To an outside observer, Jonathan Kaye’s suspension early in the 2002 season seems like a turning point in his professional career.
At the 2001 Michelob Championship at Kingsmill Golf Club, Kaye clipped his Tour badge to his zipper, offending an overzealous security guard and earning Kaye a two -month suspension from tournament play.
Chronologically, the incident sits at the beginning of Kaye’s transition from middle of the PGA pack to truly outstanding. He nearly won twice in 2002 and, after a handful of near-misses, finally cashed in on his ample talent with a win in the 2003 Buick Classic, one of eight top-10 finishes last season.
But Kaye and all in his camp aren’t giving his infamous incident credit for much at all. Frankly, they’d like everyone to just let it go.
"If I could do something else bad to get everyone to stop asking me about it, I would," said Kaye who finished a career-best 16th on the money list last year and posted a tie for fourth last week at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
In the Monday pro-am, Kaye engaged in easygoing banter with his playing partners. On Tuesday, as he walked to caddy for his wife Jennifer in the Tour Wives event at the TPC’s Desert Course, he joked with passersby who probably had no idea the goatee -wearing, tobacco - chewing heckler would be inside the ropes come Thursday.
So is this Phoenix resident, who continues to field questions about the embarrassing incident three years ago, misunderstood?
"I’ve had people tell me he’s a pleasure to play with in proams," said Ellen Dean, Kaye’s mother. "He’ll give tips on their games, give lessons. So many people he’s met in pro-ams have invited him to stay in their houses when he travels. I think he represents the PGA well in those situations."
The public doesn’t often hear the anecdotal evidence of friendly spunk and kindness. Kaye is known as a PGA Tour bad boy, something that everyone in Kaye’s camp finds tiresome.
"I think he’s misunderstood because he hasn’t allowed people to get to know him," Jennifer said. "He’s a good guy who’s incredibly generous with his friends. I think the media would rather have a bad story than a good story."
Kaye’s roots in the Valley go way back. He grew up playing at Encanto Golf Course in central Phoenix where he still holds the course record at 58. Kaye was a standout at Sunnyslope High School before accepting a golf scholarship to the University of Colorado. That’s where he met Jennifer, a player on the women’s team who went on to a six-year professional career.
Kaye, a solid ball striker, attributes his jump from middle of the pack to Tour winner to more consistent putting and, if anything, less practice, not more. He has never had a regular swing coach and doesn’t plan on getting one any time soon.
"I just don’t beat myself up anymore," Kaye said. "I’m pretty comfortable with my swing. I know what I need to work on and when."
Professionally and personally, Kaye is in a more stable place than ever before. For once, as an exempt player through 2005 thanks to his win, Kaye doesn’t have to worry about finishing in the top 125 on the money list. He and Jennifer, wed just over a year ago, are remodeling their home in central Phoenix.
Kaye might be a good guy to his inner circle, but as for his public persona, he seems unruffled with his rebellious reputation.
"If they need a bad boy, I can be the bad boy," he said. "Just keep paying me."
TV: 5-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday (USA); 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (Ch. 15)
Radio: None Schedule: Today — 9:30 a.m: MasterCard International Celebrity-Am, Grayhawk Golf Club (Talon Course), Scottsdale; 10 a.m.: FBR/ Xerox Silver Pro-Am, TPC Stadium Course; 11 a.m.: Honeywell Pro-Am, Grayhawk Golf Club (Raptor Course). Thursday and Friday — 7:50 a.m.: FBR Open first and second rounds begin. Saturday and Sunday — First tee times TBA.
Tickets: Daily general admission is $25. Children ages 17 and younger are free when accompanied by an adult. To order, call (480) 784-4444 or visit www.phoenixopen.com
Parking: Free. From the west, public parking is at Loop 101 and Hayden Road. From the east, parking is at WestWorld. Free shuttles will operate Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Defending champion: Vijay Singh