Schmitt: Lessons I learned in 2021 from Jason Kokrak, Patrick Cantlay (and his caddie), and Keith Mitchell

What makes working for one of the world’s largest news organizations (Gannett/USA Today) covering the world’s greatest game as exhilarating as a thrill ride atop a Vegas casino is the uninterrupted news cycle.

There is no true downtime. No actual silly season. When the PGA and LPGA tours are slow, there’s a bevy of captivating amateur and college stories to sift through. When that tapers off, there’s always a new course to dig into, a new swing technique to consider, or a groundbreaking piece of equipment that might just transform you from weekend warrior to Champions Tour contender.

And while it’s easy to get self-indulgent about your own year around this great sport — OK, I’ll play along, I roughed things up at Olympic Club, Bay Hill, Torrey Pines (with Mike Whan), Austin Country Club, TPC Scottsdale, Houston’s Memorial Park, and Whispering Pines, among others in 2021 — what I truly appreciate are the lessons we learn along the way.

For example, our Beth Ann Nichols considered one of her 2021 highlights a conversation she had with 94-year-old legend Shirley Spork, one that illustrated the absurdity of this sport we love:

“Golf is a game that in four and a half hours you’re a star; you’re a bum; you’re average,” Spork said. “In 18 holes, you’re all those things. Golf is not a game of perfect, it’s a game of playable misses.”


And while I only attend a handful of events, leaving the coverage heavy lifting to stars like Nichols, Steve DiMeglio, Adam Schupak, Eamon Lynch and David Dusek, I was reminded of a few key lessons while pitching in:

Jason Kokrak (USA) and Kevin Na (USA) react during the final round of the 2021 QBE Shootout, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, at Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla. 2021 QBE Shootout final round.

From Jason Kokrak:

Laugh at the highs, and the lows

My question came out awkwardly. Moments after he’d captured the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open, his third PGA Tour victory overall and second in the state of Texas, I pointed out to Jason Kokrak how horribly he’d played the back nine at Memorial Park through the first two rounds.

Since he lit up the back on Sunday, he must have figured out something along the way, right?

I opened with, “not just the Saturday morning debacle that you had, but you didn’t play the back very well in your first round either.”

Kokrak sat up a bit.

“Easy with ‘the debacle,’ ” Kokrak replied, looking sternly my way.

A few seconds later, the 6-foot-4 Ohio resident let out a hearty Midwestern laugh.

“Yeah … it was a debacle,” he said with a wide smile. “I got into some uncomfortable situations for me and I compounded the problem myself, but I tried not to let that bug me.”

To follow Kokrak on a Sunday is

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By: Tim Schmitt
Title: Schmitt: Lessons I learned in 2021 from Jason Kokrak, Patrick Cantlay (and his caddie), and Keith Mitchell
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Published Date: Fri, 24 Dec 2021 13:00:12 +0000

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