How golf’s ‘Quadzilla’ Kurt Kitayama went from NBA hopeful to a PGA Tour champion | CNN



CNN
— 

Tigers, great white sharks, and hawks; in terms of nicknames, golf thought it had the top of the food chain covered.

That was until the king of the monsters – “Quadzilla” – roared onto the scene in March.

Victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational sealed a first PGA Tour title for Kurt Kitayama, securing him $3.6 million in prize money – almost doubling his eight-year earnings on Tour in a single paycheck.

Fortunately for the American, he has big pockets. At least that is according to fellow pro Xander Schauffele, who dubbed his compatriot “Quadzilla” in honor of his imposing thigh muscles when the duo played together on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016.

These days they are smaller, Kitayama insists, but that has not stopped him from embracing the name that has gone viral since his maiden triumph.

“You could tell the pants were fitting tight, he called me out on it,” Kitayama told CNN’s Don Riddell.

“When Xander and I were playing on the Korn Ferry Tour they got pretty big … I got a little overweight I’d say.

“Also when I was working out, the one thing I loved doing was squatting. So I used to do it a lot and that was the only thing I lifted pretty much.”

Yet it is a much older nickname that best epitomizes Kitayama: “The Project.”

Bestowed upon him while he cut his teeth as a college golfer, it is a title that reflects how much he had to improve, as well as capturing the hard work and perseverance that drove Kitayama along a long and winding road to his first PGA Tour win – two months on from his 30th birthday.

A talented junior basketball star despite his diminutive 5-feet 7-inch frame, a young Kitayama harbored dreams of the NBA, not the PGA. As starting point guard for the Chico Blazin’ Heat, the Californian led his high school team to two Northern Section titles before hoop dreams took a back seat to golf.

“(Basketball) was my favorite sport growing up … that was probably the dream until I realized I wasn’t going anywhere with that,” Kitayama said.

“When I got to college, golf really was the only focus.”

Kitayama took an unconventional path to professional golf.

At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), Kitayama enjoyed success on a renowned golf program, yet his early trajectory was a far cry from the breakneck rises of prodigious amateurs like Tiger Woods and Tom Kim.

Having “struggled” through his first two seasons, it wasn’t until his senior year that Kitayama even gave himself a chance at making it pro. In 2015 that aim was realized, but three years later – having played mostly on the PGA Tour’s developmental Web.com Tour (now the Korn Ferry Tour) – he was still floating outside the top 1,000 in the world golf rankings.

Yet 2018, spent on the Asian Tour, would prove to be a turning point. Having secured his spot on the European Tour (now the DP World Tour) via qualifying school in November, by March 2019 he had become the fastest player in history to tally two European Tour wins after victories at the Mauritius Open and Oman Open respectively.

Kitayama toasts his Mauritius Open victory at the Four Seasons Golf Club in December 2018.

By the year’s end, he was inside the world’s top 75 players. In September 2021, a long climb to the top of the sport was completed when a tied-11th finish at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship rewarded a 28-year-old Kitayama with his PGA Tour card.

Late bloomer? “It just happened that way,” he reflected.

“I’ve just always looked at getting better each year and not thinking too far ahead; just continue to keep moving up.

“Hard work has gotten me to where I am now … When I’m doing something that I really want to do, I’m willing to put in the work and sacrifice social time with friends or something to get better.”

By the time he arrived in Orlando for his 50th PGA Tour start – and event debut – at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Kitayama had risen to world No. 46, yet a first win remained agonizingly elusive.

On three occasions in 2022, Kitayama had finished runner-up to some of the game’s best players by a single stroke: first to US Open champion Jon Rahm at the Mexico Open, then to world No. 7 Schauffele at the Scottish Open, and again to four-time major winner Rory McIlroy at the CJ Cup.

Kitayama looked on course for his most agonizing near-miss yet when, approaching the ninth tee with a two-shot final round lead at Bay Hill, a drive out-of-bounds spiraled into a triple bogey.

Kitayama looked to be sliding out of contention after a disastrous 9th hole.

Six consecutive pars signaled a strong response, yet Kitayama and four others shared the lead with three holes remaining. By the finish, just two strokes would separate the top seven players.

