Bad Boy Makes Good Will Jonathan Kaye's first Tour win help change his rough- edged image?

June 29, 2003

On Sunday, Jonathan Kaye won one of the PGA Tour's better
tournaments (the Buick Classic) on one of its most esteemed
courses (Westchester Country Club), but don't think he's about to
be accepted by the golf establishment. Rebel is too strong a word
to describe Kaye, 32, but he is blessed/cursed with the unusual
ability to go to work every day without the slightest concern for
what his colleagues think of him. "Well, you know, it's nice to
have people regard you highly," Kaye said following his first
Tour win, a rousing playoff victory over John Rollins, "but at
the same time there are a lot of people in this world. It's hard
to make everybody happy."

Kaye perfected his jaunty posturing on the public courses around
Denver, where he grew up, and with his soul patch and
ever-present wad of chewing tobacco, he delights in spitting in
the eye of the Tour's country-club image. Under Special Interests
in the Tour's media guide he once famously listed "floating in
the pool." This year's entries include "dog training" and
"jalapeno farming." Kaye's class-clown act occasionally lands him
in the principal's office, and the fines and reprimands delivered
by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem have contributed to Kaye's
stained reputation. In 2001 he was booed off the 18th green at
Pebble Beach after directing an obscene gesture at the gallery.
(Kaye had been heckled after he slammed his putter against his
bag.) He began last year under suspension, owing to a beef with a
security guard at the 2001 Michelob Championship, and didn't play
in his first event until February's Tucson Open. (Kaye, having
forgotten his player I.D., had become incensed when the
rent-a-cop denied him access to the locker room.) These are just
the most publicized stories. Everybody on Tour, it seems, has a
favorite tale about Kaye.

The sad thing is that this bad mojo has obscured a solid
all-around game. Kaye has finished in the top 80 on the Tour
money list four years running. Though a slight 5'11", 165 pounds,
he has grooved his idiosyncratic swing to the point at which he
has to be considered one of the Tour's best ball strikers. (Kaye
ranks 15th in total driving and 19th in greens hit in
regulation.)

Last year Kaye emerged as a serious Sunday threat. He held the
54-hole lead at Hartford but came out on the business end of a
final-round duel with Phil Mickelson, who shares Kaye's rascally
temperament but not his image problems. Two months later, at the
Reno-Tahoe Open, Kaye missed an eight-footer on the final green
that would have won the tournament, and he lost the ensuing
playoff to Chris Riley with a sloppy bogey. What did Kaye learn?
"It's really important to hit it in the fairway in a playoff," he
said last week.

Kaye slipped into Westchester having quietly tied for 10th at the
U.S. Open, his fourth Top 10 of the year. After two rounds he was
four strokes back of leader Briny Baird in a tie for fifth that
included Tiger Woods. When rain forced the postponement of most
of the third round, Kaye had to slog through 29 holes on Sunday,
on a bum knee no less. He was one shot behind Rollins playing the
uphill, par-5 18th. Kaye made a clutch up and down for birdie
from just off the green to force the playoff, and then, playing
the 18th again in sudden death, he ripped a perfect drive and
then a 254 yard hybrid iron to set up a decisive eagle.

In a lively press conference afterward Kaye insisted, "I'm a nice
guy," and of his peers he added, "I hope [the victory] changes
their perception of me." Everybody loves a winner, supposedly.
Kaye will put that old saw to the test.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHUCK SOLOMON [INSIDE COVER] Jonathan Kaye, The Tour Pro With a 'Tude, Breaks Through G17 SPECIAL KAYE HAPPY ENDING Kaye won the Buick Classic, his first Tour title, with a stylish playoff eagle. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON (KAYE) SUNDAY DRIVER Kaye became only the fourth player since 1970 to win a playoff with an eagle. B/W PHOTO: BETTMAN/CORBIS (VOIGHT) COLOR PHOTO: KATHY WILLENS/AP (BRIDGE) COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. (ROAD RUNNER) COLOR PHOTO: USGA (LOGO)

TRUST ME

Michelle Wie's win at the Women's Publinx is a great achievement,
but far more exciting is the prospect of her winning the men's
version, which brings an automatic spot in the
Masters.

THE NEW MATH USGA drops its plans to move its museum to New York
City

COUNTRY BOYS + BIG CITY REAL ESTATE + UNDUE HASTE = [USGA drops
its plans to move its museum to New York City]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)