Featured Golf News
Kuchar Gets Right Back in the Saddle
Matt Kuchar didn't take much time to celebrate his win in the Players Championship. The 33-year-old logged the biggest victory of his career last Sunday, closing with a 2-under 70 to finish at 13-under 275, two shots ahead of Martin Laird, Rickie, 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.
Kuchar has flown from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., for the $6.5 million Byron Nelson Championship, which starts Thursday at TPC Four Seasons Resort course in Irving, Texas.
In the first two rounds Kuchar will be paired with former major champions Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington. The trio tees off at 12:30 p.m. on the first hole Thursday.
As for playing so soon after a victory, Kuchar, a 12-year touring pro, is used to it. He just needs to make allowances for the extra commitments as the week-before winner. "The challenges are the extra distractions," Kuchar said Tuesday from this week's tournament site. "They're great distractions, they're all the congratulatory stuff, but you get out to the range and you normally spend an hour hitting balls, or my schedule it would be an hour hitting balls, have lunch and play nine holes.
"To get an hour of hitting balls, it may take more like two hours to get what I used to accomplish in an hour done. A week after a win it would take more like two hours," he added. "Then the hour of media obligations is not a normal thing for me. So what I can generally do, get to a tournament Tuesday afternoon and takes me three or four hours to accomplish is probably closer to seven or eight hours on a Tuesday now, so there is a lot more time constraints. They're fun stuff. I wouldn't want it a different way, having your peers and players come up and congratulate you is a great feeling."
One of the more interesting things he said was a suggestion that the PGA Tour implement a shot clock - "Just the rules of golf - 40 seconds." This came after Kuchar was paired Sunday with the Players' 54-hole leader Kevin Na, who received a warning during Saturday's round due to his inability to pull the trigger with full shots. Though Kuchar played alongside Na in the final group, he didn't let Na's waggling bother him.
"I don't let slow play bother me," Kuchar added. "I think back to the college days (playing at Georgia Tech) and my teammates and all the grief we gave each other, and you had to have such thick skin, you couldn't let anything bother you."
Here's what else the four-time Tour winner had to tell reporters during a sit-down two days before the start of the Byron Nelson Championship.
MODERATOR: We would like to welcome Matt Kuchar into the interview room here at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, fresh off of his win last week at the Players Championship. Matt, congratulations. Take us through last week and what that meant to you.
MATT KUCHAR: It's so neat to have a day to reflect, just amazing what has transpired with winning the Players Championship, to look back and think that was a tournament finished on Mother's Day, having my mom in attendance, she had not been to a tournament where I had won, so that was special to have her there, and to have my wife and kids jump into my arms on the 18th green is one of the things that every husband and father that plays professional golf hopes to have that opportunity to do. It's so special to beat a field of that quality at the Players Championship, and to know you've tested yourself on a course that's as demanding as any we face and to beat a field as good of a field as that is in the game of golf is a great feeling as a professional athlete.
MODERATOR: You're back at the Byron Nelson making your fifth start here and coming off a tie for sixth place last year, so some good vibes here as well?
MATT KUCHAR: I like it here. My caddie is from the Dallas area, my instructor is from the Dallas area, I get to spend a little extra time with Chris O'Connell, and that is always helpful, staying at the Four Seasons is special, it's beautiful, where you don't have to get in your car, there is a lot of great things about coming to Dallas for me.
Q. I was about to as you if there were thoughts about not coming here this week, but it sounds like no matter what happened last week, you would have been here.
MATT KUCHAR: This is about the only scenario that I think you could throw a little bit of a wrench on it with a win of this kind of a magnitude, but for me, knowing that the U.S. Open is on the horizon and spending time with Chris is great. My kids always want to put on their cowboy boots, they know that cowboys live in Texas so when they come here they want to be cowboys, so they have a good time coming to Texas as well.
Q. Matt, talk about Lance Bennett and what he's meant to you and have you had to keep the lid on his excitement because he's back home?
MATT KUCHAR: Lance is a great caddie, does a professional job, always can count on him. We've really become familiar with each other and able to handle pressure situations. He does a great job of stirring up conversation when the pressure is tight. We have so much time in between shots that it's easy for a player's mind wander. I can count on him to help me out in a scenario when I might not be thinking clearly, but I can count on him to distract me where I don't need to worry about an upcoming shot, I can count on him to take me mind of the shot that's coming up. I think there is a time to get in your pre shot routine and to focus, but in the time that we have waiting and walking, he's kind of done a good job of understanding that for me it's great to have some distraction. So as far as the job he's done, he's really a fantastic caddie and does a great job for me.