“I feel like I was able to keep it pretty level all the way through, even after the triple,” Kitayama recalled.

“But looking back at it and seeing how that leaderboard changed so much, it was crazy really, it was so up-and-down. I was talking to my friends back home; they were pumped but then they were also so nervous watching it.”

A 14-foot birdie putt at the 17th nudged Kitayama ahead before a stunning 50-foot effort at the final hole left the American with a simple tap-in for his first Tour win.

A beaming Kitayama brought the trophy to his winner's press conference.

Having used the experience of his three-runner up finishes to navigate the tense denouement, it was fitting that Kitayama finished one shot ahead of his CJ Cup heartbreaker, McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman was among the first to congratulate the new champion, embracing Kitayama shortly after his closing putt.

“I’m really happy for Kurt. He’s been playing well for a while now and I’m happy to see him get his first win,” McIlroy told reporters.

“He’s persevered and played wherever he could get starts and all of a sudden he’s won one of the biggest events on the PGA TOUR, so good for him.”

Victory rocketed Kitayama to a career high world No. 19 and made him the first player to win on his Arnold Palmer Invitational debut since Robert Gamez 33 years ago.

His life since has been, in a word, “chaos.” After a landslide of media duties and sponsor interest, Kitayama is looking forward to getting back to golfing.

“It’s a new experience and something I’m going to figure out how to handle and see how it affects my play,” he said.

“I’m just going to keep trying to improve and keep trying to keep getting better to put myself in that situation more often – trying to become a more consistent player.

“A lot’s going to change though, I’m just going to have to get used to it.”



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NBA: Damian Lillard erupts for 71 in Blazers’ win

Damian Lillard put on a memorable show and established career highs of 71 points and 13 3-pointers to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 131-114 victory over the visiting Houston Rockets on Sunday night.

The 71 points tie for eighth most in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. Donovan Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers also scored 71 earlier this season. Only Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain (five times, high of 100), Kobe Bryant (81) and David Thompson (73) have scored more points in an NBA game. Lillard scored 41 of his points before the break, the most first-half points by a player in franchise history.

Jerami Grant added 13 points and Nassir Little scored 11 for Portland, which connected on 54.5 percent of its field goal attempts and was 20 of 39 from 3-point range.

Alperen Sengun had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Jae’Sean Tate also scored 17 points for Houston, which has lost nine straight games and 29 of its last 33.

Lakers 111, Mavericks 108

Anthony Davis scored 30 points with 15 rebounds and LeBron James added 26 points as visiting Los Angeles won the battle of dynamic duos with a victory over Dallas.

The Mavericks had Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving on the court together for the fourth time, but fell to 1-3 with the newly-formed partnership. Doncic scored 26 points with nine rebounds, while Irving had 21 points and 11 assists.

Dallas failed to protect a 27-point first-half lead while losing for the fourth time in its last five games. After the Mavericks pulled within 109-108 on a 3-pointer from Justin Holiday with 6.5 seconds remaining, the Lakers’ Dennis Schroder made two free throws for the final margin, with Irving missing a half-court shot at the buzzer.

Nuggets 134, Clippers 124 (OT)

Nikola Jokic had 40 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists, Michael Porter Jr. had 29 points and 11 rebounds, and host Denver beat Los Angeles in overtime.

Jamal Murray scored 21 points and added 12 assists, Bruce Brown scored 13 points and Aaron Gordon added six in his return to the lineup after missing five games with a rib injury.

Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points to lead Los Angeles. Paul George added 23 points, Russell Westbrook 17, Nicolas Batum 12 and Bones Hyland 10 against his former team. Mason Plumlee grabbed 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who fell in overtime for the second time in three nights.

Bucks 104, Suns 101

Jrue Holiday scored 33 points, Brook Lopez recorded 22 points and 13 rebounds and Milwaukee rallied despite playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo, picking up its 14th consecutive win in a decision over visiting Phoenix.

Antetokounmpo was a scratch from the lineup, stemming from exiting Milwaukee’s win over the Miami Heat on Friday with a quad contusion. Despite playing without the 31.2 points-per-game scorer, the Bucks led Sunday’s rematch of the 2021 NBA Finals for the entirety of the second and third quarters — but never by more than 11 points.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 24 points. Deandre Ayton scored the last of his 22 points on a layup with 5:47 remaining, giving the Suns their biggest lead. Ayton also grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.

