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Avowed 'Golf Junkie' Thrilled with Players Win
Matt Kuchar unabashedly loves golf. It shows in how he seems to always be smiling on the course, his friendly banter with other players, caddies and fans, and his competitiveness, which served him well in the final round of the Players Championship.
The 33-year-old logged the biggest victory in his career Sunday, closing with a 2-under 70 to finish at 13-under 275 and two shots ahead of Martin Laird, last week's winner Rickie Fowler and two major champions, Zach Johnson and Ben Curtis.
In addition to earning the biggest purse in golf, $1.71 million, the Players victory gave Kuchar a three-year exemption to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, along with 600 FedEx Cup points. Kuchar is now sixth in the season-long points' race.
But regardless of all the spoils that go to the winner of such a prestigious event, often called golf's "fifth major," Kuchar is doing what he loves. He also happens to be pretty good in his chosen occupation, having moved up to becoming the No. 5-ranked golfer in the world after the victory. But that extra stuff's not important to him.
"I'm very happy with where my game is. I'm very happy with what I've become as a golfer," he said Sunday night at TPC Sawgrass. "I try not to think too much being an elite player, being considered a top-10 player in the World Rankings, that sort of thing. I try not to think very much about it, I just try to go out and play the best I can. And like I said earlier, I'm a golf junkie. I love going out there and playing. I love the game of golf.
"So to me, that's an afterthought. To me it's just how can I improve, how can I get better. It's exciting to win tournaments, to be in this position, to have this trophy. Like I said, to walk down that Tunnel of Champions and know that I'm a part of that, it's just an incredible feeling. I'd love to have that feeling every week.
"But I think that's one of the things we play for. We play because it's hard, because you get to challenge yourself against the best in the world here. This tournament, you had to have had the strongest field in the world, and to come out on top is just an amazing feeling."
After accepting the huge check and the trophy that goes to the Players champion, Kuchar met with reporters and expressed his thoughts on the biggest triumph of his career.
MODERATOR: It's my pleasure to introduce and announce our 2012 the Players Championship winner, Mr. Matt Kuchar. I know any win is special, this one for a variety of reasons, Mother's Day, your family is here. It's the Players Championship. Just give us your reactions and comments to winning this title.
MATT KUCHAR: Absolutely, I wanted to pull the trigger. It was only fitting that I have a three or four minute delay before I got to hit that final shot in that final grouping. It just felt like it had to be. So fortunately my caddie and I just had some conversations about who knows what, anything to take my mind off it. Also, I figured it let me rehearse the swing and shot that I wanted to pull off, and I had more time. You never really want more time to think about the shot, but it gave me more time to rehearse the swing, at least, I wanted to make.
Q. Were you aware Rickie make that birdie on 17 and only got it within a couple of shots at the time, but just a few seconds later you drained yours? Was that a -
MATT KUCHAR: I was pretty excited to stick it right back to Rickie. That was pretty awesome. Yeah, absolutely. I saw the putt. I actually had my eye watching it to see the break a little bit. I had an angle, was pretty much putting straight down towards me, so watched the thing disappear and he gave a big fist pump. I knew it got him to within two shots and he could birdie 18 to bring it within one. That could have changed the whole scenario of how I would have approached and played 18. So I was really excited to drop that birdie on 16. That was big.
Q. You had just taken the lead and put your shot right into that slope. How much was that putt like what you faced at 16 on Sunday at Augusta?
MATT KUCHAR: Much easier than Sunday at Augusta. It's a similar shot. Again, here you are looking to hit the middle of the green. I feel like, got to hit a shot here at 13, maybe more difficult. It seems like there's a little less room, that the slope is steeper. The room to the left is smaller, and then I hit a shot - I was never going to be aggressive with that shot. I was in a position, had the lead. No need to be aggressive. I was going to try to hit the middle of the green and the ball drifts right to the wind to the middle of the green. It was a perfectly acceptable shot. My up and down at Augusta at 16 was one of those ones, one in 30, one in 40 you get up and down. I think the two putt I had here was kind of a 50/50 chance at two putting that one.
