Tom Kite won golf money title, only one victory. Now game's steadiest player , he's shooting for more wins
Tom Kite, having established himself as the steadiest player in golf last season, found it easy to make a new year's resolution. He wants to win more tournaments in 1982.
Last year the affable Texan became the first man to take home the money title with only one victory, earning $375,699 in 26 starts and going over $1 million for his career.
His consistency was almost confounding.
In addition to winning the Inverrary tournament, the frizzy-haired, 11-year veteran was second three times and third three more. Twenty-one weeks he finished in the top 10, and he never missed a 36-hole cut.
The awards came tumbling in. The golf writers named him their player of the year. Golf Digest designated him the TPA tour's most improved performer. He won the Vardon Trophy for low-stroke average, with a 69.8 figure.
But Kite, true to his nature, was not satisfied. He spent much of the off-season working on his swing, traveling to Florida early in the year to train under the discerning eyes of teaching professionals Bob Toski and Peter Kostis and contain a ''flying-right elbow.''
''It's nice to be known as a consistent player,'' he says, ''but I want to be called a consistently good player. I'm not as worried about it as some people, because I feel that every time I play it's a learning experience. It's just a matter of time before I win more. I was better last year than the year before, and I'm prepared to pay the price to get better.''
Kite came about as close as you can in his first 1982 start, the Bob Hope Desert Classic, closing with a 66 to tie Ed Fiori for first place. The latter holed a 35-foot putt on the second hole of the sudden-death playoff, however, relegating Tom to still another runner-up finish.
In his next two outings, he continued to show the consistency that has become his trademark - finishing in a solid tie for 13th place at the Phoenix Open, then just missing again this past weekend, when he tied for third behind Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus at the San Diego Open.
Toski believes his star pupil is the hardest worker in the game, perhaps the hardest worker since Ben Hogan, who often beat practice balls until it was too dark to follow their trajectories.
''Tom is an amazing success story,'' Toski says. ''He has gone from being just an ordinary tour player to being a fine player who is on the verge of being a super player. He's done it by making fundamental changes in his swing to hit the ball farther and straighter.
''A lot of students I teach wait for things to happen. Tom Kite goes out and makes them happen.''
Kite has just average physical dimensions of 5 ft., 81/2 in., and 155 pounds - and that's after a gourmet dinner. With a rebuilt swing that essentially enables him to keep the club on a good plane, Kite has added 15 yards to his tee shots and now drives the ball 260 yards; not prodigious, but far enough.
Kite, a new father, is committed to the work ethic, but his disposition is invariably pleasant. He's one of the friendliest men in the game, a delight to be paired with in a pro-am round. ''I'm still gaining confidence and maturity. The effort pays dividends.'' Spoken like the business-management major he was at the University of Texas, where he and teammate Ben Crenshaw shared the NCAA championship one year.
The two have been companionable rivals since their early teens, when they were learning the game at Austin Country Club. Great expectations always followed the wonderfully talented Crenshaw, while Kite was never given much of a chance to make the tour, let alone come close to dominating it.
The attention given Crenshaw and his early success as a pro - he won the first tournament he entered, the Texas Open - have stimulated Kite more than he cares to admit. And now he has surpassed Crenshaw, who works at his game, but not with the same intensity as Kite. Crenshaw's swing is long and pretty, but not as ruthlessly honed and simplified as Kite's. It is not getting the same repeatable results.
''I'm just getting to the point,'' Kite says, ''where I feel I have a good golf swing that I can trust under any conditions. It holds up better than it has in the past.
''I've always been a pretty confident player, but I'm more confident now than I've ever been. That has to help in the long run.
''I'm still learning how to win, and obviously my goal is to win more tournaments. Doing that depends on a lot of other players and a lot of breaks, but if I continue to get in position to win often enough, sooner or later I'll win more.''
Sums up his mentor, Bob Toski: ''He's worked very hard at improving his swing , and he's reaching a level of self-confidence that every good player arrives at , if he's going to reach the top. He can quit worrying so much about the fundamentals of his swing and just go out and make a number. That's the attitude you have to cultivate if you're going to win big.''
This Kite is flying high, and he plans to fly even higher.