Bulls 102, Wizards 82

DeMar DeRozan scored 11 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter and Zach LaVine added 27 points to help host Chicago defeat Washington for its second straight victory.

Coby White scored 17 points for the Bulls, who led by as many as 21 points. Nikola Vucevic added 16 points and 13 rebounds for his 39th double-double of the season, third most in the NBA.

Bradley Beal had 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for Washington. Daniel Gafford had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Delon Wright (14 points) and Kyle Kuzma (10) also scored in double figures. Washington has lost two straight, as its lead over Chicago for the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament shrank to a half-game.

Hawks 129, Nets 127

Trae Young scored 34 points and sank the game-winner at the buzzer to lift Atlanta to a win over visiting Brooklyn for its second straight win.

Young, who also had eight assists, was one of three Hawks with 20-plus points, joining Dejounte Murray with 28 and Bogdan Bogdanovic with 22.

Cam Johnson led Brooklyn with 27 points. Mikal Bridges scored 24, Cam Thomas had 22 and Spencer Dinwiddie added 20 points and eight assists. The Nets have lost two straight and four of their last five games.

Cavaliers 118, Raptors 93

Donovan Mitchell scored 22 of his 35 points in the first half, and host Cleveland defeated Toronto for the first time in four games this season.

Mitchell shot 13-for-21 from the field, including 8-for-12 from 3-point range. Jarrett Allen added 23 points and 11 rebounds as the Cavaliers ended their three-game losing streak. Darius Garland added 18 points and 11 assists.

Pascal Siakam scored 25 points for the Raptors, who had their four-game winning streak, a season high, come to an end. Jakob Poeltl added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who were coming off a win over the host Detroit Pistons on Saturday.

Kings 124, Thunder 115

De’Aaron Fox scored 33 points and Keegan Murray added 20 as visiting Sacramento led wire-to-wire in a win over Oklahoma City.

Trey Lyles scored 16 points and Domantas Sabonis tallied 14 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists for Sacramento, which moved a season-best 10 games over .500 with its third straight win. Malik Monk scored 12 points and Harrison Barnes chipped in nine points and eight rebounds.

Isaiah Joe scored 24 points to lead Oklahoma City, while Luguentz Dort and Josh Giddey had 18 apiece. Jalen Williams added 15, and Lindy Waters III scored a season-high 12.

Warriors 109, Timberwolves 104

Donte DiVincenzo broke a late tie with a 3-pointer, Klay Thompson saved eight of his team-high 32 points for the final 6:11 and Golden State came on strong at the end to catch and pass Minnesota en route to a victory in San Francisco.

Thompson, who had 42 points and 12 3-pointers Friday against the Houston Rockets, shot 6-for-14 on threes this time en route to his ninth 30-point outing of the season. DiVincenzo chipped in with 21 points, including four 3-pointers on a night where the Warriors went 15-for-42 from beyond the arc. He also had eight rebounds and team highs in assists with five and steals with four.

Naz Reid, getting the start at center in the absence of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, exploded for a career-best 30 points for the Timberwolves. Reid also found time for a team-high-tying nine rebounds, a game-high five steals and two blocks.

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You can’t find a court to play on thanks to this team’s surprise basketball success

It is no secret that Tasmanians have a new-found love affair with basketball.

Since the Tasmanian JackJumpers entered the National Basketball League in 2021, interest in the sport has skyrocketed.

Each home game, thousands of Tasmanians don their green and yellow to cheer on the team — but the growing fanfare is creating headaches for grassroots basketball clubs.

In the state’s north, the Launceston Basketball Association has seen a 46 per cent increase in the number of players wanting to hit the court since the JackJumpers played their first season.

Association president Craig Gibson said while it was great so many people wanted to play the game, it now had 500 teams — 300 junior and 200 senior — and was struggling to give them all court time.

“We’re very much expecting to not fit everyone in this year,” he said.

“We’ll have to go back to the clubs and tell them, ‘We don’t have the space, you can only have this many teams’, which will mean there’ll be kids that don’t get to play.”