Q. So 16 was harder, the second shot?
MATT KUCHAR: Yes, yes.
Q. Your caddie says you have the perfect demeanor for golf. How much did that help you today, playing with a player who's - the other guys that he played with did not play well the previous three days. And second part, how much did your experience at the Masters in the home stretch and doing what you did on the back nine there help you today?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, I feel like my mental game is one of my stronger suits. I feel like not a whole lot gets under my skin. I'm good about letting things just roll off and not affect me. I think I had a great upbringing with a father that pushed me, that challenged me, with a team at Georgia Tech that gave each other more grief than you can imagine, and you had to have thick skin, you had to be able to handle anything thrown your way. And I had a mother, as well, that made sure that I also enjoyed the game, and I found that the more fun I had on the golf course, the better I played. So for me, playing with a guy that may be a distraction, that's not going to bother me. I think my caddie told you right, that my demeanor probably is one of my strong suits for the game of golf.
Q. And about the Masters experience, how much were you able to draw from that to carry you down the stretch today?
MATT KUCHAR: I think it's one of those things where you get in contention enough, you start feeling more and more comfortable. It's a thing where I used to get really nervous on the first tee at tournaments, and I play now - it seems like every week there's a new tournament, there's a new first tee shot to tee off, and you get more and more comfortable with that first tee shot. There may be a little bit of nerves, but nothing like the nerves I had in 1998 when I was an amateur on the first tee at Augusta. Those nerves are gone - I've gotten more comfortable, I think, having played Augusta so recently late on Sunday. It just helps me be a little bit more comfortable in this situation.
Q. I'm wondering, do you think the smile causes some people to underestimate your resolve and fire that burns within, because we all know you can needle the players with the best of them in the locker room and all this. There's obviously something there that's pretty competitive and pretty feisty that a lot of the civilians probably don't see.
MATT KUCHAR: It could be. It's not meant to fool you. It is completely a natural reaction. I love playing the game of golf. I have fun doing it. I am a golf junkie. I have to force myself to take vacations where I cannot play golf, where the clubs don't make it, because the game is just always so challenging, and I think it's that challenge that's addictive to me. And to get out to play, to have something to try to get better at, there's no end to all the different avenues in the game of golf where you can try to get better. I feel like I'm so lucky to be doing what I do. I'm out there, I'm enjoying myself, having a good time. The smile is there because I'm having a good time, because I'm loving playing golf.
Now, granted, if I'm shooting 10-over par, you're probably not going to see me real happy. I'm hopefully going to behave myself appropriately, thanks to my mother, but I'm not going to be near as happy as when I'm making birdies.
Q. What did you learn about Kevin today?
MATT KUCHAR: It was interesting playing with Kevin in that there wasn't a whole lot of conversation. Kevin knows that he's fighting some demons with pulling the trigger, and in trying to help himself, he walks really fast. So he tries to offset his difficulty in actually hitting the ball by walking fast, getting up to his ball and trying to keep a similar pace of play. I didn't get a whole lot of chance to converse with Kevin. Finally I asked him a little bit when we got on the clock, it's a silly thing, but you let your caddies go ahead, your caddies get all the numbers. You walk slowly so that your caddies are fully prepared by the time you get up to the ball, you don't have to do work yourself. They've done all the work, and now you can hopefully pull the trigger quickly.
Well, we had two holes where we were on the clock, and that was the only time I think Kevin and I got to walk together. We walked slowly, let the caddies walk ahead and had a few chances to chat about what he was doing. Kevin is a great guy in the locker room. I think he's nice to everybody, but he's fighting some demons. He seems to battle through it pretty well. It's not an envious thing to go through. I'm glad it's not happening to me. But he's had a tough day. Here he had a chance to win a big tournament, and I don't know how many other chances he's had like this. It's one of those you kind of chalk up and say, all right, I had a chance. Hopefully next time I'll learn and do better.
