AUSTRALIAN Mitch Krywulycz arrived in Bogota for last month’s Colombian Classic with two main problems.
He didn’t have a 7-iron in his bag and he’d lost all control while putting.
The Friday before in Quito, at the PGA Tour Latinoamérica’s Ecuador Open, the 27-year-old Sydneysider needed birdie on his second last hole to cling to the right side of the cut-line.
He was on the number, though his ball was nestled beside a tree.
“I just went ahead and went straight into the tree,” Krywulycz (pronounced Cry-vul-itch) tells Golf Link.
“I bent my 7-iron in half and there is just no way to get a new club down here.
“It’s just not possible.”
Landing in Colombia, Krywulycz was a club short, out of form and had no idea what to do on the greens.
He shot a collective 9-over on the previous weekend and his game was in a dire state.
“I’d been playing borderline awful,” admits Krywulycz.
“I’d just switched coaches a couple of weeks before and I was hitting it a little bit better but I couldn’t physically take the putter back straight.
“Basically I just freaked out, threw a little tantrum on the practice putting green in Colombia and made like three blokes watch me putt.”
His peers were eager to assist but no progress was made, until Australian pro and close mate Ryan McCarthy intervened.
“Ryan finally snapped and said ‘Fine, that’s it, let’s do this’,” laughs Krywulycz.
“He got out, basically, everything he’s ever learnt from golf, every putting lesson he’s ever had and he spent a bunch of hours with me on the putting green.”
“The next week that was all we did.
“I didn’t make anything in Colombia, but I just rolled it really well.”
Krywulycz was a handful around the house as a youngster.
“I got sent to the course when I was pretty young as a kid because I was a nightmare to have around the house,” he recalls with a laugh.
“My mum would send me to go caddie for my Dad when I was about five or six down at Kareela Golf Club in the Sutherland Shire.
“But I didn’t really like golf.”
Looping for his father wasn’t necessarily a punishment, but Krywulycz didn’t take to the sport for years.
He preferred cricket, swimming and tennis until he arrived at Endeavour Sports High School in Caringbah, where he realised golf was the game for him.
“I loved cricket but the only part that annoyed me was that I used to bat first drop and if I got out, I was pretty much done for the day,” he says.
“Whereas golf, you were never out of golf.
“You were always present, no matter how many bad shots you hit.
As is the case for most beginners, it was the simplest parts of golf that grabbed Krywulycz.
"I loved hitting long drives and I loved chipping it, I still do to this day,” he says.
"They’re the only two things I genuinely love about golf, it hasn’t changed.”
“When I was about 16, I really started to get into the idea of becoming a pro golfer and wanting to do that for a living.”
A lean beginning didn’t distract Krywulycz, entering junior tournaments from the age of 13 but failing to climb the leader boards.
“Looking back on those junior days, the other juniors that I know now say that I was awful,” jokes Krywulycz.
“I guess I was pretty bad, but I was obsessed by it.”
By 16, he was winning tournaments.
By 17, his parents were eyeing off a university degree in Australia, but Krywulycz had other plans.
“I sabotaged my own grades so that couldn’t happen and ended up going to college in the States,” reveals Krywulycz.
Hopefully Mum isn’t reading.
Nearby Kareela was the place Krywulycz learnt how to play the game and became his springboard across to America.
Current Australian professional Aron Price had graduated through the Sydney club and the pair were introduced via Price’s younger brother.
Price was attending Georgia Southern University and in no time Krywulycz had committed to do the same.
“Aron basically just told his coach ‘Take this kid’,” says Krywulycz.
After meeting the coach at nearby Augusta State, Krywulycz had a change of heart.
"He was the exact opposite of me, really chilled, calm and relaxed,” says Krywulycz.
“I ended up going there and it turned out to be a fun ride.”
In Krywulycz’s freshman year in 2006-7, the young Australian walked into a program that wasn’t winning and was floundering in the NCAA Championship.
“When I first started playing, we were really bad, ranked like 50th in the country,” says Krywulycz.
“We had a bunch of individuals and we just weren’t very good.”
Enter Henrik Norlander, a bright, young talent from Sweden who last month won the first of the Web.com Tour’s Finals events to earn a PGA Tour card for this season.
