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 believe."
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, T 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 paired 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.