Ron Sirak

Changing Gears?

Kuchar's Players performance proves he has the chance to make a good career great

Matt Kuchar

Kuchar didn't flinch at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday, holding off a crowd of players by two strokes.

May 15, 2012

Fred Couples, who has a masters degree from the Yogi Berra School of Communications, was once lamenting about the overuse of the word "great" in contemporary culture. "I'm not great," Freddy said in an honest evaluation of a game that produced 15 PGA Tour wins and one major championship. "I'm good," Couples said, shifting into full Yogi mode, "but good's not bad." Which brings us to Matt Kuchar.

The walking smile disguised as a professional golfer picked up his biggest trophy Sunday on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass when he survived a final-round pairing with the human rain delay, Kevin Na, to win the Players by two strokes. That gives the 33 year-old Kuchar four tour wins and one in three of the last four seasons.

So what are we to make of this? At a time when it seems as if a name is drawn out of a hat to be that week's winner -- 20 different champions in 21 PGA Tour events this year -- is Kuchar merely last week's winner or is he now a guy to take seriously when we get to the next major, the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in June?

In fact, Kuchar was someone to be taken seriously in the majors even before he won the Players. Over the last three seasons, he has been one of the most consistent on tour, making the cut in 55 of his last 60 events and finishing in the top 30 in eight of his last nine majors, including T-3 at this year's Masters. He has a simple swing that simply repeats. That wins majors.

Things changed for Kuchar after a detour to the Nationwide Tour in 2006 and a move to a flatter swing under the direction of instructor Chris O'Connell. What didn't change, except for the better, was his seemingly unshakable calm on the golf course and the right attitude to handle the pressure of big moments.

"I feel like my mental game is one of my stronger suits," Kuchar said after winning the Players. "I feel like not a whole lot gets under my skin. I'm good about letting things just roll off and not affect me." That sounds a lot like Freddy Couples, who ambled the golf course as if he had just rolled out of bed and was walking onto the front lawn to pick up the morning paper.

"So for me, playing with a guy that may be a distraction, that's not going to bother me," Kuchar said after going 18 holes with Na, who takes distraction to a whole new level. He's sort of like playing in a foursome with all three of the Stooges -- one endless sight gag.

"I think my caddie told you right, that my demeanor probably is one of my strong suits for the game of golf," Kuchar said. "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."

That goes a long way toward success in this game. If you don't love golf, you can't be good at it on the professional level because it is a game that, more often than even the best would like, can eat you up. And don't let the smile fool you: Kuchar has a lot of fight in him. He's a grinder. Sort of like a Corey Pavin with height. Remember Matt's birdie on No. 16 after Rickie Fowler birdied No. 17 Sunday at the Players?

Kuchar could very well have won the Masters this year. He grabbed the lead with a birdie, birdie, par, eagle run that began on No. 12, but was sidetracked by a bogey on No. 16 and finished two strokes out of the playoff. But there is an interesting symmetry to his Masters effort that bodes well for the U.S. Open. In 1998, as a member of the Georgia Tech golf team, Kuchar was low amateur at Augusta National with a T-21 finish. Two months later, he was also low amateur at The Olympic Club with an even better T-14.

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