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Kuchar, the people’s champ, is The Players champ
Matt Kuchar seems like the nicest guy in the world. And he probably is. He is known for his loping stride and easy smile, the Florida kid who has a permanent spot on weekday leaderboards in big tournaments.
It’s appropriate that Kuchar picked up the most significant win of his career on Mother’s Day; it was his mother’s idea to upgrade the family club membership to include golf when little Matt Kuchar was just 12. The rest, as they say, is history.
Kuchar has ben around so long that you forget that he is only 33 years old and just entering the sweet spot of most professional golfers’ careers. He appeared on the golf scene in 1998, taking low amateur honors at the Masters as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. Along with having a game that was far advanced for his tender age, Kuchar won the golf world over instantly, playing the most revered tournament in the world with a smile on his face, his heart on his sleeve and his father on his bag. It looked like the mild-mannered Southerner and the then-precocioius Tiger Woods would play patty cake with the Green Jacket for years to come.
As everyone knows, Woods evolved into a player with a game and a life that were unlike any other. For Kuchar, the path has been more conventional. Kuchar’s first win on the PGA Tour came at the 2002 Honda Classic; however, by 2006 he was on the Nationwide Tour after failing to earn enough money to qualify for the PGA Tour. He won the Nationwide Tour’s 2006 Henrico County Open and finished 10th on the money list to earn his 2007 PGA Tour card. He retained his card in 2007 by finishing 115th on the money list and again in 2008 by finishing 70th.
Seven years after his first PGA Tour win, Kuchar won for a second time during the 2009 Fall Series at the Turning Stone Resort Championship in a playoff over Vaughn Taylor. Kuchar made the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup team by earning enough points to take the 8th, and last position, awarded on points. At the time Kuchar led the PGA Tour in top-10 finishes for the year, but had not won a tournament in 2010. The winless streak ended at The Barclays in 2010, where Kuchar defeated Martin Laird on the first hole of a sudden death playoff.
Kuchar has had a career of distinction, winning the Vardon Trophy and Byron Nelson Award in 2010 for lowest scoring average and the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Award for leading the money list. And yet the major title that would put him into the mix as one of the most significant players of his generation seemed to elude him. It was as if someone didn’t want him to be a child prodigy, to achieve success without acquiring a few of the experiences that most men have in common. His swing and his putting stroke have undergone changes that have made him into a solid ball-striker and a reliable putter under pressure. His flat-planed swing wraps tightly around his 6’4” frame; frankly, it looks weird but it saved his career. He can repeat his move under pressure, which makes him a threat at virtually every major. Kuchar’s best ever finish at a major came at this year’s Masters, where he finished behind champion Bubba Watson and Louis “The Albatross” Oosthuizen. Barring the once-in a-lifetime heroics of those two, Kuchar would have green jacket to his credit and would be looking to add a U.S. Open title at The Olympic Club in June. As it stands, Kuchar’s victory at TPC Sawgrass establishes him as a favorite to win at the major championship that is most like the Players’ in terms of the mental and physical challenges. For those that would dismiss him, they should note what Kuchar said when told by a beat reporter at last year’s U.S. Open at Congressional that he was the reporter’s pick to win that week.
“Oh yeah?”, remarked Kuchar with the trademark grin. He turned to walk away, turned back and with a wink said, “Good choice.”