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Kurt Kitayama’s journey to the PGA Tour winner’s circle is one often traveled by aspiring pro golfers but seldom realized. The California native grinded on the Tour, Asian Tour, European Tour, and Korn Ferry Tour for years before finally earning his PGA Tour card in 2021, and he just outplayed some of the best golfers in the world to secure his first PGA Tour victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Not only did the win lock up Kitayama’s card for the next three years, but it also nearly doubled his career earnings thanks to his massive $3.6 million payout.

Kurt Kitayama entered the Arnold Palmer Invitational with $4.2 million in earnings

Most casual golf fans likely didn’t know who Kurt Kitayama was before this week. The 30-year-old journeyman was ranked outside the top 150 in the Official World Golf Ranking just eight months ago, but everyone knows his name now.

Kitayama began his professional golf journey on the Tour (now called the Korn Ferry Tour), which is the typical route for golfers fresh out of college. After two frustrating years on the Tour, Kitayama went overseas to play on the Asian Tour. He made it through the European Tour Q-School in 2018 to secure his spot on the European Tour, but he still had an uphill climb ahead of him to reach the PGA Tour.

Two early wins in the 2019 season helped Kitayama earn a spot in the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, where he finished 23rd to earn his PGA Tour card.

Kitayama played his first full season on the PGA Tour in 2021-22, and he impressed with two runner-up finishes and a 41st-place finish in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The UNLV product notched another runner-up finish early in the 2022-23 season, and entering last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, he had earned $4,194,548 on the PGA Tour.

Little did he know, that figure was about to jump by nearly double in one week.

Kurt Kitayama nearly doubled his career earnings in one day

Kurt Kitayama celebrates with the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy.
Kurt Kitayama poses with the trophy after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at Bay Hill | Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Kitayama entered the Arnold Palmer Invitational still searching for his first PGA Tour victory. It seemed unlikely to come this week considering the major-level field at Bay Hill, but the second-year pro wasn’t fazed by the competition.

Entering the final round, Kitayama was clinging to a one-stroke lead with superstars such as Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, and Jordan Spieth hot on his tail. A sloppy triple-bogey on the par-4 ninth hole looked to be the end of his tournament hopes, but he battled back with seven straight pars to stay in a tie for the lead. On the par-3 17th hole, Kitayama hit a majestic iron shot to 13 feet and buried the birdie putt to take the outright lead again. A par on the par-4 18th hole sealed the deal for his first career PGA Tour win.

Because the Arnold Palmer Invitational was an elevated event, the purse for the tournament was set at $20 million. Kitayama took home $3.6 million for the win, which nearly doubled his previous career earnings. The new World No. 19 has now earned $7.8 million on the PGA Tour.

Along with the massive payout, Kitayama secured his spot on the PGA Tour until 2026 and punched his ticket to all four major championships. Talk about a life-changing week!


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