ATLANTA (May 29) – Stop the presses! Here comes the last hurrah in college golf for Georgia Tech’s Matt Kuchar, a player whose million dollar swing and million dollar smile have made him one of the game’s most popular figures.
Kuchar and his Yellow Jacket teammates, ranked No. 2 behind Clemson in national polls, will be going after the gold in the NCAA Championship Tournament Wednesday through Saturday at the Grand National Golf Club in Opelika, Ala.
“My goal always has been to help bring Georgia Tech a national championship.” Kuchar said. “I have been fortunate in my career to do well in the biggest events. I hope it works like that again. I get more nervous in the big tournaments. But that is a good thing. My senses seem to be a lot clearer then and I seem to be more focused.”
A native of Lake Mary, Fla., Kuchar burst on the national golf scene in 1997 when he won the U.S. Amateur and then he really took the spotlight in 1998, sizzling in the Masters and the U.S. Open and capturing the hearts of golf fans everywhere.
At the 1998 Masters, he was teamed in the first round with (guess who?) Tiger Woods. A huge gallery and a world-wide television audience followed the twosome. The fans started out cheering for Woods, but all of a sudden, golf fans found a new hero. Kuchar smiled and smiled, he made birdies and he shot even par 72.
“I do think by the end of the round I had won over many fans,” Kuchar said. “Tiger and I had a good time. Between shots, he talked about his college experience at Stanford and I talked about mine at Georgia Tech.”
In the third round, Kuchar shot a 68 and finished the Masters at even par 288 to win low amateur honors.
The Tech star went on to finish 14th in the U.S. Open that year, posting back-to-back scores of 70 and 69 at the Olympic Course in San Francisco. Many thought Kuchar might drop out of school and turn professional after such a sensational year. But the truth is that – even now – he has no definite plans to turn pro.
“My plan is to play as an amateur this summer,” he said this week. “I will try to qualify for the U.S. Open and the British Open. I’ll play in the Irish Open, the Northeast Amateur and then the National Amateur. After that I will talk to agents, business people, and decide what is best for me.”
Wherever Kuchar tees it up, he generally manages to do something magical. Teaming with the dynamic Bryce Molder, he has helped pace the current Tech team to lofty heights. During the course of this school year, the Jackets have won four major championships in tournaments in which the fields consisted of many of the country’s best teams.
Tech has finished ahead of No. 1 Clemson four of the seven times the teams have gone head-to-head. The Tigers, however, swept both the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA East Regional championships in the most recent showdowns.
Through it all, Kuchar has been up there battling for honors among the leaders. “So far, I would give myself a B for this school year,” he said. “If we win the NCAA, I’ll change that to an A. It has been a good year for me because I have been playing smarter-not going for dumb things. I think my play overall has been more consistent.”
Kuchar, however, gives a major share of the credit for Tech’s success to his teammates.
“Bryce has been the most consistent,” he said. “That’s always the case with him. You can always count on him to come through with a good round. He’s a guy I’ve been happy to be around for three years.”
Kuchar also talks glowingly about redshirt freshman Troy Matteson. “He’s been a big surprise,” Kuchar says. “To be honest, we weren’t sure at the start that he was tournament-ready, but he’s been very consistent at No. 3. He hits the ball about as well as anybody. He knows golf well. He’s fun to be around.”
Kuchar and his Tech teammates know the Opelika course well. “We played there last fall,” he said. “The course wasn’t in particularly good shape then, but I’m sure it will be now. It’s a good test and a good place for the NCAA Tournament.”
As he heads into his last college competition, Kuchar reflected this week on his Georgia Tech career. “After I graduated recently, I told people that if I had to do it all over again, I still would pick Georgia Tech,” said Kuchar, who received his degree in Management on May 6. “I’ve made lots of friends here and have certainly received a quality education.”
Kuchar says one of his most memorably experiences came this spring when he and football star Joe Hamilton shared the Georgia Tech Male Athlete of the Year Award.
“That was one of my better moments,” he said. “A lot of hard work went into winning that award. It was special to share it with Joe Hamilton. He’s a friend of mine and has been such a great person for Georgia Tech.”
So has Matt Kuchar! Tech fans everywhere will be pulling hard for Kuchar to end his career this week just like he started it-in the spotlight.