By Andrew Both
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Kevin Kisner transformed his game three years ago to turn himself from a battler into one of the world’s best golfers.
He has risen to 25th in the world rankings without much fanfare, but his relative anonymity will change if he continues his sizzling form at the PGA Championship, where he was tied with Hideki Matsuyama for the halfway lead at eight-under 134 on Friday.
Kisner realized in his first two years on tour that he was not good enough to compete with the world’s best, so he went back to the drawing board with coach John Tillery and focused on improving his long game.
“I was never a great ball striker. I came out here and saw how well other guys hit it and I was like, ‘I’ve got no chance the way I’m hitting it',” said the 33-year-old from nearby South Carolina after his second successive 67 at Quail Hollow.
“I knew if I ever got confident in my ball-striking I could win, because I’m competitive and pretty good around the greens. Once I started seeing results with the long game, then I had a great year in (2015).”
Kisner now has two PGA Tour victories under his belt, and four other playoff losses, but he entered the PGA Championship without a great record in his 11 previous major starts.
“I’ve been upset with how I’ve played in the majors so far... but every year you learn more about how to approach them... They are not much fun unless everything is working out for you.”
Kisner fits the stereotypical image of what the Americans call a 'good 'ol southern boy', enjoying hunting and fishing with his buddies when he's back home -- and not talking about golf.
“I love my core group of friends at home that they don’t ask me why I made a bogey on the last hole that cost me 20 grand or anything like that. They don’t pester me about golf and we just hang out and have a couple of beers on the back porch.”
Kisner, whose brother-in-law is a founding member of Quail Hollow, still lives in the unglamorous town where he was born, Aiken, South Carolina, just across the border from Augusta, Georgia.
“When I was playing mini-tours and was broke, that’s the only place I could afford to buy a house and I went back there,” he said, adding he had no plans to move. “I love it.”
As he sleeps on Friday night pondering his share of the lead, Kisner knows the job is far from done.
“The next step is competing and winning major championships. I think a big step is just understanding that no lead is safe.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)