Sept. 12, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Call Matt Kuchar’s cell phone and you’ll likely end up in his voicemail system hearing the following:
“This is ‘Kooch,'” followed by the beep.
The message is short yet cordial, suggesting someone who’d love to talk if he only had the time.
That’s an accurate depiction of Kuchar, who, when not actively holding off active young sons Cameron and Carsen (as he was doing when he called back), is busy fending off the challenge of the entire PGA, as he stands at the top of the FedEx Cup standings with two weeks to go in the season.
“I’ve been playing well all year,” said Kuchar, whose tie for third in the BMW Championship was his 11th Top-10 finish of the year (he had a total of 12 over his three previous seasons combined). “It’s exciting but there’s still a long way to go. A lot can still happen. I’m looking forward to continuing the good play and making my way to East Lake and making a good showing there, as well.”
In the last month alone, Kuchar has put his Management degree to good use, managing to overcome just about everything that could stand in his way of winning — or at least challenging for it. He overcame bouts with his health and the kind of adversity that comes from playing against the best players in the world.
During Friday’s second round at Cog Hill Country Club, he was so sick that he admitted afterward he would “meander up to the ball and see if I could flip a switch for four seconds and then go back to being a zombie.” He ended up shooting a 1-over, 72.
That show of guts pales to two Sundays back at The Barclays in Paramus, N.J. At that event, he began what he thought would be the final 18 holes five shots off the pace, but shot a final-round 66, finishing one shot back of leader Martin Laird. He then watched Laird on 18.
“I went off to the practice range and was warming up in case there was a playoff,” Kuchar recalled. “When I saw Martin hit it onto the back edge of the green in two I figured it was over. He only needed to two-putt from about 25 feet or so. I thought I could stop warming up. I took a spectator’s point of view and watched. I was shocked to see him run his first putt eight feet by and then miss the next one. I went from thinking, ‘It’s over’ to ‘Holy cow, I’m back in it. This is going to be fun.’ It was a big change of emotion, a wave of emotion within a span of four minutes. I just walked over to shake his hand and then I’m getting a ride back to the 18th tee to start a playoff.'”
Kuchar rode that wave of emotion to hit what may be the shot of the year, a seven-iron on his second shot from 190 feet away, that in Rube-Goldberg fashion hit the green, then started rolling…and rolling…and rolling…. It rolled across the green, around the back edge, circling back onto the green and ending up two feet, six inches away. He tapped in to win.
“That took some geometry there,” said Kuchar, with a laugh. “In that situation, you’re trying to play smart. It wasn’t a real green light trying to knock the pin over, but by playing smart I ended up getting lucky as well.
“It takes a little bit of luck to find yourself in the winner’s circle,” he added. “I had the luck with a couple of good breaks. Having Martin three-put the last hole and then the shot I hit in the playoff was certainly a lucky shot. It was a fortunate break. I’m glad it went my way. It was particularly fun to have the family there, to have your kids and wife there to celebrate with you, is a wonderful feeling.”
The celebrating may not be over just yet for Kuchar, who in his Georgia Tech career, from 1997 through 2000, was a two-time All-American, only Tech’s second four-time All-ACC selection (David Duval was first), the 1998 Fred Haskins Award Winner as the nation’s top collegiate player, the ’98 ACC Player of the Year, and the 1997 U.S. Amateur Champion, breaking Tiger Woods’ three-year streak.
He has a place on the U.S. Ryder Cup team in early October, and will be inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 15. But before that, The PGA Championship beckons (Sept. 23-26). He has put himself in a great position to take home the title. He is 976 points lead the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Getting to play the decisive event is even nicer because it will be played in his own back yard at East Lake Country Club.
“It’s going to be great. It’s been one of my goals for a long time to play in the Tour Championship at East Lake,” he said. “Just to have the local support, it’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of. I’m glad I’ve accomplished that goal and hoping to do some good things with it.”