Featured Golf News
Kuchar Thrilled with 2010 Season
Most golf fans remember Matt Kuchar as the smiling, aw-shucks youngster who made a splash on the international golf scene by finishing as the low amateur in both The Masters and U.S. Open in 1998.
Prior to '98, Kuchar won the U.S. Amateur while enjoying two All-American years at Georgia Tech. After turning pro in 2000, he didn't take long to notch his first triumph on the PGA Tour, winning the 2002 Honda Classic.
But the next four years weren't nearly as successful and his career veered onto the Nationwide Tour in 2006 after he lost his Tour card. After retaining his card in 2007 by finishing 115th on the money list and again in 2008 by ending up 70th, Kuchar finally got his long-awaited second Tour victory in the 2009 Turning Stone Resort Championship in a Monday playoff over Vaughn Taylor.
2010 was a breakthrough year for the 32-year-old, who had two top-10 finishes in the majors (among a Tour-leading 11 top-10s overall), won the Barclays in August in another playoff, made the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and won the Vardon Trophy and Byron Nelson Award for lowest scoring average and the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Award for leading the money list.
On Tuesday, Kuchar participated in a teleconference with reporters and discussed his breakout year as a touring professional. Here's what he had to say during the wide-ranging session.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome you to today's teleconference with Matt Kuchar. Matt has joined us on the phone. Matt, first of all, needless to say, it's been quite a season for you. We'll get started with finished second in the FedEx Cup standings, you led the Money List for the first time in your career, and also you'll win the Byron Nelson award for lowest adjusted scoring average. Just comment a little bit on the type of season that you've had and what your thoughts are.
MATT KUCHAR: It's so exciting. I feel like I'm back in college again. It feels like the college days when I had the great success at Georgia Tech, following on with the Amateur and Masters and U.S. Open, and these accolades, it's hard for me to even believe. I remember it was just a couple of years ago I was back on the Nationwide Tour and hoping to get back out on the Tour and trying to keep my card. But you go from there to goals like this, just to make the top-30 to qualify for the Tour Championship, to this year going in as the leading point winner going into the Tour Championship, going into the Tour Championship ranked No. 1, it was hard to believe. And finishing second, it's just been an awesome -- I'm so glad to have finally qualified and hard to believe I finished second. To think that I also captured the money title and the scoring average title is really amazing. I still find it hard to believe.
MODERATOR: It's been a steady progression for you since the 2007 season. You moved from 115th to 70th to 24th and now first on the Money List. So there any one particular thing that you can point to for that steady growth?
MATT KUCHAR: I'd have to point to Chris O'Connell, my instructor. We got together in 2006 when I was on the Nationwide Tour and every year, we worked together and got better. I made my way out on to the PGA Tour after that '06 year on the Nationwide Tour, finished 10th on the Nationwide and qualified to get out on the PGA Tour in 2007. And like you said, every year has got better, been a steady progression. So a lot of consider the credit goes to Chris O'Connell. He has definitely made me a better golfer and I'm excited about continuing on this progression next year. There's not a whole lot of room for improvement as far as the stats are concerned, but in the game of golf, there's so many areas you can get better. No matter how well you finish, there's so much room for improvement. That's one thing I love about the game is that there's always room to get better.
Q. Thanks for your time today, Matt, congratulations on a great year.
MATT KUCHAR: Thanks very much, Bob.
Q. You kind of hinted at it there a minute ago in your opening comments, that it's kind of tough to improve stats-wise, but you know, what do you do looking forward next year for an encore? Is it maybe just get in contention more, although you were in contention a lot; are there some things that you can focus in on in the off-season?
MATT KUCHAR: The majors is kind of I think the next progression, is to contend more in the majors. This year, I had a nice finish at the U.S. Open. I tied for sixth, and then the PGA, I was the leader after 36 holes there with a good chance to win. There were a couple of opportunities that I would like to continue that trend, like to see myself really battling the stretch in major championships. But I think like I said earlier, the greatest thing about the game of golf is the challenge that it brings, and there's always room to get better. This year, the awards, leading money winner and leading stroke average, it's hard to top that. But I know that there's room for improvement in my game and I know I can get better. And I'll look forward to that and I'll look forward to -- this off-season, I'll start basically my spring training will come up pretty soon and I'll be looking at ways to improve, where I can get better.
And there's certainly a lot of room in the ball-striking areas and I think with Chris's help, I think we'll be able to make some improvements -- (inaudible) just have to hit it a little better, and the same thing goes with putting and chipping and short game. There's always room to get better with your game around the green. I think there's a lot of room for improvement in these areas. And also, playing well at majors and having the chance to win majors.
