On a Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last month, 10,077 people
packed Coleman Coliseum to watch what was no ordinary dual
gymnastics meet. The Alabama women's team, ranked second in the
country, was hosting defending NCAA champ UCLA.
The lead performer sets the tone for a gymnastics team, and in
the floor exercises the Crimson Tide led off with a sophomore who
isn't the flashiest athlete on the squad but is dedicated and
consistent. The 20-year-old business major, who is as solid in
the classroom (a 4.0 grade point average through her first three
college semesters) as she is performing in the arena, came
through. All of her scores counted toward the team's point total,
including a personal best 9.825 in the vault, and Alabama scored
a big win over the Bruins.
She is Stephanie Kite, the daughter of Tom Kite, who didn't
invent dedication and consistency on the PGA Tour but came to
symbolize those traits during a highly successful 31-year career
as a Tour regular. A man's character is often reflected in his
children's, and you can learn all you need to know about Tom
through Stephanie and his twin sons, David and Paul, 17.
"Steph has Tom's competitive nature and determination," says
Christy Kite, Tom's wife of 26 years. "Tom and I are fairly
classic type A personalities. We're organized, we make lists. Tom
likes to say, 'If it's not on my calendar, it doesn't exist,' and
he means it. Steph is a fantastic student and very
well-organized. I guess that's in the genes."
At five Stephanie took a city recreation gymnastics class, liked
it and moved on to more advanced programs. As a high school
junior she was a Junior Olympic champion in the vault for her
Austin club. At Alabama she competes on a deep and talented
squad that went 12-3 in dual meets over the winter, lost the
Southeastern Conference title to Georgia by one tenth of a point
but remained No. 2 in the rankings, behind UCLA, going into this
week's NCAA regionals. "It's always exciting toward the end,"
Stephanie says. "This is what you work for all year."
Her father is thinking the same thing about a tournament next
week in Augusta. For the first time in four years, the event is
on his calendar. For the first time in four years, the Masters
exists for Tom Kite.
It's funny that Kite became the oldest competitor to play his
way into the Masters. A stunning final-round 64 in the U.S. Open
at Southern Hills last summer lifted him into a tie for fifth
and guaranteed him a Masters invitation. "I never thought I'd
get back in," Kite says. "I'm proud of that finish at the Open.
Tie for the second-lowest round ever shot at a U.S. Open? At 51?
The course didn't give up many good scores that week, and I got
one of them. I was pretty pleased."
The Open route was one of the few roads left for Kite to take
back to Augusta. "I'm sure he needed to get back to the Masters
so he could try to win it, not so he could play ceremonially,"
says Davis Love III, who was mentored by Kite when Love first
came on Tour in 1986. "When he was 49, his goal wasn't to be on
the Senior tour; it was to make the Ryder Cup team. Tom wants to
stay competitive in the majors for the rest of his life. He
doesn't want to quit at 55 or 56. He is so determined to get the
most out of his game, the way he always has, it's almost hard to
David had a good weekend by any high school junior's standards.
He flew to Augusta on a Friday afternoon, hit balls on the
Augusta National practice range with his dad and had dinner in
the clubhouse. He bunked in one of the club's cabins and the
next morning played 18 holes with his dad; Dave Phillips, Tom's
coach; and John Harris, a former U.S. Amateur champion who is an
Augusta member. Then the foursome played the first 10 holes
again, jumped to the par-5 15th and played in to the clubhouse.
Father and son hopped on a plane and got to Tuscaloosa in time
to watch Stephanie and Alabama knock off UCLA. On Sunday morning
David and Tom were back in Augusta for more golf. They got in 27
holes, playing the back nine twice, but couldn't return to
Austin without a quick match on the nine-hole par-3 course.
"I asked what he thought of the course," says Christy, "and David
said, 'I knew it was hard, but boy, is it hard!' Dinner at the
club, the whole atmosphere--everything. David was definitely
awestruck." David, a scratch player, didn't break 80, but he did
birdie the par-5 13th hole twice and parred the devilish par-3
12th all three times. When his putt on the 16th green rolled 40
feet past the pin, Harris told him that the greens would be three
or four feet faster during tournament week.
Augusta's greens were not as challenging as pursuing a golf
career is when your dad is Tom Kite. David will be compared with
his father for as long as he plays the game. "At this point David
is not as driven as Tom is," says Christy, who quickly added,
"Well, that's not a fair comparison. No one is as driven as Tom."
At 5'8" and 135 pounds David looks like his dad, moves like him
and has a similar outgoing personality. A picture of David hangs
on a clubhouse wall at Austin Country Club because he's the
current junior club champion. Cover up the date, though, and
you'd swear it was a shot from Tom's high school yearbook. "He's
not as good a player as I was at 17," says Tom, "but his swing
mechanics are significantly better than mine were, so his
potential is probably greater. He's progressing nicely."
David has yet to win a match against his dad. "It's definitely
getting to me," the teenager admits. "I've been so close, it's
not even funny." He recalled one match in which Tom was one over
par and David was two under with two holes to play. Tom finished
birdie-birdie, David bogey-bogey. "Dad says it's going to take
longer than I think, but it will be sooner than he wants," David
says. "He's not going to let it happen if he can help it, but I
think it might happen this summer."
There have been no significant tournament victories yet for
David, although his most exciting moment came when he holed a
seven-iron shot two years ago during a televised father-son
Silly Season event. This year it was no small feat just to make
the varsity for West Lake High, a school that has racked up
three Texas 5A championships since 1996. David's got the golf
bug...bad. He's usually on the 1st tee at Austin Country Club
within minutes of finishing the school day. He wants to play
college golf and maybe become a pro. When he was in Augusta,
David got a look at the Crow's Nest--the rooms in the clubhouse
where amateurs who qualify for the Masters usually stay--and
decided, "I want to be there someday."