“He completely changed our team,” says Krywulycz.
“In terms of the stuff that he knew about the game of golf and the golf swing, it was incredible.”
“We got rid of the older guys who weren’t very good and who were kind of bitter about golf.”
Krywulycz was ‘red-shirted’ in 2008-9, with NCAA athletes given five years to complete a degree but can only compete in their chosen sport for a maximum of four of those.
Polarising PGA Tour player Patrick Reed joined Augusta State the following year, after being expelled from the nearby University of Georgia, shouldering the load with Norlander.
“We had Patrick Reed join with two years to go, so we basically would just play NCAA events and those two guys would just go out and beat anyone,” says Krywulycz.
“It didn’t matter who they were playing.
“The results were always like ‘Patrick Reed beat Peter Uhlein 8&6, Henrik Norlander beat Morgan Hoffman 5&4’.
“Then all we needed to do was have me or one of my two other team mates win a match and we would advance.”
Under the guidance of coach Josh Gregory, winning became a formality.
The previously unheralded Augusta State University claimed back-to-back NCAA Men’s Golf Championships in 2010 and ’11, the first school to win consecutive titles in 25 years.
“When I look back on it, you have to have two studs like that,” says Krywulycz. “It was an odd mix and very weird how it all came together.
“When I first started college we were awful and arrogant and didn’t get any stuff at all, but by the end of it we were getting all the Adidas and TaylorMade gear you could ever imagine.
“It was awesome.”
The transition from college golf to the professional ranks felt strange.
Structure and a routine are replaced by the week-to-week grind of ‘living and dying’ by your results.
“I would have classes from 7am till 11am and then I’d play all afternoon,” says Krywulycz.
“Then once you leave college you just have tournaments and weeks off.”
Krywulycz missed out on the Web.com Tour’s Q-School the first year out of college before reaching the final stage of qualifying for the 2014 season.
“I got status for the Web.com Tour but I didn’t get any starts and I wasn’t even close really,” says Krywulycz.
“Last year and the first part of this year was really the toughest part of my professional career, because you have a Web.com Tour card but it’s meaningless in the end.”
After a year spent navigating Monday qualifiers in the US, it was Krywulycz’s parents back home who spotted an opening for their son.
“Towards the end of the year, my parents said ‘Look, you can get into these PGA Tour Latinoamérica events through your Web.com status’,” says Krywulycz.
“My mum is loads smarter than I am. They’re always looking for ways for me to play.”
“They always talk about playing in Asia, but because I hit it pretty far and not that straight, in my mind Asia wouldn’t really suit my game.”
The 27-year-old Australian committed to a season in South America, zig-zagging across the continent, hopefully paying for it with good golf on the weekends.
Big paydays have been few and far between, but it’s hard to be down off the course when life is so good off it.
“The language, the travel, the hotels, the food, all this stuff is crazy, but weirdly I kind of like it,” says Krywulycz.
“The people are really, really nice down here, but there’s definitely been a million situations where we just start laughing because we can’t figure out how to get from A to B.
“In the early days, you can’t even figure out how to tell the cleaning lady not to come into your hotel for another hour!”
The PGA Tour’s overhaul and renaming of the Tour de las Américas in 2012 has been a roaring success, Krywulycz crediting the professionalism of the PGA Tour in running the tournaments each week.
“South America is loud and everyone is always trying to be calm but they’re always late for everything,” says Krywulycz.
“It’s just a big mash-up of Latin culture where the PGA Tour is also trying to force this organised tour into it.
“It’s just a beautiful mess.”
Thankfully, Krywulycz isn’t navigating this foreign landscape alone.
Two other regulars on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica in 2015 are Australians Brady Watt and McCarthy.
As Australians abroad tend to do, the trio have struck up a close bond that is earning them a reputation across the tour.
“It’s funny, we’re kind of the bridge between the Americans and the Latino players over here, because that’s the real divide,” explains Krywulycz.
“We travel together, play our practice rounds together and do all these things and we probably shouldn’t. We should probably try to branch out a bit more.
“We’re just caught in the middle, because we’re not American, but we’re sure as hell not Latinos!