Q. Do you know how you're going to start out your 2011? I assume you are going to Kapalua, but have you penciled anything beyond that?
MATT KUCHAR: The first three tournaments of the year I will be playing, I will be playing Kapalua, the Sony Open and the Bob Hope.
Q. I guess it's always a good thing winning awards named after Arnold Palmer and Harry Vardon?
MATT KUCHAR: I only knew it as the Var Trophy (sic) -- I can't even tell you if there is an actual trophy. I really hope there is. I think that would be a great one to have.
Q. I think there is. I think it's actually a trophy that I looks like the Vardon grip with the hands on the golf club. I vaguely recall seeing a picture of it. So you may have something to put on your mantle to go with that 3 million in FedEx money you have in your bank account.
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, it's been quite the year. Just started to let things unwind a little bit, and then reflect on last year. I still am in amazement of the results this year. Just to be the recipient of at wards, the Harry Vardon and the Arnold Palmer, the Byron Nelson; just spectacular names. And I've got a good buddy, Carl Forrester, who was on my team at Georgia Tech and he has remained an amateur. He'll call me up and talk about his goals are putting his name in clubhouses, in the great clubhouses around the country and his goal is collecting trophies. That's what amateurs play for. There's something pure about the Amateur side of the game that collecting trophies is a big deal, and it's awfully exciting for me to putt my name up in a clubhouse like Ridgewood; to have won The Barclays there, and to now have put my name on there as the 2010 PGA Tour money leader and 2010 PGA Tour stroke-average leader, those are amazing accomplishments and things that I am so excited about and things that I know that I'll look back at and take a great deal of pride in.
Q. You've alluded a couple of times to college, your college teammate, and these awards that you're starting to gather sort of like you were back in college. Cink was telling us at the Disney about how you had guys doing the Diamond Cutter and you dropped the Diamond Cutter when you made the putt on McIlroy on 17. I was wondering, can you tell us how that started in college and how you managed to drag that with you into the Ryder Cup and get Tiger Woods to do it.
MATT KUCHAR: We didn't do it in college. I think it originates amongst my old college teammates. I think the origination of it came from the Baltusrol Invitational. Two of my college teammates, Carl Forrester and Chris Mickelson, were playing and they were playing a format -- that's a team event. And the format goes a round of alternate-shot, a round of best-ball and then a round of combined score. And I think they are playing in the final group in the third round and playing some with some Mid-Amateur guys who are just some great players. And Chris hit it in a fairway bunker that's kind of on a downslope from about 200 yards away that looks like you would probably take a pitching wedge out and lay up to a wedge yardage. They see him go in with a long iron, and my teammate, Carl, his partner and the Mid-Amateur, they are looking at each other going, what is he doing, going in there with a 4-iron?
And he hits the most beautiful shot, just clears the lip, kind of ends up getting into a nice high trajectory ends up on the green and six feet away and Chris has to run out of the bunker to get a view of it. The lip was too big to see where it was, so he runs out to the bunker and runs out to the middle of the fairway. And all of the sudden, he throws his club down, puts his two hands above his head and the two hands together, the two thumbs together and two pointer fingers together and pulls up a diamond sign and just swings it down. It originates from Diamond Dallas Page, a World Wrestling Federation or whatever it used to be, it was his signature move. (Chuckling).
I don't know how he ended up bringing it out. We weren't big wrestling fans but the thought of it is funny. And the other Mid-Amateur, he said, "What in the hell is that?" And I guess Carl knew the maneuver being he was a wrestling fan, and he said, "I think you just saw the Diamond Cutter." Absolutely loved it. And I think he's taken it to some of the better courses around the country, a guy that plays -- I think he's taken it around the country to his clubs. And I have these two guys, Chris and Carl, begging me to take it on a national stage at The Ryder Cup. I got the guys to do it in the team room. I think the only one that was really -- (inaudible) during competition was Stewart Cink made the putt. I don't think I've ever been so excited about a shot that I did not hit. (Laughing).
Q. The players are going to vote for the MVP, and this is a difficult year because a couple of the major champions are not PGA Tour members; and I believe Graeme is only on conditional status or some kind of special event status; and Phil has not done much since the Masters. So you know, you and Jim Furyk are kind of in there for that. First of all, what kind of chance do you think you have? And second, when you voted for Player of the Year in the past, have you put most of your thinking on what a guy accomplished in the majors?
