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Player Spotlights: Rahm, Cantlay, Stroud, Armour, Kizzire, and Cook

December 26, 2017, 1:29 PM HST · Updated December 26, 1:32 PM
Nikki Schenfeld · 0 Comments
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Kapalua’s Plantation Course will host more than 30 PGA pros at the Sentry Tournament of Champions January 3 to 7, 2018. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

For first-time PGA TOUR winners, the thrill of winning comes with a big check, a two-year exemption, and the opportunity to head to Maui for the winners-only field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions which will be held Jan. 3-7, 2017 in Kapalua.

Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Chris Stroud, Ryan Armour, Patton Kizzire, and Austin Cook all will be making the trip for the first time after earning their spot in the field at Kapalua with victories during the 2017 calendar year.

This installment of the Countdown to Kapalua looks back on these first-timers’ victories.

Jon Rahm (Farmers Insurance Open) – First Appearance

In what is sure to be the first of many wins on the PGA TOUR, Rahm holed a winding, 60-foot eagle putt on the 72nd hole at the Farmers Insurance Open to secure his first win. Rahm, the No. 4 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, was once ranked the No. 1 amateur in the world and has already risen inside the top five in the world on the strength of 15 top-10s in his first 36 PGA TOUR starts.

With his first victory in hand, Rahm earned his spot in the field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui.

“I’m just so happy it finally happened,” Rahm said after his victory. “I was close a couple of times and just happy today that towards the end the putts just went in the hole. Just extremely happy.”

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Patrick Cantlay (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open) – First Appearance

In one of the more inspiring stories of 2017, 25-year-old Cantlay, the once promising prodigy stalled by injury, overcame a series of physical and mental setbacks for his first career victory on the PGA TOUR with a par on the second playoff hole at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

After being out of golf for three years with a severe back injury, Cantlay’s dramatic comeback began with a runner-up in only his second start back at the 2017 Valspar Championship.

Cantlay began the year on a major medical exemption but parlayed that runner-up into fully exempt status and a spot in the season-ending TOUR Championship with four top-10s in 13 starts. In only his second start of the 2017-18 season, he posted the victory in Las Vegas to secure his first trip to the Sentry Tournament of Champions – a trek that he hopes becomes commonplace on his schedule each year.

“Having won, I hope they pile up,” said Cantlay after his win. “I feel like getting your first one can sometimes be the toughest one to get, and I feel really good about my game, and hopefully I can start getting some more wins.”

Just two years after Cantlay shot a second-round 60 at the Travelers Championship, the lowest round by an amateur in PGA TOUR history, he found himself unable to swing a club after suffering a stress fracture in his back while warming up for the 2013 Dean & Deluca Invitational. Each comeback attempt brought another setback, but he never gave up.

“There’s not a lot of give up in me. I never really thought about giving it up,” said Cantlay after his victory. “I thought maybe there was a chance my back would never feel good enough to play again. But, fortunately, I feel great. I have a good program. I figured out a way to feel good all the time. It’s all good. I’m happy to be playing.”

Chris Stroud (Barracuda Championship) – First Appearance

After more than a decade on the PGA TOUR, Stroud won for the first time on the PGA TOUR in a three-man playoff at the Barracuda Championship. Stroud played his way into the playoff with a 5-wood to five feet for eagle on the 72nd hole, and then won the playoff with a two-putt birdie from 12 feet on the second playoff hole.

“I think it’s 289 events or something like that, 11 years I’ve waited for that,” said Stroud after his victory. “It’s got a great ring to it. So it’s definitely a dream come true for me. Since I was nine years old I knew I wanted to be on the PGA TOUR. Very grateful to win everything here — Barracuda, Montreux Golf Club, PGA TOUR.”

Now, Stroud will open 2018 for the first time in Maui for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Patton Kizzire (OHL Classic at Mayakoba) – First Appearance

Patton Kizzire held off Rickie Fowler down the stretch at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba for his first career victory on the PGA TOUR. After weather forced the field to play 36 holes on Sunday, Kizzire posted rounds of 66 and 67 on Sunday during a marathon day to edge out Fowler by one shot.

The 31-year-old had made it to the FedExCup Playoffs each of his first two seasons on the PGA TOUR but had yet to post a victory. In his 63rd career start, he got it. In addition to the two-year exemption, Kizzire earned his first trip to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he’ll arrive at the top of the FedExCup standings after posting a win and two additional top-10s in five starts during the fall portion of the 2017-18 season.

“I’ve been thinking about this moment for a long time. I haven’t thought about it since the last putt went in, but I’ve been thinking about the exemptions and the Masters and Maui and all that stuff that goes along with winning for a long time,” said Kizzire after his victory. “I’m really excited and it brings a big smile to my face to think about all those things. To be No. 1 on the FedExCup list, that’s huge. The FedExCup is a big deal to me. I haven’t been able to make it to the TOUR Championship in my first two years and that’s left a bad taste in my mouth. So I’m really excited to get a leg up and be No. 1 right now and be able to really try to push for that TOUR Championship.”

Ryan Armour (Sanderson Farms Championship) – First Appearance

After a 41-year wait, Armour is heading to Maui for the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time. The career journeyman finished 159th in the FedExCup standings a season ago and had to head back to the Web.com Tour to regain his PGA TOUR card during the Web.com Tour Finals. He did that with a runner-up finish at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, Ohio, where he went to college.

Fresh off the freedom of his return to the TOUR, Armour went on to win the Sanderson Farms Championship in only his second start after regaining his card. The victory, which came in Armour’s 105th career start on TOUR, was the culmination of years of a grind that resulted in some dark days in which he wondered if he should keep going in his quest to accomplish a childhood dream of winning on the PGA TOUR. Luckily, he did, and in return, he’ll be among the 34 players that tee it up in the winners-only field at Kapalua.

“Big monkey off my back, I’m not going to lie. There is a lot of emotions running through my head right now,” said Armour after his victory. “But, you know, it’s great. It’s job security for a few years, which I’ve never really had out here.”

Austin Cook (The RSM Classic) – First Appearance

From the time Cook was a kid, his dreams always involved one constant: Winning on the PGA TOUR. He made his dreams come true in November at The RSM Classic, and it was even better than he imagined.

“Better, it was way better, it was actually happening,” said Cook after his victory. “You always grow up thinking that you can do it, but actually being able to get the job done and perform and hold all the nerves down and still put in a good round especially in these conditions and on this golf course, I’m just so happy.”

In only his fourth start as a rookie since earning his PGA TOUR card via the Web.com Tour, he found the winner’s circle with a four-shot victory over J.J. Spaun. Now, Cook enters the 2018 calendar as the frontrunner for PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year honors with his first trip to Maui for the Sentry Tournament of Champions on the docket.

“My goal coming into the year was to win Rookie of the Year, and on a good path so far,” said Cook after his win. “Still a lot of golf to be played and a lot of opportunities for a lot of other guys, but now with this win and the FedExCup, my goal is to make a good, long, deep run into the FedExCup Playoffs and get to East Lake and try and perform there and compete and try and win the FedExCup.”

Nikki Schenfeld
Nikki joined the Maui Now team in 2016 as a writer/reporter/editor. Originally from Chicago, she has had internships with CBS2 Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Chicago where she had the opportunity to interview some of Chicago's best athletes. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2010 with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism. She moved to Maui in 2013.
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