Matt Kuchar still has game, so long as the game is not name-that-tune-lyric
HONOLULU — On Sunday night Matt Kuchar found himself getting philosophical, quoting a wise, old sage from New York. You know, the one married to Beyonce.
“I think it might’ve been Jay-Z that said 40's the new 20,” Kuchar said.
Actually, 30 is the new 20 is what Shawn Corey Carter rapped. The name of the song, after all, is "30 Something."
But Kuchar’s point was still a relevant one at Waialae Country Club, where the 40-year-old’s four-stroke victory over Andrew Putnam in the Sony Open in Hawaii was his second in his last three starts on the PGA Tour.
Yes, the tour is a young man’s game full of bomb-and-gougers, but there’s still room for a player of Kuchar’s skill set, particularly on a short track of that stretches just over 7,000 yards where keeping the ball in play off the tee and sticking approaches to small greens goes a long way to conquering the Seth Raynor beauty.
The victory was Kuchar’s second in his last four worldwide starts and marks just the second time in his career that he has won more than once in the same season.
Still, it was just a few months ago that the now nine-time tour winner was wondering what his future might hold.
For the first time since 2009, Kuchar failed to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship, making it only as far as the second of four legs in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He was also left off the Ryder Cup team as a player, snapping a run of playing on four straight squads for the Americans in the biennial team competitions. Instead, he was relegated to assistant captain duties in Paris.
“I was definitely disappointed, frustrated,” he said of last season. “I think the frustrating thing was I felt like I was doing some good things and just not seeing results. That sometimes that is hard to take, when you think you're on the right course and the right path and not seeing results, to stay the course.”
In the fall, though, Kuchar had a good session with coach Chris O’Connell the week before the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He tied for 57th in the event but left feeling good about how he was hitting the ball. A week later, he won in Mexico.
The victory snapped a four-year winless drought for Kuchar, a stretch that lasted more than 1,600 days and spanned 118 starts on tour, the longest of his career.
Then came the Sony.
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
Though Kuchar struggled early in his career at Waialae, missing the cut six times in his first eight appearances, the tournament has been a personal paradise in recent years with six straight finishes of 13th or better.
His 2019 edition was even better.
Kuchar opened with a pair of 63s followed by a Saturday 66 for the lowest 54-hole total of his career and a two-stroke lead.
On Sunday, it looked like Kuchar might fade with three bogeys in his first five holes to fall one behind Putnam. But Kuchar has too much wiley vet in him, and he rallied to play his final 10 holes in six under, pulling away with three birdies over his final four holes, including a fist-pump inducing one from 12 feet on the 15th, to shoot another weekend 66 and coast to the win.
For the week, Kuchar ranked in the top 10 in strokes gained off the tee, approach and putting. He was also tops in the field in greens hit, missing just two each of the final two days and hitting all but eight for the week.
“Golf is addictive that way, in that if you're not playing well you can't wait to figure it out and make it better, fix it,” Kuchar said. “If you're playing well, shoot, it's great, it's awesome. You want it to never end. You want to just keep playing. It's a cycle of whether it's good or bad that you kind of have this quest to continue to play, to improve, to fix, to whatever it is. I was frustrated, but still along the quest of trying to get better.”
And proving that 40 is the new 20, or something like that.