- March 11, 2019
The 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational welcomed a new name to the list of winners: Kurt Kitayama, who collected his first win at the PGA Tour Sunday, March 5.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “Just to get your first one I think it’s an unbelievable thing, (and) I’m lucky enough to have had it at a very special place, so it’s a bonus.”
Nicknamed “The Project” during his college years at the University of Nevada — Las Vegas, Kitayama was able to prove himself to all the big names in the sport, including past API champions such as Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Jason Day.
“My iron game has jumped a level and my shorter game has seen a big level of increase rate,” Kitayama said. “Just finding the little successes around the world and making it out here, put myself in the contention, you start to really believe in yourself — that you belong out here.”
Prior to competing at the API, during his time as a pro golfer, Kitayama had participated in 10 tours — including Canada, Europe, P
GA, Korea, Asian Development Tour, Korn Ferry Tour, India and Sunshine.
SUNDAY AT BAY HILL
With thousands of spectators at the grounds of the Bay Hill Lodge and Club following every move and call, Kitayama — who jumped in rank from No. 46 to No. 19 — was not leading until the end of Sunday.
McIlroy was on the top of the scoreboard all through the back nine right before a number of bogeys at holes 14 and 15 put him in a tie with Harris English in second place. Before taking the lead, Kitayama was at eight under, tied with McIlroy, Scheffler and English. However, Kitayama was able to strike a 6-iron from the tee at par-3 17th to 13 feet and later drain the putt to get the lead.
After tapping his 47-foot, 2-inch birdie putt on the 18th green that landed an inch from disappearing at the bottom of the cup, Kitayama turned around and gave his caddie, Tim Tucker, a big hug.
“It was a big relief, you know, that it was really happening,” Kitayama said.
In addition to the outstanding golf, the API also featured plenty of fun off the course. This included the annual Wine and Dine on the 9, which took place from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, March 3. Fans enjoyed food from local restaurants such as American Social Bar and Kitchen, Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, Brio, Burntwood, Jimmy Hula’s, Fresh & Co, Melting Pot and more.