Kaye gets toe in the door at FBR Open

       Playing on the final year of a five-year exemption for winning the 2004 FBR Open, long-time Phoenix pro Jonathan Kaye made the most of his opportunity.
      “Yeah, it’s nice to be back out here,’’ said Kaye, 38, who was among the leaders at the FBR Open after he opened Thursday with a 3-under-par 68 at the TPC Scottsdale, or three shots behind co-leaders Lucas Glover and rookie James Nitties.
       Kaye, who made only eight starts last season on the PGA Tour, and never hit  a shot in 2007, has been plagued by a bad big toe on his right foot.
       “I thought I was ready to come back (last year), and I wasn’t,’’ he reported. “It still bothers me, and truthfully, I don’t think it will ever get better because there is no cartilage left in there. I guess I’m just kind of managing the pain better.’’
       It’s been a rocky road for Kaye, who at one time looked like he might be a future star on the PGA Tour. That was 2003, when he finished 16th on the money list then followed it up with the win at the FBR the next year. Even 2005 was a pretty good season, as he finished No. 53 on the money list.
      But the foot went bad in 2006, and got worse the following year when he underwent surgery and a lengthy rehab.
     “I shouldn’t have even tried to play (in 2008) because I couldn’t walk,’’ Kaye explained. “After Memphis (in June), well, that was my last tournament until today.’’
     Kaye always has been a “character,’’ a former rebel on tour who listed things like “coloring’’ and being a “jalapeno farmer’’ under his special interests in the PGA Tour media guide. And even though his career has been a little hit-and-miss, the self-taught pro has proved he can golf his ball when he’s healthy, racking up over $10 million in winnings in 13 seasons in the big league.
     There are other claims to fame. For instance, the former Sunnyslope High School standout and University of Colorado star once shot a course-record 58 at Encanto, the course where he grew up on as a kid. And as a Buffalo he once beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff to win a college tournament in Tucson.
     These days he and his wife, Jennifer, who also played golf professionally, have two daughters – Ryelie and Breeze. That’s why Kaye said staying home and hanging out with the family basically the past two years has been the silver lining to the terrible toe.
     “My kids declared me, ‘Dad of the Year,’ ’’ said a beaming Kaye, who lists his special interest in the media guide these days as “avid indoorsman.’’
      “They tell me I’m the best dad in the ‘whole wide world,’ and I’ll take that any day. I really do have some great kids.’’
     As for his future on the PGA Tour, he needs to return to the glory days of old, he admitted.
     “Right now they’ve got me listed at the back of the Q-School guys, and I need to make a bunch of money real soon to keep playing,’’ he said of his current status, which wouldn’t have been good enough to get in the FBR Open had he not been a former champ.
     “But lately I’ve been playing pretty well – like today – and that’s all you can hope for.’’
Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780.