As America’s best golfers prepare to take on Europe’s elite players in the Ryder Cup this weekend, you might forgive Warren, Ohio native Jason Kokrak if he admitted he was a bit envious. Kokrak wasn’t too far away from earning a spot on the team.
Back in May when the Hudson resident won the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth – his second PGA Tour victory of the season – there was plenty of buzz suggesting Kokrak had the momentum to grab a place on the American team.
In the end, Kokrak missed out. But he can console himself with the knowledge that his game has shown steady improvement over the years.
Ten years ago, Kokrak was ranked outside the top 300 in the world; five years ago he flirted with breaking into the top 100 after finishing second in the 2016 Northern Trust Open.
But as the Ryder Cup gets underway Friday, Kokrak is back at his highest ranking, a world number 22. If he continues at the same rate, might he be knocking at the door for the 2023 Ryder Cup?
Kokrak must also be thinking about his performances at the Majors. While he has performed well on the PGA Tour, he has not been able to truly make a run at golf’s greatest tournaments.
His play at the majors has been steady but unspectacular. His career-best is a tie for 17th at the 2020 US Open. In the 2021 majors, he finished 49th at the Masters, tied for 49th at the PGA Championship, and tied for 26th at The Open, while missing the cut at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Focus on Masters Already Started
It might feel like there is a long winter to get through before we start thinking about the Majors. But discussion around the contenders for the 2022 Masters, and the other blue-chip events, has already begun. Kokrak isn’t immediately mentioned that discussion, but you’ll have no problem finding a sportsbook giving you odds of 100/1 for the Ohio man. He certainly could get even better odds if he keeps making those marginal improvements that have helped him move up the rankings in recent years.
Of course, for a long time, Kokrak’s first concern was not winning a Major, but qualifying for one. 2021 was the first year that Kokrak played in all four Majors (although we should add the caveat that The Open was canceled in 2020, so he would have played four last year had that not been the case). But more often than not, it has been a struggle to qualify for Kokrak. He has, for example, only played twice at Augusta, despite joining the PGA Tour in 2012.
Success at the Majors does not necessarily mean winning one. And at 36-years-old, Kokrak’s chances of going the distance on a Sunday are limited, even if Phil Mickelson did show us this year that age isn’t always a barrier.
But if Kokrak can make a few top 10s at the Majors next year and perhaps the year after, his world ranking might improve further. He’ll get more confidence, too. And perhaps, then, we will see Kokrak jetting off to Italy with Team USA for the 2023 Ryder Cup.
— story by Elma Humpries, special to Northern Ohio Golf