Bryson DeChambeau’s old caddie? He and Kurt Kitayama are leading the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Tim Tucker stood with the flagstick propped aloft against his left shoulder, then his right. About 25 feet away, his boss was lining up one of the biggest putts of his life, but Tucker and Michael Greller, Jordan Spieth’s caddie, didn’t seem overly concerned and they whispered away. At one point, Tucker handed something to Greller.
Seconds later, he handed him the flagstick. Kurt Kitayama had birdied.
There’s some coolness to the Kitayama proceedings this week, isn’t there? Leader to start Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational? Sounds good. Double bogey early at Bay Hill to drop out of the lead? OK. The leader to start Sunday, with a PGA Tour all-star team giving chase? Great. Granted, Kitayama is normally this way. One of his pursuers, Xander Schauffele, joked with reporters earlier this week about the size of his buddy’s legs, and these bouquets aren’t given to the more serious folks. “Yeah, Kurt, we call him Quadzilla or the Quadfather,” Schauffele said. “He’s got really big legs. So I call him Quadz with a ‘Z’ at the end. He’s a good dude. He’s a really good player. He hangs tough and he’s got a good head on his shoulders.” When told about it all, Quadzilla laughed.
But you need a rock to pull off something like Kitayama is on the verge of. Let’s go back to that scene at the top. On the 18th green, after the putt, Kitayama turned right to Tucker. Player and caddie held a fist-bump for a second. They released.
They went right into the yardage book. It gave off an on-to-the-next-one vibe. On the NBC broadcast, John Wood had an idea what they were talking about.
“After Kitayama made that putt, he came over to the side of the green, and obviously Tim Tucker congratulated him and said good putt,” said Wood, himself a longtime caddie. “But I guarantee you, being as experienced as he is, he is getting him ready for tomorrow right now, telling him you are better than anybody out here this week and we are going to go take them apart tomorrow.”
You may know some of the Tucker story already. A looper for a few players over the years, he is maybe best known for being Bryson DeChambeau’s bagman, a stretch that saw Tucker caddie during a 2020 U.S. Open victory. An Arnold Palmer Invitational win two years ago, too. When DeChambeau took an adventurous, over-the-lake route on Bay Hill’s par-5 6th during the third and fourth rounds that year, it was Tucker he met at the bag. They’d split later that year, though — the sides will tell you it was peaceful — and Tucker, a former Bandon Dunes caddie, went back to the Oregon resort, opened a shuttle service, and he’s carried on occasion.
The Kitayama story, though, is more winding. For brevity’s sake, we’ll share that the 30-year-old Californian has played globally, and that at the first of his three international victories, he was paid with a bag of cash. So he’s seen some things. In the fall of 2021, he joined the PGA Tour full-time, and he’s had a series of notable also-rans: a tie for second at last year’s Mexico Open, where Jon Rahm won; a second at last year’s Scottish Open, where Schauffele won; a second at last fall’s CJ Cup, where Rory McIlroy won.
Good. But maybe not enough.
About a month ago, though, Tucker picked up the bag — Kitayama’s brother is a caddie at Bandon and connected the two — and here we are. Across the board in the Strokes Gained metrics this week, Kitayama has been solid — 27th in off the tee; tied for third in tee to green; 14th in approach the green; 16th in around the green; eighth in putting; and first overall — and after rounds of 67, 68 and 72, the duo leads by one going into Sunday’s final round.
“I mean, he’s got a lot of knowledge,” Kitayama said of Tucker. “Trying to soak in as much as I can without going overload on it. He’s been very helpful. We’re trying new things out on the course, and if it works, we stick with it, and if it doesn’t, we kind of throw it right out.
“So it’s been good.”
But, you know, cool.
“Yeah, I think you just kind of accept it,” Kitayama said. “You just look at the leaderboard, the rankings and what they have done. People probably cheering for them louder, you know. So there’s nothing I can do.
“Just embrace it.”