Kobori’s climb continues - PGA of Australia

Kobori’s climb continues

Just seven months ago, Kazuma Kobori left the amateur game with a tremendous record and simple goal, with the Kiwi unable to predict his meteoric rise in the professional ranks that continues with a major debut at next week’s PGA Championship.

Turning pro at the Queensland PGA Championship in November, Kobori’s game had earned global attention in the amateur ranks, yet the now 22-year-old wasn’t getting ahead of himself.

“Starting my professional career in November, I was like, ‘I’m just going to try and keep an Aussie Tour card this year. Maybe grab a top-10 Order of Merit to get me into second stage Q school for Europe’,” Kobori said yesterday.

Doing far more than that, Kobori claimed the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit crown after a dream debut season that means he has a guaranteed DP World Tour card next season, as well as a start at The 152nd Open at Royal Troon.

His achievement of topping the season-long points list on his home circuit was cause for the PGA of America to extend in invite for the year’s second major to be held at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky as it did to his predecessor David Micheluzzi last year.

Learning of his invitation upon waking on Tuesday morning, Kobori might still be digesting what has transpired as he prepares to make the journey from Canterbury to Louisville.

“It was pretty unexpected. I got a WhatsApp message this morning (Tuesday) when I woke up at seven and my manager was like, ‘You’re in the PGA’,” Kobori said.

“I knew he was pushing for the invite but because my word ranking’s not quite as good as some of the other players in the world, I didn’t think I’ll get it.”

Making his major debut two months earlier than expected, Kobori’s hot start to life in the play-for-pay ranks no doubt piqued the interest of the PGA of America, so too others with invites extended to DP World Tour and Asian Tour events.

Winning three Webex Players Series events in the space of four weeks on his way to the Order of Merit title, his start at Valhalla will be just the 15th of Kobori’s pro career.

Recent appearances on the DP World Tour, and now the PGA Championship, are offering him a chance to measure his game against the world’s best.

“To be honest, I just want to want to be able to play my game so by the end of the week, I’ll have a really good understanding on where my game compares,” the New Zealander said of his approach to the PGA.

“This is one of four times, I guess you can count the Olympics as well, but very rare occasions where I can play against the best in the world. So I’m going to use this as an opportunity to have a bit of a benchmark to see where I’m at.”

Hoping to “stay out of my own way”, Kobori plans to reach out to experienced compatriot Ryan Fox on the topic of playing a major, and perhaps a practice round, while time spent with DP World Tour winner Daniel Hillier has helped develop an understanding of the next steps up the professional golf ladder.

“Honestly, just spending time around him has probably been the best one,” Kobori said of Hillier.

“He doesn’t really give me advice or anything, and it’s not that I really need it, I just need to be able to see how he operates and then set my standards based on that.

“Playing against good players definitely enables me to set high standards and then that’s been very beneficial for my game.”

Admitting to having few memories of the last PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2014, when Rory McIlroy won his most recent major and Kobori was just three years into his golfing journey, the former Eisenhower Trophy individual winner is attempting to create familiarity and comfort quickly.

His occasional caddie last season, Tyler Wood, will be on the bag and perhaps looking to his boss for the week for inspiration after gaining a Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia card at the recent Qualifying School.

Meanwhile a well-timed round should hold Kobori in good stead ahead of the biggest start of his burgeoning career.

“I actually had a round, or a session, with a sports psychologist today (Tuesday) that I work with, and he just said, honestly, just be a bit more mindful of everything you’re doing,” Kobori said.

“Everything’s just going to be a little bit more, like the crowd’s going to be a bit bigger, the nerves are going to be a bit bigger, so just be a bit more mindful of what you’re doing. Whether it be breathing, your nutrition, your gym work, your practice and all that.

“That was his advice and I’m going to take it on board.”

Kobori joins fellow Australasians Fox, Cam Davis, Jason Day, Min Woo Lee, Adam Scott, Cam Smith and Lucas Herbert, who also received a special invite, in the field for the 106th PGA Championship.

The 2024 PGA Championship is live on Fox Sports, available on Foxtel and Kayo.

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