Tom Kite dives into no lakes. He doesn't hit booming tee shots, utter memorable wisecracks or use couturier golf balls. He doesn't dominate major championships, or win very many week-to-week tournaments, either. What he does do as well as anybody on the PGA Tour is show up on leaderboards. Tom Kite is terrific on leaderboards.
Last year Kite's virtuosity on the leaderboards made him the tour leader with $375,699 in winnings. He won the Vardon Trophy with a stroke average of 69.80 per round; only Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino have recorded lower figures. He started 26 tournaments and made the cut 26 times; through the first dozen tournaments of this year, his no-cut string had grown to 44, counting nine in 1980. In 1981 he was in the top 10 21 times and eighth or better in a record 10 straight events and 17 of his last 18. Another name for all those statistics is consistency.
Kite, who is 32, is consistent about something else, too: not winning a whole lot. In 10 seasons of campaigning he has won at Bay Hill this year, at Inverrary last year, at the B.C. Open in 1978 and at the Bicentennial in 1976. And that's all, folks.
But because Kite's game has been consistently improving, there is a body of opinion among his fellow pros that he's about due to shake at least a part of his image by winning a major—next week's Masters, for instance. In fact, the biggest surprise would be if Kite didn't turn out to be a contender in Augusta.
The proof, again, is in the consistency of his numbers. Kite has finished among the top 10 in six of the past seven Masters in which he has competed as a touring professional. He has been among the top six in five of those years. He has tied for third place once and wound up fifth three different times. In order, he tied for 10th (1975), tied for fifth (1976), tied for third (1977), tied for 18th (1978), was fifth alone (1979), tied for sixth (1980) and tied for fifth (1981).
Not long ago Kite was saying, "It's a peculiar thing. Augusta isn't really the kind of course I should play well. I just get pumped up, I guess."
Not the kind of course Kite should play well? Kite shouldn't play as well as 100 other pros on any of the courses on the tour, but he does. He shouldn't have won more than $1 million in prize money since 1973, his rookie year, but he has. He shouldn't be more successful at the game than Ben Crenshaw, but he is. And he shouldn't keep frequenting the leader-boards, but he no doubt will.
There are two big reasons why he will. One is that Kite will continue to outwork almost everyone in the game, which is what he has always done. "I'd say Tom Watson and I have worked harder than anybody," he says. The other reason is that Kite wants to succeed very badly. In sport, that old intangible called want-to has been around as long as natural ability, and in the game of life, as well as in the game of golf, the want-to's have whipped up on the naturals more times than not.
This is not to imply that Kite is the only player on the tour who carries desire and tenacity in his golf bag, although he is one of the few players who carry three wedges. While he doesn't do any one thing spectacularly well—drive, hit irons, scramble or putt—he does everything he has to do plenty well enough.
"If I have a strength," Kite says, "I suppose it has to be that I don't have any big hole in my game. That's what I've been working toward, at least."