FALMOUTH — Talk to Ben Kohles, a 31-year-old North Carolinian on the Korn Ferry Tour, about his strong play of late and you’ll get a smile.

Talk to him about his caddy, 80-year-old Hylton James, and the smile grows.

“He’s been great,” Kohles said. “To have him on the bag, he’s always so positive. He’s seen a lot of golf over the years, so he knows what it takes, and he’s always pumping me up and telling me how good I am.”

Caddie Hylton James and pro golfer Ben Kohles talk strategy before Kohles teed off on the fourth hole in the second round of the Live and Work in Maine Open at Falmouth Country Club on Friday. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

When the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA Tour’s top developmental circuit, arrived at Falmouth Country Club for the Live and Work in Maine Open, it brought with it plenty of stories that go beyond the scores and beyond the point standings.

Kohles and James, who is known throughout the sport as JJ, are one of those stories.

“We’ve been together for quite some time now,” said Kohles, who’s at 4 under after a second straight 2-under 69. “He’s pretty much the legend out here. Everyone knows JJ. Hopefully we can get it done the next couple of weeks.”

In a sport in which golfer-caddie relationships can deteriorate quickly, Kohles and James are in their fifth year together. They’ve weathered adversity, perhaps none greater than when James, who’s caddied since 1985, collapsed during a round in May 2019 from heart trouble that required surgery.

“That was tough,” Kohles said. “He was able to get back out here within like three months. He’s a trooper.”

Kohles, who qualified for the PGA Tour in 2012, wants to get back there with JJ. That would require a spot in the top 25 in the Korn Ferry standings. He’s got a good chance; he was 20th entering the week, and he made the cut Friday.

“This sport can be a little selfish,” Kohles said. “But with him on the bag, having his support, it would mean a lot to get back to the Tour.”

 

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Jonathan Randolph has the same goal. The 32-year-old Mississippian has been scraping to try to find his old form, one that saw him make the PGA Tour in 2015 and then again in 2017. He’s 99th in the Korn Ferry Tour standings, forcing him to criss-cross the country playing event after event, 10 in the last 11 weeks.

“You’ve got to get your chances. You never know when the week’s going to pop,” said Randolph, who shot a 1-over 72 and sits at 2 under. “It’s been one of those where I keep getting better every week. I just haven’t been able to really, really break through.

“This game, it will pick you up and flip you around. … I go from being in the top five, thinking about winning a golf tournament, to needing to make up and down from 100 (yards) to make the cut on the number.”

Randolph has a wife, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, but the pursuit of that higher level makes him a golfing nomad. He prefers to drive wherever he plays – “I don’t like the thought of somebody forgetting to put some sensor on something, and I can’t get there for a day or two” – and he rarely gets home to see his family.

But he knows he can still play.

“I spend more time with my caddy than I do my wife,” he said. “As long as I have belief that I can do it, I’m going to do it.”

 

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Taylor Pendrith knows the feeling. The 30-year-old is fifth in the standings and has it easy as far as competition is concerned, having clinched his PGA Tour card on the strength of four straight top-three finishes last July and August.

Where Pendrith has it harder, however, is off the course. A native of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Pendrith has only been able to see his fiancee, Megan, for four months out of the last 16.

Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ontario, watches his shot on the fourth hole during the second round of the Live and Work in Maine Open on Friday at Falmouth Country Club. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

“It’s been brutal that way,” said Pendrith, who was at 5 under after a 3-under 68 Friday. “I haven’t seen my family in a long time. I’ve been unable to travel back and forth, obviously. They’ve changed that coming up in the next few weeks, which is great, but it’s been hard for everybody.”

Zoom calls have had to do, but there’s good news on the way. The couple just bought a house in Florida, and Megan will be moving down by the end of the year.

By then, her fiancee will be getting ready for a new tour.

“Everything’s kind of coming together,” Pendrith said. “It’s been a weird year … but we’re getting through it.”

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