Kite is only five years removed from his third runner-up finish
at the Masters. "I scared the hell out of Tiger that year," Kite
says jokingly about his finish, 12 shots behind Woods's 1997
tournament-record total of 270, 18 under par. Another Kite joke
is his stock answer for questions concerning what it takes to
win a major: "First, you've got to enter." As he slides ever
closer to playing the Senior circuit exclusively, that little
joke has never been more apropos.
From 1976 through '86 Kite placed sixth or better in nine of 11
Masters. He has a dozen top 10 finishes overall, including a
heartbreaking tie for second in '86, when Jack Nicklaus put
together a stunning run at the end to win by a stroke. "What are
the odds of anybody, including Jack, playing the last 10 holes
in seven under par? Give me a break," Kite says. "Jack shoots 30
on the back, even with a bogey at 12. It was ridiculous, the
stuff that he did. That was a tournament where I did what I was
supposed to do to win. I remember it like it was yesterday. I
had 169 yards at 18. I wasn't sure I could get a six-iron there
but absolutely killed it, hit a beautiful shot over the bunker
to 10 feet. That putt puts me in a playoff with Jack. I've got a
birdie on 18 and momentum, and he's coming out of Butler Cabin.
Who knows what would've happened?"
Kite's subsequent comment at the time sums up his career of
Masters near misses: "I made the putt. It just didn't go in."
On his first day of high school Paul Kite told his mother he was
staying after school to attend a forensics meeting. "I was so
stupid, I was thinking Quincy, M.E.," recalls Christy, referring
to the old TV show about a medical examiner. "I said, 'Forensics?
What are you talking about?' I knew he wasn't a scientist type."
In this case forensics was a competition in acting, speaking and
debating. Paul jokes that he plays in the NFL, but he means the
National Forensics League. In a family of type A personalities,
he is the square peg. "We're not real sure where Paul came from,"
Christy says jokingly. "He's not like anyone else in this
family." Paul and David are not identical twins; in fact, David
and Stephanie look more alike than David and Paul. There's
another significant difference between the brothers: "Paul has no
interest in golf," Tom says. "He is a wonderfully gifted kid with
the ability to entertain people. He's not afraid of performing."
What began as a 10-year-old's visit to an acting group for
children has evolved into a passion for the stage. Last spring
he was in a one-act-play competition, performing in You Can't
Take It with You, and his team won the district championship. In
his school's recent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream,
Paul played the key role of Bottom and stole the show. Last
month he and a partner finished fourth in a state tournament for
Love Letters, a dramatic comedy about two pen pals whose lives
are revealed through their correspondence. Comedy is Paul's
specialty, but this semester he won the lead role of Constantine
in The Seagull, a drama. "It's different from anything I've ever
done," he says. Paul typically doesn't get home from rehearsals
until 8 or 9 p.m. "When Steph was here, she was almost never
home," Paul says. "She'd get home from gymnastics at nine, do
her homework, go to bed, wake up and go to school. I think I'm
turning into her. I may have to leave my parents a note: I'm
Maybe this apple didn't really fall that far from the tree. Tom
played himself in an episode of The Simpsons. "Anyone can read a
line," he says of his own acting experience. Tom has also
appeared in a few commercials for the Senior tour, including the
one in which veteran players ring his doorbell, then hide in the
bushes when he comes to the door. "He's a natural in front of
the camera," says Paul, who also gives his dad high marks for a
recent stint as Mother Ginger in the Austin Ballet's 2001
production of The Nutcracker. In one scene Tom pulled a golf
glove from his red satin purse and a club from beneath his large
red skirt and pretended to hit balls during a dance number.
"He'd hold up four fingers to indicate 'Fore!' He was good,"
Paul says. "The audience loved him."
Paul plans to study drama and theater in college, perhaps at a
school in the Northeast. "Even if I end up being a lawyer or a
businessman, which I don't see happening, I'm going to keep
acting," he says. "I'll be in a community theater somewhere
because, you know, I don't think I can stop."
Kite played in his first Masters in 1971, but he would be
disappointed if you suggested that this year's tournament might
be his farewell to Augusta. He expects to play well enough to
earn an exemption for next year. (The top 16 finishers get
invited back.) He's an achiever, not an overachiever, and has
already won two Senior events this year. "People call it a work
ethic, but golf has never been work to me," Kite says. "It's
something I love to do. When you're 10 years old and you're
playing 36 holes a day in the summer, hitting balls, putting
until your back hurts, you don't think of it as work. When
you're an adult and you do the same thing, they say you've got a
great work ethic. Arnold Palmer is 72, and he's not working at
golf. He's playing at it."
That passion is what Kite has passed on to his children. "That's
the trick, find something you're passionate about and fall in
love with it," he says, adding how glad he is that his children
have already done so.
They also share a passion for their dad's golf, and every family
member intends to see at least one round of the Masters next
week. "In 1997 it was Dad's last year of being exempt for the
Masters because he had won the U.S. Open," says Paul, "and I
remember Mom saying, 'If he never comes back, I want my kids to
be able to experience the Masters.' It's the first one I
remember going to. Dad was playing well, but not incredibly
well, and he finished second. We didn't see it coming. As soon
as we saw his name go up on the leader board, though, with all
those red numbers, wow. Some guy in the crowd figured out that I
was Tom Kite's son. He turned to me and said, 'That's something
you'll remember for the rest of your life,' and it really is.
Seeing his name on the board was very cool. Augusta is my
More than three decades after his first visit, Tom feels the
been work to me."
10 holes in seven under? Give me a break," Kite says of the '86