Former UNLV golfer Kurt Kitayama and former player and coach J.C. Deacon have always shared a bond away from golf, but now an on-the-course partnership is producing stellar results on the European Tour.
Kitayama, 25, played for UNLV from 2011-15 and is one of several golfers with strong ties to Las Vegas set to play in the 148th British Open, which begins Thursday at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. He is ranked 22nd on the European Tour money list.
Deacon, now the head golf coach at University of Florida, played for UNLV from 2001-05 and was assistant coach for the Rebels when Kitayama was a player.
In late summer 2017, Kitayama, then struggling with poor play, made a call to Deacon seeking advice after missing the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying and just prior to leaving for Asian Tour qualifying.
“It was interesting how it all happened because he reached out to ask my opinion about who he should work with because we had always stayed in close contact,” Deacon said. “There were always a couple things that I believed I could help him with so when he asked me, ‘who should I work with and who could help me?’, I thought it was a good opportunity to share my thoughts.
“I remember telling him, ‘why don’t you and I work together, and if we can’t get it going in the next few months, we’ll find you someone in January and you’ll be off to the races.’ He was all about that and we got started. As soon as we started working together, the consistency came. I had the advantage of already knowing his swing well. Sure enough, we clicked.”
The results came quickly because Kitayama secured playing privileges for the 2018 Asian Tour and finished in the top 10 five times and won once. He then earned privileges on the 2018-19 European Tour and last December won the season’s third tournament, the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open at Anahita. He followed that victory up with a win at the Oman Open in March.
Seemingly overnight, he went from golf oblivion to front page news.
“After such a good season in Asia, I did kind of feel like the first win in Europe was coming, but winning for the second time so quickly was kind of unexpected,” Kitayama said last week from the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in the United Kingdom, where he shot 12 under to finish 43rd. “The biggest thing that has changed in my game was I started working with J.C. We made some swing changes of where my hands were at the top of the swing and a couple other things.”
Other Vegas pros scheduled to play in the British Open with Kitayama are Charley Hoffman, David Lipsky, Adam Scott, Aaron Wise and Summit Club member Rickie Fowler. Defending Shriners Hospitals for Children Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and 2017 champion Patrick Cantlay are also in the field, as is 3-time Shriners champ Jim Furyk.
“I have been trying to ride the momentum from 2018 into this year and hopefully this week I can play well,” said Kitayama, who still resides in Las Vegas. “I played the Irish and Scottish opens to get some experience on links-style courses prior to this week, and I will use my experience from the PGA Championship to prepare myself mentally for a major.
“Heading into this week, I am hoping to find something in my swing. J.C. and I have talked, and I have shared swing videos with him. I am sure this week is going to be really difficult and the weather is always something you need to be ready for because it always seems to be a factor.”
Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @LVGolfInsider on Twitter.
Las Vegans in the British Open
— Charley Hoffman
— Kurt Kitayama
— David Lipsky
— Adam Scott
— Aaron Wise
— Rickie Fowler