By ROB GLOSTER AP Sports Writer
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Matt Kuchar has played in the Masters and was on the leaderboard midway through last year’s U.S. Open. Yet he was as nervous as ever when he teed off in the U.S. Amateur Championship.
Kuchar, the 1997 amateur champion, shot a 1-over-par 73 Monday while playing with a lighting salesman from New York and a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.
Kuchar, a Georgia Tech student, was among the leaders after the first round. After another round today of stroke play on the Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill courses, the top 64 players advance to six rounds of match play.
“I was really nervous out there today, as nervous as I’ve been in a while,” Kuchar said. “Knowing it’s the national championship and trying to relive what I did in ’97. Making the top 64 is tough, and you think about match play and how tough that is.
“When you get that nervousness, it’s just a strange feeling, your stomach is churning. When you get that feeling you wonder, `Why do I play golf? I can’t eat, I can’t sleep.’ But to have that feeling is exciting.”
Justin Bolli, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, had Monday’s low round among the 312 amateurs with a 2-under 70 on Spyglass on a cool, calm day along the Pacific Ocean. He had six birdies in his round.
Jim Salinetti of Lee, Mass.; Ben Curtis of Kent, Ohio; and Gene Elliott of West Des Moines, Iowa, were at 71, while five players had rounds of 72. Kuchar was among 19 players at 73.
Charlie Stevens of Fort Worth, Texas, had the shot of the day with a hole-in-one on the 186-yard fifth hole at Spyglass.
Kuchar was in his favorite element Monday, playing with guys who love the game and do it for fun. His playing partners were Al Falussy Jr., 34, of Dix Hills, N.Y., and Adam Dooley, 23, a scuba diving enthusiast from Albany, Minn.
Falussy shot a 90 and Dooley had an 81. And Kuchar had to overcome a triple-bogey on the 15th hole.
Kuchar said he is excited to be playing again in the U.S. Amateur, even while peers such as Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia battle for riches on the pro circuit. In fact, Kuchar is enjoying his amateur status so much he might never turn pro.
“There’s something special about amateur golf, these tournaments, the friendships you make,” Kuchar said. “When you tee it up in the Open or the Masters as an amateur, there’s a special feeling about it. There’s a sense that this guy loves the game and he’s not just another one of those money-hungry kids.”
Kuchar said last year it was only a matter of time before he turned pro, but now he’s not so sure. In fact, he drops the name of Bobby Jones while talking about the possibility of remaining an amateur for a couple more years – or perhaps for good.
“It’s something I thought would be special, pretty neat. I was thinking about how I could still play as much golf as possible and do business and take care of things financially,” said Kuchar, who will be on the U.S. team for the amateur Walker Cup in Scotland next month.
“For the future, turning pro is the most likely thing. But staying amateur is still possible. If I turn pro and wish I’d stayed amateur, I can’t go back.”