“We’re just kind of here.”
There’s evidence to support the fact that Watt, McCarthy and Krywulycz are discenible fish out of water on the tour.
“They think the things we talk about are funny and that our Spanish is hilarious,” says Krywulycz.
“Ryan’s Spanish is really good because he lives in Argentina. Brady’s is awful. Mine is a smidge better than Brady’s.
“I try really hard but the words still come out poorly.”
Never more so than when the boys resorted to a local supermarket chain for dinner one evening.
“One night, we ate tacos in Walmart,” remembers Krywulycz.
“Which, looking back on it, was probably the worst decision we ever made.”
For the last couple of months, each week one of the three is responsible for booking accommodation for all, keeping everyone updated via a thread of never-ending messages on their phones.
“If anyone ever got a hold of our Whatsapp thread it would probably be pretty funny,” jokes Krywulycz.
Thankfully, the Whatsapp (a messaging app for your phone) thread landed Krywulycz and his two touring mates at Club Campestre El Rancho in Bogota ahead of last month’s Colombian Classic.
He’d only made two cuts for the year to that point, with a top finish of outright 49th in Honduras.
The 27-year-old opened the week with a 2-under 68 and achieved his first goal of making the cut with a 1-under 69 on Friday.
Back-to-back bogeys on six and seven on Saturday halted his momentum, before a Saturday afternoon tear saw him roar into contention.
Five back-nine birdies from the 11th to the 17th saw Krywulycz enter the final day in a tie for second at 6-under par, one stroke out of the lead.
But he would save his best until last.
Krywulycz made three birdies on the front nine before a rollercoaster Sunday afternoon, which featured four birdies and three bogeys.
He was left with a four-foot putt on the 72nd hole for a 4-under 66 and nailed it, watching on as Mexican playing partner Sebastián Vázquez missed a similar chance to force a playoff.
With no form, no 7-iron and zero confidence with his putting stroke, Krywulycz had his first win on a professional circuit, became the only man in the field to card four scores in the 60s for the week and will forever be the first player from outside the Americas to win on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica.
And without those hours on the putting green with his good mate McCarthy it would not have been possible.
“Everyone was coming up to Ryan and asking ‘What’d you do with Mitch?!’,” laughs Krywulycz.
“Ryan had about four lessons set up the next week. We joked about getting business cards.”
The result catapulted Krywulycz from 127th on the Order of Merit to 11th, with Web.com Tour cards for next season awarded to the top five and those finishing 6-10 earning spots in the late stages of Q-School.
“I’ve got a great opportunity but at the same time, pre-Colombia, I wasn’t even keeping my card,” says Krywulycz.
“For me the biggest thing is to continuously get better.
“I know worrying about the top five doesn’t do anything for my game, it just makes golf a bit miserable.
“In the end if I get through then I get through. But if I don’t, it is what it is.”
Just weeks later, Krywulycz feels like he again isn’t on top his game.
“I just think eventually when I get this ball striking sorted out it will feel just like Colombia again,” says Krywulycz.
“You never feel like you will 100-per-cent play great, you just hope to recreate those good feelings.
“I made the cut in Mexico a fortnight ago, but it was awful, I lost 11 golf balls in one tournament.
“That tells you how bad I was hitting it.
“I haven’t lost 11 golf balls in my life and I lost 11 in a week. It was tough.”
Three regular season events remain before the Tour Championship in Puerto Rico in early December, with Krywulycz hopefully not needing to attend Web.com Tour Q-School the following week.
“I’ll always come back for at least a month to work on the cricket pitch back home for Christmas Day,” says Krywulycz.
While playing in the Australian summer of golf in front of family and friends would be ideal, the 27-year-old knows the risks of navigating through the Monday qualifiers doesn’t outweigh securing a tour card for next year.
“I don’t normally bother with the qualifiers at home which is tough, because I would love to play in those events,” says Krywulycz.
“But it is so hard because there’s so many guys who want to play.”
If word gets out about travelling through Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil to play golf for a living, there might be a few guys looking to join the PGA Tour Latinoamérica, too.
Photos: Enrique Berardi/PGA TOUR Latinoamérica
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