A total of 15 players with ties to Georgia are competing in this week’s PGA Championship, with five of the 15 having won on the PGA Tour this season and five others with runner-up finishes in 2016-17.
Also among the 15 Georgians is one of 20 club professionals in the 156-player field at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, although he has more experience as a tour player than most of the 136 non-club pros who will shoot for one of golf’s four major championships.
Vidalia native Paul Claxton, who won last week’s Georgia Open at Savannah’s Ford Plantation, finished third in the national club professional championship earlier this summer to earn a spot in the PGA Championship. Claxton, the Director of Golf at Hawk’s Point in Vidalia, played 16 years on what is now the Web.com Tour and four years on the PGA Tour before leaving his career as a tour pro after the 2014 season.
This will be Claxton’s first appearance in the PGA Championship, but not his first in a major. He twice qualified for the U.S. Open, tying for 23rd in 2005 and missing the cut in 2012, his last PGA Tour start.
Six of the Georgians in the field are currently among the top 30 in the FedExCup standings, putting them in position to make to the Tour Championship at East Lake next month. Four others are between 33 and 54 coming into the PGA.
The highest-ranked player this year with ties to the state is former Georgia Bulldog Kevin Kisner, a native and resident of Aiken, S.C., across the Savannah River from Augusta. Kisner is ninth on the points list, scoring his second PGA Tour victory at Colonial, tying for second at Bay Hill and posting four other top 10s, including a playoff loss in the team event in New Orleans with fellow Aiken resident Scott Brown, who is also in the PGA field.
Kisner has limited experience in majors, with a pair of top 20 finishes since 2015, including a T18 in the PGA last year. Kisner was sixth in the annual PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow in 2014.
Savannah native Brian Harman, one of seven ex-Bulldogs in the field, has enjoyed his best season as a pro, winning the Wells Fargo at Eagle Point in Wilmington, N.C., which took over as tournament host for Quail Hollow this year. Harman, a St. Simons Island resident, also tied for second in the U.S. Open, battling Brooks Koepka to the wire. Harman is 10th in the FedExCup with a total of six top 10s.
Like Harman, former Georgia Tech standout and fellow St. Simons resident Matt Kuchar also has a runner-up finish in a 2017 major, losing a final round duel to Jordan Spieth in the British Open. Kuchar placed fourth in the Masters and was T16 in the U.S. Open, and is 17th on the points list with a tie for fourth at Memorial and two other top 10s. Kuchar has two top 10s and two other top 25s in the PGA since 2010.
Macon native and ex-Bulldog Russell Henley captured his third PGA Tour title this year in Houston to earn a last minute invitation to the Masters, and comes into the PGA 18th in points. Henley has a recent T5 in the Greenbrier and two other top 10s in 2017, along with a tie for 11th in Augusta. Henley has put together a solid record in the majors in his young PGA Tour career, finishing 12th and 22nd in the PGA the last two years. He has a history of success in Charlotte, winning a Web.com Tour event there in 2012.
Despite missing 2 ½ months with a neck injury, Augusta native Charles Howell is 19th in the FedExCup standings after a recent playoff loss in Washington, D.C. Howell, who tied for second early this year in San Diego, has five top 10s on the season, but has only one career top 10 in a major, a tie for 10th in the 2003 PGA. Howell had a respectable record in the PGA in his early years on tour, but has not had a top 25 since 2005, with a T19 in the 2012 Masters his only top 25 in a major since ’05. Howell tied for 10th at Quail Hollow in 2013.
Augusta resident Wesley Bryan, the 2016 Web.com Tour Player of the Year, is already a PGA Tour winner as a rookie, becoming the first native South Carolinian to score a victory at Hilton Head. With a recent tie for third in the John Deere and T4s in Los Angeles and the Honda, Bryan is 24th in the standings, but has not played especially well of late with the exception of the John Deere. This will be his first PGA Championship appearance.
St. Simons resident and ex-Georgia Bulldog Hudson Swafford scored his first PGA Tour victory early this year in the southern California desert, and moved up to 33rd in the FedExCup standings with a T10 last week in the WGC Bridgestone. Swafford is making his PGA Championship debut and just his fourth major start.
Fellow St. Simons resident Zach Johnson is coming off a strong second place showing at Firestone last week and is up to 36th on the points list with four top 10s and a recent T14 in the British Open. Johnson has captured two career major titles (Masters and British Open), has three top 10s in the PGA including a T3 in 2010, and has a win, three top 10s and five top 15s in majors since 2015. Johnson was sixth at Quail Hollow in 2011.
Luke List, who grew up in the Atlanta area and north Georgia, is enjoying his best PGA Tour season with a tie for second last fall in Mississippi and a T3 in Houston. List, who is third in driving distance on the tour, is 44th on the points list and will be playing in his first PGA and first major since 2007.
Former Augusta State star Patrick Reed is not having his best season, standing 54th on the points list. But he has several recent solid showings, including a tie for fifth in Hartford and a T13 in the U.S. Open, part of a stretch in which he placed in the top 20 in four consecutive starts. Reed tied for 13th in last year’s PGA and has four top 15s in majors since 2015, but is still looking for his first top 10.
Augusta native Scott Brown teamed up with Kisner to tie for first in the team event in New Orleans before the duo lost in a playoff. He also tied for second individually in Los Angeles, and narrowly qualified for the PGA off a money list. Brown, who lives close to Augusta in Aiken, S.C., is making his first major start since a T46 finish in the 2014 PGA.
Former Georgia Bulldog Chris Kirk has returned to Athens to live after growing up in Woodstock and residing for several years on St. Simons. Kirk, who has struggled for most of 2017, was the last player to earn a spot in the PGA, getting in as an alternate when Brandt Snedeker withdrew due to an injury. After recording three top 10s in the fall, including a tie second in Mississippi, Kirk does not have a top 10 in 2017, with his best showing a T12 in the Players. Kirk, 94th in the FedExCup standings, will be making his only major appearance in 2017 after missing all four cuts last year.
This has been the poorest season of Bubba Watson’s career, with the ex-UGA golfer showing some signs of life recently, but still a disappointing 111th in points. Other than his two Masters victories, Watson’s best majors showing was a playoff loss to Martin Kaymer in the 2010 PGA, one of four top 5s in Grand Slam events for the long-hitting lefty.
Davis Love has a career exemption for the PGA Championship thanks to his 1997 victory at Winged Foot, and is still a PGA Tour regular at the age of 53. Love has not finished higher than 29th in 11 starts this year, with his last top 10 in a major a T9 in the 2011 British Open.
Stewart Cink, 70th in the FedExCup standings, and rookie Ollie Schniederjans, 71 on the points list, both failed to qualify for the PGA Championship, as did Harris English (113). Cink has played well in the past at Quail Hollow, as has Roberto Castro, who lost in a playoff in the Wells Fargo last year, but has plummeted to 172 on the points list after qualifying for East Lake in 2016.