Q. Did you sort of have a game plan when he was struggling on the tee to not look at him straight on and keep your gaze down the fairway?
MATT KUCHAR: No, I did not. I had people say try not to watch him, and I think it's like trying not to look at the leaderboard. You just have to. Your eyes end up looking at the leaderboard. You have to kind of watch Kevin Na, and then there's also some audio included, as well, so even if you're not watching, you can hear it, as well. (Laughter.) I mean, I could have plugged my ears and closed my eyes maybe. That could have been a game plan. But I knew going in that that sort of thing wasn't going to get the best of me.
Q. I just wanted to follow that up a little bit. Did you realize today, I mean, there was a good chance you were going to end up on the clock, and did you mentally prepare yourself for what was going to happen after that? Obviously you're leading the tournament, and a lot of pressure coming down the stretch, and now you're on the clock, not that you're a slow player but you were going to be on the clock, too. How much did you prepare yourself and what did you do when it happened?
MATT KUCHAR: That's been one of those things where I think experience has served me well. I can remember getting on the clock at a British Open. I can't remember who we were playing with, again, somebody slow in the group, and at the time it made me frustrated. Nobody likes playing on the clock, and it bothered me getting on the clock. You kind of think, why should I be on the clock? It's clearly this guy. Why should the rule now affect me?
And I let it get to me, thought about it afterwards, tried to learn from it, tried to figure out, all right, I'm certainly - I'm definitely going to get on the clock again in the future. I've got to figure out how to just roll with it, and it's one of those things that I think experience helped, and I assumed we probably would get on the clock. I figured it would probably help Kevin play a little faster. So I had no problem with that happening. I choose not to be on the clock. Nobody enjoys being on the clock. But I was prepared for it, and I think that experience of that British Open helped me learn and accept it and not let it bother me.
Q. What year was that British Open, do you remember? Or the course?
MATT KUCHAR: It was either Turnberry or Carnoustie. I'm sorry.
Q. It was a links course? (Laughter.)
MATT KUCHAR: Good one, good one.
Q. Kevin talked a lot about some of the heckling. I'm curious how much of it you heard and what you thought of it.
MATT KUCHAR: I did not hear as much as heckling. We talked a little bit about the Na last name and how many different versions he must here of nah nah nah nah or just different plays on his last name. So he said he's pretty much heard everything, had a few giggles at some. I think one of the most entertaining guys to play with in a situation like that is Johnson Wagner. The amount of people that comment about his mustache, it gets me every time. I get a chuckle out of it. Johnson hears it every day, every week, I think. I get a big chuckle out of it. I don't know what the most clever Na Na thing was today. I thought it was pretty clever that he had an N A on his shirt that was the periodic table, sodium. I thought that was kind of clever, we talked about it, the little chatting that we did do. But I didn't hear any people giving him a hard time about pulling the trigger.
Q. Second shot on 14 out of the bunker, did you consider other options, maybe hooking around the trees, or was that the only option for you?
MATT KUCHAR: That was the only option. I had a clean lie, had a good number, was far enough back from the trees that it wasn't going to be a real problem. I just had to make good contact. It was scary to think had I not made good contact and I was taking the line over the trees, the number I could have made then. It could have been big, just had to come off good, and thankfully it did.
Q. Over the last couple years, you played so consistent but you haven't won golf tournaments since 2010. Is that frustrating -
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, you can suck it, big guy. (Laughter.) You had to point that out. Yeah, thanks a lot. I'm really happy with the way my golf career has gone. I've played some great golf, some consistent golf. I never wanted to be the guy that won once a year and missed 10 cuts a year. I just didn't think - there are a lot of people that play good golf for a week and then miss a couple cuts. I wanted to be the guy - and back when I was thinking about this, Tiger Woods was either winning or finishing second or third every week, and I wanted to figure out how do I get to be like that, how do I play good golf?