Q. When we talked in San Antonio you told me you took a lot of positives from the Masters because you competed in a major, and that back nine. Can you talk about how that maybe helped you at the Players? Those are similar pressure type events.
MATT KUCHAR: The way I see it, experience is so helpful. I relate it to "first tee" jitters. I can remember my first real "first tee" jitters in Augusta in '98 as an amateur. I can remember being glad that I balanced the golf ball on the tee. (Chuckles.) I was so nervous! Now that I have had so many more "first tee" experiences, the first tee when I tee it up during the Masters, I'm still nervous but I can get the ball on the tee fine now. I'm better at these things. (Chuckles.) To have that late Sunday afternoon at the Master's experience, playing in one of the final groups, hearing the big roars, to have that experience helps you every time you get there. I was nervous at the Players and at TPC, but maybe knowing better how to handle it.
Q. I wanted to ask about Chris O'Connell. How important has he been for you, what's the relationship like? I think you started with him in '06. Talk about that.
MATT KUCHAR: That's correct. I was on the Nationwide Tour. He has been a huge key in my success. I don't think I would be - there is no chance I would be in this position without finding Chris O'Connell. He's made me a better player. His tee changes have made sense to me. One of the few things that struck me a little early was he wanted to take away some of my athleticism out of the swing. Basically, it shocked me at first, but he wanted to eliminate the need for timing.
A lot of us as great athletes have great eye-hand coordination and if our swing is maybe not in the best position we can manipulate a little bit and end up hitting good shots. He's got my swing in a position where there is a lot less need for timing, and it's a great thing to be able to know when I wake up in the morning, I'm not going to have to have slept right and need to have all of the timing to go well for me to step out on the course and play well. I feel like I can step out and play well almost every day. I feel like what he's done with my golf swing has made it consistent and eliminated the need for timing. We're still trying to make it better and eliminate more of that need for timing. He's become a great friend, and he's somebody I absolutely rely on with my golf swing.
Q. You kind of were talking about what I was going to ask but just on the consistency over the past two years, were you worried about not winning or were you happy contending and being where you were?
MATT KUCHAR: No, I'm very pleased at the path that my golf game has followed. I wouldn't want to be the guy that wins once or twice a year and misses 10 or 12 cuts. I think that's a tough way to go through life on the Tour; it's a much more stressful way to go about life on the PGA Tour. I look at a guy like Steve Stricker, and say "That's a guy I would like to be like," and he's found himself in the winner's circle a lot, but he seems to be able to play well every week. I look at trends, and I say, "Hey, this guy has had two top 5 finishes, I wouldn't be surprised if he wins next week."
I wanted to be the guy that was there ready to bust out with a win and had a lot of chances during the year. The fact that I didn't win last year I had a great chance at Memorial, can't remember, I might have shot 5 under on the front side on Sunday, and I lost a shot to Steve Stricker. I think he was 6 under on the front side. He played great golf and there is nothing you can do about that. Similar thing with Barclays last year, with Dustin Johnson, he outplayed me, and so be it. I was happy to be able to "seal" the deal at the Players Championship.
Q. Matt, in terms of slow play, the Commissioner said it wasn't an issue on the Tour, obviously you played with Kevin Na on Sunday. What challenges did you have to make sure that didn't have an affect on you, and generally speaking, what do you think about the issue of slow play on the Tour.
MATT KUCHAR: It did not have any affect on me. I watched Kevin, some people told me not to watch him, to turn my back to him, but I think even if I decided to turn my back I would much still hear him. (Chuckles.) It wasn't bothering me. Unfortunately on the PGA Tour you have to acclimate yourself to slow play. I think if you were a very fast player it would be a difficult thing to play late on Saturday and Sunday because it's going to go slow and even Thursday and Friday with threesomes, it goes slow. You almost make accommodations.
I feel like whenever I play with Ernie Els I feel like we walk in stride, I feel like we're big guys yet we walk slowly up the fairway, never in a real rush. I feel like that's kinda my speed and I don't know if that's the way I am or the Tour conditions you to slow down and pace yourself a little bit. If you're a guy that's rushing all the time it would be frustrating to rush up to the ball and wait and wait.
Kevin Na didn't bother me; I don't let slow play bother me. I think back to the college days and my teammates and all the grief we gave each other, and you had to have such thick skin, you couldn't let anything bother you. A funny story was a buddy from my college team got married the weekend before the TPC, so a lot of us played Friday and Saturday and it was a full on trash talking gauntlet that you can imagine, and I don't know if that helped condition me and get me ready for what I faced on Sunday with the difficult course, the demands of slow play, of different things thrown at you, but I felt awfully comfortable out there.
