CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Palmetto Golf Club has a lot to root for in Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship.
While native son Kevin Kisner tries to hold onto a one-shot lead and win his first major championship, his best friend and Aiken neighbor, Scott Brown, will be shooting for his first Masters invitation if he can’t catch the leader.
With his second consecutive under-par round, Brown climbed into a tie for seventh at 2-under par, five shots behind his regular practice partner at Palmetto and just three shots out of fourth place. The top four finishers and ties earn a spot in the 2018 Masters.
“There’s a lot of people up there,” Brown said of the 15 players in red figures through three rounds at Quail Hollow. “I need to go out there and play a really good round (Sunday). Three- or 4-under would go a long way.”
That both Kisner and Brown are playing well on the same venue should come as no surprise to anybody who’s seen them play. They play virtually identical games and share the same swing coach, John Tillery. Their similarities were on display when they teamed up together to reach a playoff in New Orleans in April.
“If you look at our history, we play well at a lot of the same places together,” Kisner said. “We have similar games and I think it’s very beneficial here. I’m sure JT is hammering him about the same things that JT and I are talking about.”
In fact, Kisner and Brown made a scouting trip to Quail Hollow together a month ago and played a practice round with their mutual coach along on Wednesday mapping out the same game plan to take advantage of the few holes they can be aggressive and be as precise as possible everywhere else.
“It’s just hard,” Brown said. “From where we’re playing from, we just can’t attack that much. We have to take our chances when we can. Hopefully (Sunday) I can hole some longer putts and get something going early. As soon as you go attacking from our range, it’s bogeys all day.”
Brown let one of those opportunities get away late Saturday or he might already be sitting a shot closer to his Masters goal. On the par-5 15th, he got a break after a bad drive, earning relief from casual water that allowed me to hit up the fairway instead of pitch out sideways.
Unfortunately, he hit a fat pitch from 60 yards that came up 30 feet short and he three-putted for bogey on one of the easiest holes.
But he’s not complaining. At age 34, this is only Brown’s fourth start in a major and his third in the PGA Championship in four years (he couldn’t play last year with a rib injury). His only previous made cut was a tie for 46th in the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits.
So what’s the difference this week?
“Just familiar with the course more than anything,” Brown said. “Been here a bunch. Certain golf courses just fit our eyes good and this happens to be one of them.”
As much as Brown will aim to reel in his friend and lift the Wanamaker Trophy himself, that top-four threshold and the Masters invite that comes with it is a huge motivation. To say playing at Augusta National has been a lifelong goal is not an exaggeration for a golfer who literally grew up 200 yards away from the gate. His childhood home where his 85-year-old grandparents still live on Stanley Drive is actually the last property standing in what is now the tournament parking lot inside the perimeter of the new Berckmans Road.
Herman and Elizabeth Thacker will likely be watching Sunday from their three-bedroom house they built in 1959 and Brown still visits at least once a week every time he’s in town.
“My grandad use to travel a lot but they don’t come out here anymore,” he said. “Afraid Augusta might knock their house down.”
One more good round and Brown might finally get through the gates of his dream major.
“As good as he can hit he’ll have every opportunity to finish in the top four,” Kisner said. “I don’t know how many under he stands but if he puts a solid round together (Sunday) he’ll take care of business.”
Brown feels the same way about Kisner, who he says has been “ball-striking the course to death” this week.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he won,” Brown said. “We’ve both got to go out and do it. There’s some guys up there who have a lot of experience and have played well. He’s going to have to go out there and play well to win, but he’ll do it.”
If it happens, Sunday will shape up as the greatest day in Palmetto’s 125-year history.