Lately - Steve Stricker was that guy. It seemed like Steve Stricker was a guy that I could be more like than I could be like Tiger Woods. I can't hit the shots Tiger Woods can. Steve and I play a similar game, just a consistent game, and that was a guy that I said, I'd like to play like him. I'd like to show up, be playing good, have a chance to win tournaments, and it's gone that way. Thanks a lot to Chris O'Connell, he's definitely made me a better player and a more consistent player.
It makes life a whole lot more enjoyable than packing up Friday afternoon. That's one of the worst things. It's hard to believe Stricker's cut streak came to an end. What an amazing streak that is. I think 49, something like two years' worth of cuts made is pretty awesome. I'm real pleased with the path that my career has gone.
Q. Do you know who's got the longest cut streak now?
MATT KUCHAR: Who?
Q. You do.
MATT KUCHAR: Really?
Q. 17, I think.
MATT KUCHAR: Very nice (in a Borat voice). I remember I missed one last year some time. I couldn't imagine that it's me now.
Q. You referenced Chris O'Connell. Can you refresh our memory on when it was you went to see him and just give us a synopsis of the kinds of changes that he made in your golf swing because obviously that was huge for you?
MATT KUCHAR: It was six, I was back on the Nationwide Tour, was working with a couple different instructors at the time trying to find somebody that clicked. It seemed like I'd find a new guy monthly and just not really click. Then playing on the Nationwide, hanging out with a guy, Matt Weibring who played on the Georgia Tech team, he was friends with Chris O'Connell, suggested I see Chris. I did, and from the very first lesson from the fifth golf ball I hit with him watching I started hitting it better. His idea for me was to make me a more consistent golfer. He wanted to eliminate timing. He knew I was athletic. He knew I was gifted with hand eye coordination. But his belief and the way that they like the club to work is a way that eliminates as much club face rotation through impact as possible, thus hopefully eliminating timing, and I feel like that's been such a big help and something that has helped me to make the last 17 straight cuts, to have chances to win a lot of big tournaments. It's just not to play good golf, week in and week out.
Q. How long did it take you to -
MATT KUCHAR: It clicked the fifth ball, just right away, and we've continued to refine it and make it better and better. But his ideas, I mean, he figures if he plug in something good, it's going to - you're going to get good results.
Q. Could you be the tiebreaker here? I've gotten two conflicting reports about the score of the tennis match this morning. Your father said you guys won in three sets; your wife said you won a set and then didn't have time to complete another set. Did you get three sets in, two? What was the actual result?
MATT KUCHAR: There's a pretty clear person that you can really trust.
MATT KUCHAR: Sitting down in front.
Q. So two sets, three sets? Whatever your wife says?
MATT KUCHAR: Whatever she says, you can believe it.
Q. You talked about your consistency. Given what you were able to do today and then obviously at Augusta, do you feel like you've taken it to the next level? Are you ready to take it to the next level? Are you getting it to a point where you're more than just about the consistency now?
MATT KUCHAR: I'm very happy with where my game is. I'm very happy with what I've become as a golfer. I try not to think too much being an elite player, being considered a top 10 player in the World Rankings, that sort of thing. I try not to think very much about it, I just try to go out and play the best I can. And like I said earlier, I'm a golf junkie. I love going out there and playing. I love the game of golf.
So to me, that's an afterthought. To me it's just how can I improve, how can I get better. It's exciting to win tournaments, to be in this position, to have this trophy. Like I said, to walk down that Tunnel of Champions and know that I'm a part of that, it's just an incredible feeling. I'd love to have that feeling every week. But I think that's one of the things we play for. We play because it's hard, because you get to challenge yourself against the best in the world here. This tournament, you had to have had the strongest field in the world, and to come out on top is just an amazing feeling.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.