Date: November 13, 2018
Author: John Huggan

HUGGAN: Kuchar travels well

“Extra sweet,” is what he called it. And why not?

A full four years on from his previous PGA Tour victory, Matt Kuchar will arrive at The Lakes for this week’s #AusOpenGolf as an eight-time winner on golf’s biggest and most lucrative circuit. At 29th in the world, the 40-year old American is also the highest-ranked player in the field for the 103rd playing of this historic event.

Which is not the norm. Strangely given how well he plays in almost every event, Matt Kuchar rarely attracts attention to himself. Not winning too often is part of the tall Floridian’s under-the-radar persona. But so is the nature of his game.

If the measure of any golfer is the quality of his bad shots then this former US Amateur champion is never gong to generate too much in the way of fan enthusiasm. Only rarely is he to be found in anywhere more exciting than semi-rough or the occasional green side bunker. If a high level of performance is your thing, the Kuchar is your man, a fact in which the amiable father-of-two takes great pride. Up to a point at least.

“I want to be known as more than the guy who is consistent every week,” he says. “I want to have a season where I have multiple wins. Even one great week can certainly make a year but I never want to be someone who has, say, five decent weeks every season and does nothing the rest of the time. I like that my level of performance is high and that I don’t miss six-eight cuts every year.

“I do feel like I should have won more often. There have been a handful of events where I’ve played really well but someone has just been better. Those sorts of ‘defeats’ I don’t worry about. I put myself in position, played well and just got beat. You can’t do much about that.”

One of those events, of course, was the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Kuchar played some brilliant stuff that week, only to be beaten by an inspired last six holes from compatriot Jordan Spieth. It was, understandably, a huge disappointment.

“It’s hard to explain,” he said in the immediate aftermath. “It’s crushing. It hurts. And it’s an excitement and a thrill to have played well, put up a battle, put up a fight. You work so hard to get to this position. And to have a chance to make history and win a championship. You don’t get that many opportunities. And to be this close, to taste it with five holes to go, it’s a hard one to sit back and take.”

Which is not to say there have been more than a few Kuchar moments worthy of any highlight reel. In no particular order, he has picked up the 2010 Arnold Palmer award as America’s leading money-winner, the 2010 Vardon Trophy for that year’s lowest scoring average, the 2011 World Cup (in partnership with compatriot Gary Woodland) and, most memorably, victory in the 2012 Players Championship.

So Kuchar is clearly quite the golfer, possessed of a sound and repeating technique – one that is unusually “flat” for a man standing 192 centimetres (six-foot four) tall — and, as he showed over the closing 18-holes at Royal Birkdale, considerable nerve under pressure. Yet, perhaps because all those weeks spent on the fringes of contention have translated into “only” eight PGA Tour wins, his highest-profile feature continues to be the admittedly goofy-looking grin that seems to reside permanently beneath his rapidly receding hairline.

Kuchar has also been a member of four U.S. Ryder Cup sides and was one of Jim Furyk’s assistant captains at the recent matches in Paris.

“I have really enjoyed all of my Ryder Cups,” he says. “I’ll never forget walking to the first tee at Celtic Manor in 2010. It was wet, cold and miserable. But the bleachers were packed. The fans were stomping so loud I thought the entire place was going to collapse. It was such a cool atmosphere. There was so much energy and noise. I love playing at home, but being in Europe and hearing all the songs is special.”

So Kuchar is a man who tends to travel well – his most recent victory anywhere before last week came at the 2015 Fiji International – a fact his rivals would do well to take notice of over the next few days. He may not win the coveted Stonehaven Cup, but it is a safe bet his name will be somewhere on the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.