Understanding the elevated events while realising underdog stories make sport

Ronan MacNamara

Kurt Kitayama and caddie Tim Tucker celebrate (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Nick Taylor and Keith Mitchell came close to stealing in ahead of Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm before Kurt Kitayama broke the mould for the underdog in the elevated events by pipping Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The PGA Tour’s designated events have been a hit so far with Sunday shootouts involving Rahm, Scheffler, Homa and Morikawa before things ‘elevated’ on the final day at Bay Hill with McIlroy, Rahm, Scheffler, Hovland, Hatton, Cantlay and Spieth all battling to win out.

But it was the lesser man, the journeyman, Kitayama who had the last laugh.


Given the PGA Tour changes for 2024 that were announced last week, there was a certain level of irony that a supposed nobody managed to upstage the culture club and claim a career changing win.

Having stellar fields which are essentially ten or so mini major championships will bring several captivating tournaments, but in sport, there should always be room for the likes of Kitayama and Nick Taylor.

Kitayama broke into the worlds’ top-50 for the first time this season after finishing runner-up at the CJ Cup behind McIlroy, and he had maintained his position since.

While he doesn’t appear like he will be a serial winner at this stage, the irony of him now becoming a permanent fixture in these designated events for next season is that he had to win one.

The first three designated events won’t live long in the memory. Absolutely nobody cares about the Sentry Tournament of Champions – golf’s answer to the Community Shield – and the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Genesis didn’t really capture the imagination simply because Scheffler was just far too good in Phoenix and Riviera just isn’t the same when conditions are ideal.

The Masters is now just one month away and remarkably, given the congested major calendar, we are approaching the business end of the season and the Arnold Palmer Invitational was a thriller to kickstart the year.

People who were sceptical of the significance of these elevated events would have got their clarity over the weekend. A fantastic event, a tough golf course and challenging conditions. It was box office viewing.

But it was the presence of Kitayama that made it compelling and why these elevated events can’t become a closed shop.

I get the major championship feel the PGA Tour is trying to create, however, the beauty of the four major championships is that it’s the best players in the world guaranteed four times a year, yet there’s always room for a Danny Willett to pop up now and again.

The potential exclusivity of the designated events to approximately 70 players would eventually become boring and cumbersome.

Plenty of people out there have no time for the Nick Taylor characters trying to punch above their weight because it doesn’t put bums on couches on a Sunday night, but there’s no doubt that the lesser players have seized the opportunity in these events so far.

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