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Stroke Of Genius

Aug. 17, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Matt Kuchar has always followed his instincts.

With his track record there’s never been reason not to.

He took up golf at age 12 and knew he wanted to make it his career.

“As a boy growing up, I think every sport I took to it wasn’t long before I wanted to make it my livelihood, whether it was soccer, then tennis, then basketball,” he said with a laugh. “Then I found golf. It wasn’t long before I was all-out hooked and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be out and play on the PGA Tour.”

Similarly, selecting a college was a result of following his instincts once he’d narrowed the field to Florida, Duke and Georgia Tech.

“My dad had me fill out this sort of college questionnaire to decide which one was best for you. In filling it out, Duke was supposed to be the school that I should attend,” he remembered. “But I told my dad, ‘It’s just not right. I’m supposed to go to Georgia Tech. There’s something about the coach, the players, the city of Atlanta, the whole school itself that I really took to and felt it was the right place for me.'”

The rest is history.

On October 15, Kuchar will become a permanent part of that place when he is inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

It should come as little surprise that he is headed to the Hall.

“It was just a matter of time,” said Georgia Tech Golf Coach Bruce Heppler of Kuchar, his first committed recruit. “Matt’s become a true professional, he takes care of his business, does stuff the right way. He was one of the best players in college and so it was just a matter of time for him to get comfortable and grow and develop and become one of the best players on the professional level.”

Kuchar was a little more measured in his reaction.

“I was surprised. I still feel like I’m recently out of school. I still almost feel like a college kid,” said Kuchar, who has nine top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2010 following the PGA Championship (which he led after the first round) and who on Monday was named to the U.S. Ryder Cup Team. “Georgia Tech means a whole lot to me. It’s such a big part of my life that going into the Hall of Fame really means a lot to me.”

Kuchar meant a lot to the program. The ACC Rookie of the Year in 1997 and ACC Player of the Year in 1998, he won seven tournaments in his four years, three times finished in the top 10 in the ACC Championships, had three more top 10s in NCAA Regionals and twice finished in the top 20 in NCAA Championships, including tying for seventh-place finish in 1998. He contributed to nine victories and helped Tech play in the NCAA Championships three times.

Yet the tournaments and winning are not the fondest recollections of his days at Tech.

“Some of the more special moments now are the early-morning workouts,” he said. “It seems silly for a golf team to be hitting the gym but being in there at 6:00 in the morning, with the whole team, was one of those kind of just bonding times, even though it was nasty to have to do it at 6:00 in the morning. Having gone through it, it was a great way to bond with the other athletes. It felt like we were really part of the university and trying to make ourselves better athletes.”

Heppler remembers the enthusiasm that Kuchar showed in the weight room.

“What was neat about Matt was we would maybe go in two or three days a week but he would go in on his own the other days, kind of above and beyond what the team was doing,” he said. “He got to college and realized he did a lot of really good things but he just needed some length and some distance. Once he found that then that really made a difference in his game and took him to where he was certainly one of the best players in college while he was there.”

The desire to work out and work things out was ingrained in him early on.

“My dad was a very competitive tennis player,” Kuchar recalled. “I remember him saying he hated days that it rained because he thought somebody else was out there, somewhere where it wasn’t raining, working and getting better than he was. He felt like days that it rained he wasn’t able to get out on the tennis court and work and try to improve. Along that line, you always try to improve, always try to get better and take advantage of every opportunity to try to make yourself better.

“I think it’s the hard that makes [golf] so addictive,” he added. “Because every now and then you hit a good shot and you say, “Alright, I think I can do that again.’ It’s difficult.”

It’s no easier these days, but playing on the PGA Tour with Tech alumni like Stuart Cink, David Duval and Tech teammate Bryce Molder allows him to reminisce.

Of course, he doesn’t have to go far to reminisce. He met his wife, Sybl, when she played tennis and he played golf.

“We were ‘the country club kids,'” said Kuchar, who lives in Atlanta with Sybl and children Cameron and Carsen, with a laugh. “There was always an easy bond between tennis and golf. So we started hanging out a lot. We’ve known each other since my freshman year in ’97.”

“The camaraderie among the entire Athletic Association was great,” he added. “It was one big fraternity. It seemed like everybody got along, everybody went out together and it was like everybody just looked out for each other. Here I am, 10 years removed, married to a girl who played Tennis at Georgia Tech, continuing on in the Georgia Tech tradition, it feels like continuing on with Georgia Tech days.”

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