MATT KUCHAR: I don't think I did a whole lot of research. I don't think I ever looked at a breakdown of performances, I just had a general feel. It seems like most of the years, it was pretty clear-cut, it was between one or two guys and I just kind of went off feeling. It's going to be hard to knock Jim Furyk's year with three wins and a conclusion of winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. That's a pretty solid resumé and one that I think is very arguably Player of the Year. As far as looking at major championships in the past, it seems like the guys that have had that Player of the Year -- have won Player of the Year, have been a champion in at least one major during the year, and just very solid. I can't tell you what Jim has done in the majors this year, but just his performance of three wins and the Tour Championship win and the FedEx Cup.
Q. Sounds like you've already decided to vote for Jim, or are you still undecided?
MATT KUCHAR: He'd probably get my vote. That's a strong year.
Q. You mentioned earlier focusing on majors, and I was wondering in your preparation, as you go into spring training, is there anything that you can look at that gears typically towards majors, as opposed to getting your overall game getter?
MATT KUCHAR: I don't think I need to change my game at all really to play in major championships. I think the better you can go out, the better you can be for majors. I think one thing I did to kind of get ready for a major was I added just a little more -- to get my long irons a little higher in the air to try to bring the ball to stop on the greens at Augusta National. I thought that the course was -- I felt like I was hitting a lot of long irons into the greens but needed to hit a little higher, have a little more control when it landed on the greens. That was the only change I made to any bit of my game, and that 4-iron actually stayed in my bag the rest of the year. It stayed in my bag the rest of the year after it went into the Masters. But I think just improving; improving my all-around game is the best chance at playing well in the Masters. Every week continuing to play well, my strategy is just try and -- if I can play well week-in and week-out, that's going to help me play well in the Masters and when the majors come around.
Q. Can you talk about the emergence of not only you but a pretty good crop that came forward this year; Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jeff Overton, those type of guys, can you just talk about the names that are coming forth, and was it just good timing, as well, in that this was a year where golf kind of needed you, where the guy who had been No. 1 for so many years having his first really, really down year?
MATT KUCHAR: It's an exciting time for the game of golf. I have heard so many people come up to me, most of the people I see around town talk about how exciting this year has been with the emergence of so many great, young players. It's a testament to the game of golf. I think we are doing a great job over here. It's probably a nice thing for the game of golf, and Tiger wasn't around as much, to showcase some of the other guys. I think we all hope Tiger comes back and regains his great form, and I think he has kind of raised everyone's level, and we hope to continue on that track. But I think it was great to see these young guys, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson; these guys have so much talent and are exciting to watch play. It's been great for the PGA Tour and great for the game of golf.
Q. Putting it into layman's terms, and the average golf fan, if they can appreciate just a handicap that you had, let's say when you won the U.S. Amateur, compared to the level that you played this past year.
MATT KUCHAR: The level is just far more consistent. When I was a 19-year-old kid playing the Amateur, playing the Masters, I was a very talented kid, but as far as consistency, I would ride hot streaks. I did well with that. I was probably one of the best putters in the world at the time and was fairly mature and able to manage my game. But I think at the moment now, I'm a much more consistent player and I think that shows with a lot of top-10s this year and only two missed cuts this year. That was the guy that I had been striving to be. So the highlights are still probably the same. I think I had the ability to shoot low numbers back then and continue with that same ability, but I feel like now, there's just a great deal more consistency in my game.
Q. I think with your talent, there's probably more than one major in your future, but if you could only win one major in your career, which one would that be?
MATT KUCHAR: I feel like I've become a Georgia boy, just down the road from home at Augusta, that Masters Tournament quickly took a special place, from when I was a boy it was a special tournament, to then winning the U.S. Amateur, following Bobby Jones footsteps at Georgia Tech; competing in the Masters and competing in the fashion I did was just such a special time. Even today, that Masters was 1998, we are now 12, 13 years removed from that and I still have people almost daily come up to me and remember the Masters, remember being there, watching it, being so excited for me, and that was when they fell in love with me and started cheering for me. It's amazing the power that tournament had from 12 to 13 years ago, people still come up and tell me about it, and pretty much a daily routine. It's an amazing thing.
Q. As long as we are reliving some joyous history for you, Greg Norman, the Shark Shootout, he had mentioned last month that you guys are going to be playing together and he said he's been a fan of yours for a long time. He didn't happen to mention that one of the things that was at the top of his list was that sort of your joy and your smile, actually, is still the same and hasn't changed from when he first got to know you back as an amateur at the Masters. I don't mean this as a slick question, but do you get feedback on that to this day about the Masters and the joy that you seem to show when you play the game?
MATT KUCHAR: Do I get feedback --
Q. On your smile. Literally, sounds like a silly thing, but for a guy to be almost identified in a way with always being sort of smiley, just talk about that?
