Kurt Kitayama’s days of going unnoticed at the Arnold Palmer Invitational may end after shooting a second-round 68 to grab a two-shot lead.
On a windy day at Bay Hill, the 30-year-old UNLV alumnus carded five birdies and just one bogey. Jordan Spieth sits alone in second place at seven under par for the competition, followed by Xander Schauffele and Corey Conners at six under.
“There’s no gimme holes,” Kitayama said after the round. “You feel like you’re always on edge, playing to the safe side and can’t really feel like you’re in attack mode at all. So it’s just, it’s tough. Mentally it’s just grinding.”
Despite the difficulty of the round, Kitayama’s home base of Las Vegas has provided him a strange advantage in the windy circumstances.
“I was playing with Collin [Morikawa] last week and it was probably like 40 degrees and blowing 20 or so,” Kitayama said. “It was actually snowing. It was crazy. It was, like, now we’re prepared for anything. Whatever comes at us, we’ll be ready,” Kitayama said with a laugh.
In Vegas, Kitayama teams up with other PGA Tour players besides Morikawa. Along the way, he spends time with Schauffele, who shares information on the Arnold Palmer Invitational leader.
“Yeah, Kurt, we call him Quadzilla or the Quadfather. He’s got really big legs,” Schauffele revealed. “So I call him ‘Quadz’ with a Z at the end. He’s a good dude. He’s a really good player. He hangs tough and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. So not surprised to see him up there on the leaderboard.”
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Schauffele mentioned Kitayama’s distance off the tee when asked about his friend’s advantages on the course. Kitayama, who is only 5’7″, finished last season’s PGA Tour driving distance rankings in 20th place.
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In the past year, Kitayama, who has played professional golf worldwide, has faced off against several top Tour players and had close calls. He’s only in his second season as a PGA Tour player, but he’s already establishing a name for himself.
At the 2022 CJ Cup, Kitayama came in second to Rory McIlroy, and a few months earlier, he lost to Schauffele at the Genesis Scottish Open. In May at the Mexico Open, Kitayama also tied for second place with Jon Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world.
At the beginning of his professional career, Kitayama, a native of Chico, California, failed to achieve success on the Korn Ferry Tour. As a result, he switched to the Asian Tour, where he eventually qualified for the European Tour. Kitayama won twice after eleven starts, setting a record for the fastest golfer to win twice on the European Tour.
“Not finding success early here was, yeah, it’s disappointing, but it took me somewhere else to grow,” Kitayama said of his first few years as a professional golfer. “And it was growing more than just in golf, really. You get to experience the different cultures, travel. I mean, you find yourself in some interesting spots. Places that you probably wouldn’t ever go. So I think just as a person I was able to grow.”
This weekend at Bay Hill, Kitayama will try to win his first PGA Tour tournament as he pursues further professional development.
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