., has every reason to be comfortable this week at Charlotte’s first PGA Championship.
His parents grew up in Charlotte. His brother-in-law is a member at Quail Hollow Club. He grew up in the Carolinas before playing college golf at Georgia.
Thursday, playing measured, discretionary golf, Kisner tied Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen for the first-round lead with an afternoon 4-under 67.
Kisner’s familiarity with Quail Hollow, even with the renovations of a year ago, played a big factor in his round.
“There are about four or five holes I have to birdie to compete, and I birdied them all today,” Kisner, 33, said. “That’s kind of been my game plan: make a lot of pars and get to a par 5 or one of those short par 4s.
“I can do my wedge game and get it to 10 or 12 feet. That’s my plan. Other than that, I’m playing for par.”
Which holes, specifically, are prey for birdies?
“Seven, eight, 14, 15,” Kisner replied. “Throw one more in there: 18, easy birdie.”
Kisner understands the dangers – both new and old – in Quail Hollow’s layout. He’s wary of the Bermuda-grass rough that replaced rye grass in the past. That means he’s been willing to sacrifice some distance to stay in the fairway more.
“The rough’s brutal. I don’t care how far (others) hit it,” Kisner said. “If they are having 7- or 8-iron, it’s still going to be difficult to get on the green. The greens are so firm, you can’t control your spin.
“If I just keep hitting fairways, I’m going to like my chances.”
Olesen plays mostly on the European tour. He’s had two top-10 finishes in majors over his career, but never a top-5.
Olesen sees a pattern in how Quail Hollow now plays. It’s big challenge early in the course, then the “Green Mile” finishing holes. In between, there are scoring opportunities.
“I think 1 through 6 are definitely very, very tough,” Olesen said. “Then it sort of gets a little bit easier, but you still have to be careful that you don’t start relaxing and not really caring.”
Olesen said he has no intention of growing complacent. “Anything under par on this golf course is a good score,” he said.
Some fine-tuning requested on No. 4 green
Several golfers said the green on hole No. 4 needs more work.
Brooks Koepka made one of only two bogeys on his first-day card there.
“It's too undulating. I think if they had made the green a little bit flatter, it would have been a little bit better. But it's not,” said Koepka, who won the U.S. Open in June.
“Everyone's got to play it,” he added. “So it doesn't really bother me.”
Raleigh’s Grayson Murray, who shot a 68 Thursday and is one behind the leaders, also noted No. 4’s green as an issue.
“I think it’s definitely not like the other 17” greens, Murray said. “I played with Peter Uihlein today and he hit a shot. I think he hit a 7-iron and he landed 2 feet left pin high and it goes over the green and he makes 4. That’s a little absurd, maybe.”
Four who mattered
Grayson Murray: The Raleigh resident’s ascending into the top 100 world rankings after a confidence-building victory in Alabama.
Rickie Fowler: Yet to win a major, despite some near-misses, he’s two strokes off the lead.
Gary Woodland: He’s in the chase at 3 under. Never has the Kansan finished better than a tie for 12th at a major.
Jaysen Hansen: Proof positive how tough the back 9 is: He had three double-bogeys on holes 11, 13 and 16.
The 4-under, 67s by Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner is the highest first-round score in relation to par by a leader(s) in the PGA Championship since 2008.
▪ Burly Englander Andrew Johnson (nickname is “Beef”) withdrew with a shoulder injury after shooting a first-round 78.
▪ Dutch golfer Joost Luiten scored a hole-in-one on No. 4. He used a 6-iron.
▪ Charlottean Webb Simpson should be as familiar with the Quail Hollow layout -- old and new -- as any pro. That was of little help, when he shot 5 over, including a double-bogey on No. 12.
▪ Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner at Quail Hollow, was hot early with four birdies, but then he had a double-bogey on No. 14.
▪ John Daly’s best performance might have been before he teed off: Wednesday night he sang with Grammy Award winner Darius Rucker.
▪ South Korea’s Si-woo Kim withdrew with a back injury after shooting a 79.
▪ Whooo! Pro wrestler Ric Flair recorded the introduction to TNT’s opening-round coverage Thursday.
▪ Being a golf marshal can be risky business. Brooks Koepka’s tee shot hit a marshal Thursday, knocking him to the ground, bloodied.
▪ Twelve of the top 14 scores (2 under or better) were by U.S. players.
▪ Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a big day in the galleries at Quail Hollow.
They said it
“He had followed us quite a few rounds. He’s become a good friend and mentor.” – Jordan Spieth on having Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps in his entourage Thursday.
“It is strange playing a place you’ve played many a time as a regular tour event as a major championship..” – Paul Casey on Quail Hollow.
“I would like to play more over here, definitely. Always fun to play against the best guys.” – Olesen, when asked about playing in the United States.
“I’ve got to make up ground. If I’m five back at the start of the day, I’ve got to be less than five back after Friday.” – Spieth.
Scattered thunderstorms are likely Friday (a 70 percent chance). The projected high is 86 with winds expected to be between five and 10 mph.