MATT KUCHAR: I do, I get that a lot. People come up to me and will tell me that it draws them to me and they love watching me play because it looks like I'm having a good time, and they want to see me flash a smile right there in front of them. I get hit up with that a lot. It feels good, and you know, they tell me, "Keep smiling. We love seeing you out there. We love seeing you have a good time. Keep smiling." I feel like I have not changed. Some guys I think come out to the Tour, and it can be rigorous; if it's not going your way, it's tough, because it is your livelihood and you're trying to compete against the best in the world. It's a tough thing to do.
But I love playing the game of golf. I love being out there. I still feel like a kid. I still remember being a kid and I think some of the more rewarding things are when you are able to see a kid underneath the ropes and either flash him a smile, just let him know that you see him, but when you get to toss him a golf ball that you're done with, the looks on the kid's face, and you see them run back to their mom or dad and show them the ball, you feel like you made their day. Seeing that expression makes my day, and just makes my world better.
Q. Why haven't you and your marketing team got you in like a toothpaste commercial or something?
MATT KUCHAR: Well, we've got to get on that. There were rumors back in the amateur days but I haven't seen a whole lot of toothpaste commercials to begin with. (Laughter).
Q. Your relationship with Greg, can you just go over that briefly and maybe sort of just mention when you first met him and when you first got to know each other?
MATT KUCHAR: As a kid growing up, I think most of us wanted to be Greg Norman. He was the coolest guy in golf. I felt in that category, as well. And then I got to know Greg; I graduated from Georgia Tech and I took a job down in South Florida. I took an apartment in Jupiter and I joined the Medalist Club, and so Greg let me join there, and I got to know him pretty well. I was down there and it was great getting to know him and getting to play with one of your idols. So, it was fun. Greg was always very helpful, very engaging. I was tickled to hear that he wanted to partner up with me this year at the Shark Shootout.
Q. So many close calls and you did have the win obviously, but so many other ones; obviously you always want to win when you go out there, but are you still really keen to try and get one more win this season before you start next year, perhaps with Greg next month in Naples?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, it's been a great year. Anything from here on it would certainly just be icing. I look back and think about what happened, I had an amazing year. I'm happy with the year I had. I'll look at the next couple of events as just try to get ready for 2011. It's going to be an interesting challenge to see if I can make 2011 another great year. So I look at the next couple of events as trying to figure out -- I'll be doing the Chevron and the Shark Shootout, and maybe sure I'm ready to go come January for the 2011 season.
Q. Did your grandparents used still live in Southwest Florida?
MATT KUCHAR: They used to winter in the Fort Myers area.
Q. It's been a number of years since they did that?
MATT KUCHAR: Yes, it has.
Q. I believe it was at the PGA this year, you talked about a ten-year learning curve on the PGA Tour. Is there any one piece of knowledge that you now look back and directly credit for this breakthrough season?
MATT KUCHAR: I don't know if there's one piece. I can't remember, it was probably Stewart Cink that I told me. I thought I asked him during The Ryder Cup, and he said, "No, it doesn't sound like me." I'm not sure where I got that ten-year learning curve. Somebody mentioned it to me. It kind of applies to me. For me, it's been a steady progression. I think getting together with Chris O'Connell; he's made me a better golfer. But I've learned how to manage my game, and I think it's just taken experience. I think the more times that I was talking to somebody about nerves on the golf course and how nervous you get, I feel like now that I've played the amount I've played and I'm out on Tour playing a weekly schedule, that those nerves, you get used to them a lot more; they still come.
One bit of information I've picked up this summer was at the British Open. I played a practice round with Tom Watson and Stewart Cink, and Tom Watson said he got nervous at every one of his -- during every one of his wins. He said those don't go away, and made you realize that we all do get nervous and it's not just you that's feeling those butterflies and feeling the shakes. It's going to happen and it's part of the game and it makes you feel a little bit better about things knowing that the other guy is nervous, too. So there are little bits that I picked up now and then and I think it's a combination of all of those little things that make a little difference or stretch into a big difference. You look at a scoring average and if you drop a half a shot a round, which is a tiny bit, two shots in a tournament is a huge thing on the PGA Tour. So it's the little things that add up to a big difference.
Q. Did you feel like this was ready to happen, or did you surprise yourself a little bit this year?
MATT KUCHAR: The thought of leading money winner and leading stroke average is still something I'm amazed by. Early year this season, I was looking to qualify for the Tour Championship, I wanted to be the guy that got to play at East Lake. So I still think, gosh, I went in No. 1 and finished No. 2; that's incredible. Now, the goals may change a little bit more, I have some bigger expectations going into next year, and I know there's some big challenges trying to follow up a year like this.
MODERATOR: Matt, once again, congratulations on a phenomenal year and we look forward to your encore in 2011.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.