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By Patti Putnicki

Brian Boylan remembers the first time he met Kelly Kraft on the driving range of Oakmont Country Club in Corinth, Texas, 10 years ago. Kraft, who was 16 at the time, was hanging out, hitting balls and looking for a game with “the old guys.”

“Even then, he could beat the tar out of anyone he played,” Boylan said. “I can tell you, he won plenty of lunch money from us back then.”

(Kelly getting his short game ready for the Byron Nelson)

Kraft getting his short game ready for the Byron Nelson

A few years later, this now 26-year-old Denton, Texas, native started showing his star power to a broader audience. He was a three-time Conference USA Player of the Year while playing college golf at Southern Methodist University. Then, the spotlight intensified when Kraft won the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship.

When he turned pro in 2012, the sky was the limit. But, a few missed cuts caused Kraft to do one of the worst things a pro can do: he started doubting himself.

“I never really had a swing coach in college. You come out here (to the professional tour), and everybody has got their swing coaches and their TrackMans and blah, blah, blah,” Kraft said. “I got kind of trapped up in that, and I thought that I had to change some things. In all honesty, I didn’t need to.”

So, the signature draw that won him college tournaments and the Amateur Championship went by the wayside—and his game suffered for it. In hindsight, Kraft believes he shouldn’t have “freaked out” about the missed cuts, or been so quick to change the formula that propelled him to the pros in the first place.

“Probably, all I needed to do was keep going on the way I was going and I would have been fine,” Kraft said.

Now, he’s turned his Fate around by going back to where he started.

New Coach, New Confidence and Back to the Basics

“Halfway through last year, I wasn’t having much success. I was around 70th on the money list—40th-, 50th-place finishes,” Kraft said. “I switched coaches to Troy (Denton) and he got me back on track.”

(Troy Denton

Troy Denton has Kraft back on his game. Photo:

A lot of that was going out, playing golf, having fun, and just learning to love the game again. Kraft also got back to the basics that made him a contender to begin with.

“Honestly, I am more of the player that I was then, now,” Kraft said. “I feel like I’m getting back to this draw that I used to hit in college, and putting well, like I used to; and just getting back to my old fundamentals and playing some good golf.”

Make that great golf. The Tour is halfway over and Kraft has got that one locked up already.

“Now, I switch my goal over to winning the money list…to get into a few more tournaments next year on this (the PGA) Tour,” Kraft said. “I feel like I’m playing well enough to do that.”

The Kelly Kraft Fans Who Never Stopped Believing

His fans at Oakmont Country Club—the course he grew up on—have never stopped believing, or supporting, this tall kid with the great smile and personality that’s hard not to love.

(Photo courtesy of Brian Boylan)

Kraft and Romo. Photo courtesy of Brian Boylan

“This is a great, hometown guy from a great family,” Boylan said. “He went on tour, he grew up, but when he comes back here, he’s still the nice, humble guy he always was.”

Oh yeah, he still has the ability to clutch it out, no matter the circumstance.

“Kelly got sidetracked in the beginning, but he’s come back strong. He’s one of those guys that makes things happen. You can never count him out—no matter who he’s playing,” Boylan said. “I watched him sink an 80-foot putt on 18 to beat Tony Romo in a round. When it’s time to play, he plays.”

Although he may not be the headliner at the AT&T Byron Nelson, this hometown boy from Denton and SMU alum will still attract a formidable crowd.

“Everyone at Oakmont Country Club will be there, at the Nelson, cheering him on,” Boylan said. “In the men’s locker room, we’ve got a flag he signed from the U.S. Amateur. Kelly’s a great guy and we’re going out there to support him.”

Although Kelly Kraft isn’t a household name in golf yet, Boylan and a whole lot of other people think his emergence as a golf superstar is sure to come.

“Kelly’s not going to be under the radar long,” Boylan said. “Play with him once, and you’ll see that. You’ll also see a great guy—a jokester who has as much fun playing golf as anyone I know.”

That sounds like a winner to me.