Q. What would change the culture?
MATT KUCHAR: It might be interesting to have a tournament with a shot clock. I think I read an article where there was a - throw in an event where there is a full-on shot clock on everybody on every shot. You would hope it wouldn't be a hard course. (Chuckles.) On a hard course you're going to find yourself in scenarios, I think in a couple of places, Charlotte, Memorial, the Master's, greens are fast, you have challenging shots. Three-footers, it's easy to tap in. In certain places if you have three footers, and you miss, it's seven foot coming back. I would be interested to see a shot clock thrown out there.
Q. What would be a reasonable time?
MATT KUCHAR: Just the rules of golf, 40 seconds.
Q. Congrats, big guy! There are so many players out there with potential, and sometimes we see guys who are 23, 24, Rickie Fowler is a good example, before he won the Wells Fargo Championship. They seem to have unfulfilled potential in the eyes of the public. Are you proof that it doesn't always come that quickly?
MATT KUCHAR: I feel like I have had my up's and down's. I feel like the game of golf - a lot like life - gives you highs and lows. I came out, had a great amateur career, earned status on the Tour through sponsor exemptions, 2002 felt like things were going my way after winning the Honda and found myself back on the Nationwide Tour after a few years of average performance. I found Chris O'Connell and ended up back on the PGA Tour. It would be great if you were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard or Rory McIlroy, but you come out of college and you're up against the best in the world. It doesn't always come that easy. You have to learn the ropes a little bit and kinda develop yourself a little more, I think.
It's exciting to see the young guys; it's exciting to see a guy like Rickie Fowler do well and break through in the winner's circle and continue to have success. I think those guys have a lot of excitement, and I was happy for Rickie two weeks ago in Charlotte.
Q. In your other career wins, have you played the following week, and what kind of unique challenges come with winning and getting right back into a tournament?
MATT KUCHAR: After the Honda I played Bay Hill, Turning Stone did not, Barclays played the following week. The challenges are the extra distractions. They're great distractions, they're all the congratulatory stuff, but you get out to the range and you normally spend an hour hitting balls, or my schedule it would be an hour hitting balls, have lunch and play nine holes. To get an hour of hitting balls, it may take more like two hours to get what I used to accomplish in an hour done. A week after a win it would take more like two hours. Then the hour of media obligations is not a normal thing for me. So what I can generally do, get to a tournament Tuesday afternoon and takes me three or four hours to accomplish is probably closer to seven or eight hours on a Tuesday now, so there is a lot more time constraints. They're fun stuff. I wouldn't want it a different way, having your peers and players come up and congratulate you is a great feeling.
Q. Matt, have you had a chance to watch the replay of the final round?
MATT KUCHAR: I have not watched the replay, but didn't do much sleeping on Sunday, got up early Monday and had to read the paper and watch the highlight reels just to make sure it really did happen, had to go through a couple of different checklists to make sure it all did happen. I have not seen the full replay but did enjoy reading the paper and seeing that I did, in fact, win the Players Championship.
Q. There were a couple of times where you had a serious game face on, which is unusual, because you're always smiling. Do you think people underestimate your competitive nature because you usually have a smile on your face?
MATT KUCHAR: I'm not sure what other people's estimates are of me. I think anything that's out here playing for a living - and the great thing about the game of golf is it's all based strictly on performance. You've got to perform or it doesn't happen for you. Unlike other sports with big contracts and you can take it easy, because you're guaranteed, there are no guarantees out here. Anybody that place golf for a living has got to want it and has got to want to be out here and has got to want to win. I'm not sure what others think of me. I love the challenge that the game provides. I trying to find a way to get better and win golf tournaments.
Q. You talked about Chris helping you with the swing. Is there anything in particular that the two of you guys have worked on this year that's been new, and secondarily, looking today I think you're top 5 in the world rankings, the top spot is as open as it's been maybe in years. How realistic is the number 1 spot for Matt Kuchar?
MATT KUCHAR: The stuff with Chris is - I wish I could say it's "new and different." I wish I could say I've grasped all the old stuff, but there are so many engrained habits that I think with most of us with instructors always go back to the same things. We may find different ways to say it or feel what we're trying to do, but it's the same basic principle. As far as the number 1 spot, I think it's an exciting time in the game of golf right now in that there is the possibility to become that number 1 player in the world. For a long time it seemed like Tiger Woods had a stronghold on the position and that number 2 was the thing you had to play for. Even if Tiger Woods took a year off, it seemed like he would still hold that position. So it's exciting to have movement at that number 1 shot, to have a shot at being the best.
As a golfer, as I mentioned earlier, I think it's one of the things we all strive for, to be the best of the best, to actually be number 1 in the world would be an honor.
MODERATOR: Matt, once again, congratulations and play well this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.