Mr Gibson fears kids may soon be turned away from playing basketball.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

The reason the association is struggling to accommodate the influx of players is court space.

It is a similar situation across the state, with Basketball Tasmania saying the state needs at least 26 new indoor courts to keep up with demand.

Junior basketballer in a red top with a ball running down a basketball court
The number of basketballers wanting to play in Launceston has increased by 46 per cent in the past 18 months.(Supplied: Launceston Basketball Association Facebook)

The Tasmanian government has plans to develop new facilities, but basketball organisations say they are still years away.

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‘We need to find players, and quickly’: Changing tastes leading to struggles for once-great team

There are fears one of Tasmania’s former powerhouse football teams is dangerously close to not being able to field a team, with sporting greats likening the situation to a canary in a coalmine for other clubs.

The Glenorchy Magpies, famous for being the former home of all-time Australian rules greats Peter Hudson and Roy Cazaly, have struggled to attract players to the club for more than 12 months, but ahead of this year’s Tasmanian State League season, the situation has worsened.

At least one recent training session saw just 12 dedicated players on the track, prompting fears for the future of the club, which boasts 17 premierships and has been a traditional powerhouse of Tasmanian football.

But Tim Woodham, who will contest the presidency of the club at its upcoming annual general meeting, believes the tide will turn in the coming weeks.

“I don’t want to go into recession, because I believe you don’t come back but we do need to find some players and quickly,” he said.

“We haven’t got any quick fixes at the minute, and it might take a little while to turn around but one day Glenorchy will be back as a powerful club again.”

The club has some famous exports, such as all-time great Peter Hudson.(Supplied: www.tasmanianstateleague.com.au)

Interim president Scott Donaghy told ABC Radio Hobart on Tuesday that while numbers were low, the Magpies situation had been overblown and that he was expecting a steady return of players to the club in the coming weeks.

A young man stands on a run track and smiles.
Sprint star Jack Hale has been signed by the club as a high-performance coach.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“We’ve told AFL Tas that we’ll be putting a team on the park. As far as we’re concerned, we will be putting a team on the park, and hopefully a second team,” he said.

Things are already starting to turn, with about 30 players attending a pre-season running session at Risdon Brook Dam this morning.

The club has also signed sprint star Jack Hale as a high-performance coach.

But answers are being sought as to how the famous club has declined so rapidly.

Glenorchy a ‘warning sign’ for other clubs

Glenorchy, which went winless at senior level last year, and was forced to forfeit two second-tier development league games, is a canary in the coal mine, according to former greats.

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Yuta Watanabe comically dunks into his own net as Brooklyn Nets’ woes continue | CNN




CNN
— 

The Brooklyn Nets have made a terrible start to the NBA season and on Saturday star forward Yuta Watanabe didn’t make matters any easier by comically scoring in the opposite team’s basket.

At the Barclays Centre, the Nets went down 125-116 to the Indiana Pacers to go 1-5 for the season. It was the Nets’ fourth straight loss and one coach Steve Nash called a “disaster.”

The night started ominously when, in the first quarter, Watanabe accidentally scored for the Pacers. When Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard went to shoot, the ball ricocheted off the rim and onto the backboard, James Johnson and Goga Bitadze of the Pacers went for the rebound, as did Watanabe, who got to the ball first and dunked it in.

The comical two-pointer cut the Nets’ lead before the Pacers tied at the end of the first quarter.

As the Pacers pulled away from the struggling Nets, rookie Bennedict Mathurin scored a career-high 32 points in a team record 23 three-pointers.

Elsewhere, Jalen McDaniels scored five key points in overtime as Charlotte Hornets recovered after blowing a fourth-quarter lead to beat visiting Golden State Warriors 120-113.

Domantas Sabonis scored all 18 of his points in the first half and Sacramento Kings stunned visiting Miami Heat 119-113 for coach Mike Brown’s first win at his new home.

Joel Embiid scored 25 points to lead six players in double figures and James Harden registered a double-double of 15 points and 11 assists to boost visiting Philadelphia 76ers to a 114-109 victory against Chicago Bulls.

And Milwaukee remained the NBA’s only unbeaten team with a 123-115 win over Atlanta. Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo both scored 34 points.



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