By Dan Reardon
Despite the youth movement among some of the PGA Tour’s elite players, the reality of professional golf is one of incremental progress. Collegians who turn pro after completing their careers may picture themselves transitioning immediately to status on the PGA Tour, or at the very least, the Web.com Tour. Most discover that there are several side roads and detours, even for those who put together the credentials to enter the Tour’s operation. And even then it is more typical than not that status becomes intermittent until a player can settle in for a career.
At 32, Kyle Reifers is representative of a rising talent in today’s world of professional tournament golf. Coming out of Wake Forest with a second-place finish in the NCAA Division I tournament may have tagged him as more proven than prospect. Then when he Monday qualified into the 2006 Chattanooga Classic and picked up the win in his first start, he was on most can’t-miss lists.
A year later, as a second-year professional, he was on the PGA Tour full-time, climbing the ladder quickly. The confidence level was high when he flashed on the leaderboard in New Orleans. “I’m 23 years old, so there hasn’t been much time to really know — I got my TOUR card within six months of graduating college and won on the Nationwide Tour, I believe in what I’m doing, so hopefully I’ll just let the clubs do the talking. So hopefully I don’t need to say any words about it, just look at the score and say, hey, this guy can play.”
That ladder had several missing rungs and the clubs went mute. He missed his first three Tour cuts, and after a strong showing at Bay Hill, his ladder became a slippery rope. He missed the weekend in 11 straight events, added four more for a total of 17 on the year, and was back in the minors, this time for a four-year stay.
A productive season in 2011 took him back to the Tour; he no doubt expected all the seasoning would produce a more permanent time in the “show.” Different year, but same outcome, 16 missed cuts and a ticket back to Web.com. By 2014, Reifers found the youngster who won his first professional start on the Web.com Tour, was on the PGA Tour in half a season, going winless with only occasional top 10s. He had been demoted twice.
With no playing status anywhere, Reifers wrote a letter to the Web.com Tour looking for a spot in a field, any field. That spot was in the Chile Classic, and playing on a pardon, he posted three straight 68s to tie for third and earn more starts. Two more thirds and a total of five top 10s put him 25th on the developmental tour and got him promoted for the third time. “You feel like you should be on tour, and you don’t even have a tee time on the Web.com Tour,” he told Golf Today. ”It’s not that I wasn’t working, but the dedication … it’s a fine line. I think you get complacent and say, ‘It’ll happen.’ But it doesn’t happen without hard work.”
In 2015, that work finally paid off. He made more cuts than he missed and lost to J.J. Henry in a playoff at the Barracuda Championship. By year’s end he was inside the top 100 and playing in the FedEx Cup series, not simply for his status.
This year has been even better. The cuts are down to six and his FedEx ranking has climbed to 42 with a handful of events still on the season calendar. In his last six starts, he has posted three top 10s, including T5 at Colonial and T9 at Barracuda.
The kid who was on the fast track at 23 is now 32 and looking for his second professional win.
”It’s a crazy game, and I feel a lot better for it,” Reifers said in that same interview. ”I would never want to script it like this. You see guys complaining out here all the time. But when you’re down to one tee time in Chile, and you fly 10 hours to get there, and this could make or break whether you play golf, you appreciate that. It happened for a reason. And it will be sweeter when I do — hopefully — win.”
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.