PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Winning may create a positive attitude, especially for a professional golfer.
But hoisting a trophy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando has never been a sure recipe for success if the tournament the next week is the Players Championship.
This year will be the 20th time that the API was the week before the Players and Sunday’s winner at Bay Hill, Kurt Kitayama, will find a whole new set of challenges in front of him in his first appearance at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
Kitayama has learned to throttle down this season and he’ll find the need to do so even more often at the Stadium Course. Bay Hill historically has been where the big boppers have ruled but that edge is negated at the Stadium with its twists, turns, wind and water.
The last player to win at Bay Hill and the Players in back-to-back weeks was a fellow by the name of Tiger Woods.
He won at Bay Hill in 2001, the second of a run of four victories in a row at the API, then captured the Players by a shot over Vijay Singh. Woods followed his first victory at Bay Hill in 2000 with a solo second in the Players, one shot behind Hal Sutton.
Woods then tied for 14th at the 2002 Players and for 11th in 2003 following API victories. On eight occasions, an API winner has finished 14th or better at the Players a week later, and Woods did it four times.
Only one Bay Hill winner has finished among the top 10 in the Players since Woods in 2001 (when they were in consecutive weeks), Bryson DeChambeau in 2021. He was in the final group with Lee Westwood entering the final round on Sunday, double-bogeyed the par-4 fourth hole and never recovered, finishing in a tie for third.
Scottie Scheffler tied for 35th in the 2022 Players after winning at Bay Hill.
Prior to Woods, Tom Kite was the only man to win at Bay Hill and the Players in back-to-back weeks, in 1989.
The two tournaments haven’t always been in successive weeks. The PGA Tour has adjusted the Florida Swing on occasion and the first time they were back-to-back on the schedule was in 1988 when Paul Azinger won at the API, then tied for 30th at The Players, with Mark McCumber winning.
It happened 15 times over the next 19 years and the two events then had considerable distance between them when the Players went from March to May in 2007 until 2018.
Since the return of the Players to March in 2019, the two events, separated by only 147 miles, have returned to a neat one-two punch on the schedule.
The final log of Bay Hill winners at the Players the following week: two victories, four top-10s, five missed cuts.
The good news is that Kitayama appears on a track that shows control as well as brute force. He led the field in driving accuracy and greens in regulation last week, and was content to be just outside the top-30 in driving distance.
Kitayama, nicknamed “Quadzilla” for his tree-trunk thighs, was 20th in driving distance on the PGA Tour last season at 310.8 yards per measured drive. But he was 180th in driving accuracy (51.8 percent) and 116th in greens in regulation (65.8 percent)
He’s dipped to 34th in driving distance so far this season (297.0) but has risen 18 spots in driving accuracy (54.2) and 39 spots in greens in regulation (67.9).
Kitayama said it’s been a long process of hard work — University of Florida golf coach J.C. Deacon is his swing coach – since turning pro in 2015 and laboring on international tours in North America, Asia, Japan, Korea, South Africa and Europe.
“You just keep grinding away and you just keep building the level of confidence to finally feel like I belong out here,” he said.