While most of the sports world spent last Thursday afternoon trying to duck out of work early for the nearest television showing the NCAA basketball tournament, golfer Jason Kokrak was engulfed in his own version of March Madness.
In the Warren JFK graduate’s quest to earn a last minute Masters Invitational bid, he opened the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a 5-under par round of 67. Of course it was easier for Kokrak to ignore the temptation of checking his smartphone for scores since his alma mater, Xavier University, was bounced in the First Four on Tuesday by North Carolina State, 74-59.
@jaykokrak, your thoughts?
“[----] poor effort xavier. Deserving loss for that play. #disgusted”
Luckily for him, Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando provided a perfect distraction over the weekend from the unavoidable 13-hours-a-day television coverage college basketball was receiving.
While Kokrak’s weekend didn’t end as poorly as his Musketeers’ tournament run — he collected a cool $297,600 in earnings for his fourth-place finish — the 28-year old is still seeking his first career PGA Tour win.
In his third full season on the tour, Kokrak would love a first-place finish to come sooner rather than later with the season’s first major around the corner on April 10-13.
According to some of PGATour.com’s golfing experts, that opportunity may come at this weekend’s Valero Texas Open.
Playing in his third tournament in as many weeks in an attempt to earn a spot in golf’s national championship, The Masters, Kokrak was getting plenty of love prior to today’s opening round in San Antonio.
PGATour.com fantasy golf columnist Rob Bolton has Kokrak ranked in the top spot of his power rankings for the Valero Texas Open.
His reasoning: “Solo fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he closed with a 73. Sixth in adjusted scoring. T15 at TPC San Antonio last year.”
Kokrak is followed in the rankings by 16-time tour winner Jim Furyk, a Sunday pairing that wouldn’t provide quite the same buzz as a Tiger-Phil showdown once did, but this isn’t 2000 anymore.
Golf needs some of its younger players to start making names for themselves and perhaps Kokrak can be among them.
The main reason Bolton and website producer Ryan Smithson are high on him this weekend is because of his ability to hit the long ball.
Kokrak currently ranks sixth on the tour in driving distance, averaging 306.4 yards off the tee, which will play especially well on the 7,435-yard Oak Course at TPC San Antonio.
Bolton: “This is a wide-open event susceptible to yielding a first-time winner. Love me some long game, too.”
Smithson: “Love Kokrak at this long track for first win.”
So there you have it. Expect bets on Kokrak to come pouring into the Las Vegas sports books this morning — the odds were 30/1 Wednesday night — because it’s not like there’s any other sporting events to bet on.
After all, this is the real March Madness.