Helen H. Richardson / THE DENVER POST
Helen H. Richardson / THE DENVER POST
In the scoring tent Sunday after completing the CoBank Colorado Open, Jonathan Kaye pointed out to his two 20-something playing partners that he was using a golf ball manufactured when they were 11 and 13 years old, respectively.
“I played a ball from 2001 all week,” the 45-year-old part-time Boulder resident noted minutes later, while showing off the Titleist. “Do you see that? That’s from 2001. The first day (of the tournament) I pulled a brand-new glove out, I put it on, hit like five shots and I looked and the whole thing was peeling. I had just grabbed some gloves that were in the closet and they were probably 20 years old. They just started flaking off.”
It’s a good indication of how often Kaye — winner of PGA Tour events in both 2003 and ’04 — plays competitive golf these days. But, judging by how the former University of Colorado golfer performed at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in northeast Denver, it must be kind of like riding a bike.
Despite having not competed in a tournament in a full two years, Kaye tied for second Sunday in the Colorado Open, and had a chance to win it until the last hole.
Trailing eventual champion Neil Johnson of Phoenix by one with just the par-5 18th to play, Kaye hit a drive just into the rough and elected to go for the green with his second shot — a long carry over a sea of cattails. After all, with first prize being $100,000 and second $20,000, it was a pretty easy choice.
But the former Buff badly mishit his 5-wood from 277 yards and his ball didn’t come close to clearing the hazard. After taking a drop 5 yards further back — but in the fairway — Kaye hit the shot he wanted to hit the first time, and the ball finished 15 feet from the flag. But the damage had been done, and after two-putting for his lone bogey of the day — and Johnson later making a birdie at the 18th — Kaye finished three back, tied with another former Colorado Open champion, Wil Collins of Albuquerque.
“I kind of had to go for it because I knew I had to make at least birdie and maybe eagle” on 18, said Kaye, who won the Open in 1996. “I was in the rough. It wasn’t the greatest lie but I hit a terrible shot. I could probably hit that 10 times and never do that again. It would have been ideal had my tee shot not gone (just into the rough).
“I’d love to have that (second) shot again. It still might not be good enough, but I’d like to give it a better effort.”
Still, looking at the week as a whole, shooting rounds of 67-65-70-66 for a 20-under-par 268 total isn’t half bad for a golfer whose last tournament was the 2014 Colorado Open.
“For a guy who hasn’t played in as long as I have, I was pretty happy with the way I got it around,” Kaye said. “(But) I was trying to win. That was my goal. It’s nice to play well, but I don’t care about seconds and thirds at this point.”
Kaye has earned more than $10.5 million on the PGA Tour, but he hasn’t played on that circuit at all since 2011, with shoulder and toe/foot problems having given him fits during parts of the last decade. These days, he said he plays golf casually two or three times a week.
“What I don’t do is practice — and it really shows,” Kaye said. “I go out there and I play OK, but you can see on my short game and stuff, I haven’t been practicing. But I tried to make a commitment to myself to try to get out to work on my short game just a little bit before this (Colorado Open) so I didn’t look like a complete moron, and it seems to be going pretty good.”
As for what the future holds, tournament golf-wise, for Kaye, that’s up in the air. He still has 21 events he can play on the Web.com Tour, which is one step below the PGA Tour.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Kaye, who will turn 46 in about a week. “For sure I’ll play next year (in the Colorado Open) if I’m not doing something else. I still have a full year on the Web. It’s just a matter of whether I can get motivated to go out there and do that — smash it around with all the flat-bellies. I’m an old man. I can’t keep up with those guys. All these guys I played with (Sunday) were 20 years younger than me. I feel so old. I might go play. We’ll see how the family is, and if the wife (Jennifer) wants me to, and how my game is. Right now everyone is happy with me around. It’s kind of nice being there for the family.”
And then there’s the possibility of playing on the PGA Tour Champions circuit starting four years from now. Until recently, Kaye would have received a Champions exemption for a year or two when he turned 50, based on winning twice on the PGA Tour. But that criteria has changed, and two PGA Tour victories, without a major, won’t get him in. So he may have to go through the qualifying process, if he elects to try.
“The (change) kind of hosed me, which I don’t really think is fair,” he said. “I can’t imagine going out to try to qualify, but I guess I probably would give it a shot if I had to assuming my family was behind me.”
In the meantime, Kaye will keep playing with his 12-year-old set of clubs, though his driver is “only” four years old.
“It would be cool to try the new equipment, but all the (golf equipment) companies are so tight,” he said. “They’re not giving away product anymore. Frankly, I just don’t know if I’d spend $2 grand on a set of clubs and think that’s going to help me any more than what I’ve got.”