From chasing Tiger Woods’ three wins in a season by an American on the European Tour to being able to see the world alongside friends, rookie Kurt Kitayama takes centre stage in this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
As I aim for my third win this season, people have reminded me about Tiger Woods’s record of being the only American to have won three times on the European Tour in one season. To be mentioned alongside him is cool but I'm sure he played a lot more events than I've done this season. He was an idol of us all growing up and it’s one of the few times I've been starstruck all season, seeing Tiger at events. I've been fortunate to play in some big events but when you see him in the players’ lounge or on the range I still get super nervous. We were hitting balls next to each other at The Open Championship this year which was super cool. You want to look but at the same time you don't, you just want to play it cool.
This time last year I had lost my status on the Korn Ferry Tour and went to Second Stage Q-School on the European Tour. David Lipsky, a good friend of mine, convinced me to try the European Tour. Once you come to Europe it's hard to go back. I had a good year on the Asian Tour and rode that momentum into Qualifying School. For me, it was just another opportunity to play on a big Tour. Q-school is like nothing else. There's so much pressure and you're playing for your job. It's a grind!
Rolex Series events definitely feel bigger. I've had some solid finishes at the BMW PGA Championship and more recently at the Italian Open, which was nice as I struggled in the other events earlier in the season. Good finishes in big events like the Rolex Series gives you a lot of confidence. I remember Abu Dhabi, my first Rolex Series Event, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I was suddenly playing in a tournament with a purse of $7m. To be around star players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka shows how far I've come in the last year. I'm playing in big events which is cool.
I wanted to win at the start of the year and I've had to reset my goals now for the remainder of the season. My aim is to try and sneak into the top five in the Race to Dubai Rankings and cap off a great season.
What I most enjoy about the European Tour is being able to see the world. A lot of my friends haven't even been outside the United States and don't even have a passport. My season has been wild from a travel perspective and I’ve had some amazing new experiences. I've grown as a player and a person, travelling the world. I've loved cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and countries like Germany and Italy were amazing. I try and make time to see the sights which make it a lot of fun.
My advice for young college golfers in the States would be to come out and see the world. Give Q-school a go. It's a great experience and such an amazing opportunity to travel to some incredible places in the world.
Having David (Lipsky) with me on my journey has helped a lot. He's been out here for a couple of years now and knows where to stay and places to eat, which makes traveling from event to event a lot easier. Him and Alex Kang convinced me to head out there. For that whole year I was travelling and practicing with those guys and we became good friends.
David and myself both live in Las Vegas where I went to college. I've made it home five or six times this year. This stretch now is probably the longest I’ve been on without going home. By the time I finish in Dubai it will almost be two months! I took the week of Portugal off but given the time difference when travelling to China, I decided to stay in Europe. I visited friends in Prague for a couple of days then went to Bangkok as I knew I could practice out there.
I've always hit it pretty long. Some media suggested I was pound for pound one of the longest on Tour but I haven't really thought about it. I've fortunately never really had to worry about distance as I've always had it. My club head speed is about 120 mph.
To set the record straight, I no longer have a superstition and preround ritual of eating candy before every round. This was something I did in the last year of college and I went out and played well. After that, I did it a few times but haven't done it for a while. The sweets were sour patch kids and some sour gummies.
Basketball was my first passion. Even when I was recruited for the golf team I was still into my basketball. In truth, I kept playing as long as I could but deep down I knew I could go further in golf. I miss it but the less and less I play the easier it gets. I haven't played for a couple of years now. In college I played inter-middle basketball, which some of my golf coaches weren't too happy about but I learned how to play smart to avoid injury. It's tough to follow the NBA or any American sports when I travel so much around the world, but I try and keep my eye on the score lines.
I like playing Fortnite on the PlayStation 4 in my downtime. It's an easy way to stay in touch with friends back home - playing online. Sadly, I don't take the PS4 out much on Tour. There's only room for one - the Trackman or PS4!