Like almost everybody else, Denton’s Kelly Kraft can’t wait for the weekend. But after five tournaments as a pro on the PGA Tour, he’s still learning what it takes to make the cut and make it to Saturday play.
Kraft tees off at 1:12 p.m. today in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut.
In his sixth professional tournament, Kraft is aiming to make his second cut, after accomplishing that at the Colonial in Fort Worth.
The Ryan graduate said he’s been working with coach Pat O’Brien to get into the right mind-set to play beyond the first two rounds of tournaments.
“I think I’m just anxious to play the weekend,” Kraft said. “I need to stop doing that and just play my game, and just go out and play golf. If I just go out and play my game, I’m going to play on most weekends.”
At Colonial, Kraft bested the field in the third round, shooting 6 under par for the day’s lowest score. He entered the final round tied for seventh and in contention for his first victory as a professional.
In the final round, Kraft shot 10 over, the highest score of the day. He finished tied for 57th and went home with $14,144, his first payday in golf.
As frustrating as that Sunday performance was, it turned into a valuable learning experience, one he couldn’t replicate at the amateur level.
“I wasn’t comfortable playing on Sunday in one of the last groups,” Kraft said. “Next time I’m in that position, it’ll be a lot different and I’ll be a little more ready for it.”
Kraft, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, turned pro after he finished 62nd at the Masters. The Denton native also had exemptions to the British Open and the U.S. Open, but he said he didn’t want to continue being an amateur.
“I felt like I was ready to turn pro,” Kraft said. “I’ve had plenty of opportunities over the last few weeks as a pro, and I feel like I’ve given myself a good chance to get my professional career going.”
As of now, Kraft remains nomadic, with only this weekend and next weekend’s AT&T National at Congressional guaranteed. Kraft has been using sponsor exemptions to gain entry into tournaments, and has benefited from the kindness of tournament directors. He’s still looking for other tournaments to play in, in addition to playing on the Nationwide Tour later this summer.
Those efforts are an attempt to gain a PGA Tour card, which allows him to play in most of the next year’s tour events. There are multiple ways to earn a tour card, including winning an event or finishing among the top 125 on the tour’s money list.
Tour cards also can be earned through a top-25 finish in the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, also known as Q-school, and can be awarded through the Nationwide Tour.
Kraft admits he hasn’t been hitting well in the past few tournaments, but he’s not necessarily playing poorly. The former SMU standout said he and O’Brien have been working on the mental aspect of the game.
“Golf’s all about confidence. Anytime you play well you feed off of that, and if you don’t play well you figure out what you need to improve upon,” O’Brien said.
Kraft said he has had the tendency to become tense on the course, and he needs to focus on calming down and just playing the game.
Ryan golf coach Trey Peden said that when he talks to his former player, he doesn’t tell Kraft too much about the game. Peden’s quick to remind Kraft that he’s only 23 years old and exactly where he needs to be at this point in his career, where bad drives and poor approach shots are things to learn from.
“For guys like Kelly, it’s nothing to worry about,” Peden said. “It’s not a real big surprise to a lot of people, either. It’s just going to take some time. It’s just growing pains.”
Kraft is adjusting to the nuances of being a professional, and the task of facing the world’s best golfers on some of the world’s toughest courses. At this point, Kraft is focusing on the basics: staying out of the rough, maintaining composure and piecing together four solid rounds.
“I think we’re treating this year as a wonderful opportunity to get a lot of experience at the highest level, and he may very well get his card by playing up there this year,” O’Brien said. “Or we might have to go to Q-school. Either way, we’re going to keep progressing, and that’s all that you can really do.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .