Koch Playing With Air of Quiet Desperation

By George WhiteAugust 6, 2004, 4:00 pm
The Champions Tour season is a little more than halfway over and Gary Koch is playing now with an air of quiet desperation. As he tees it up this weekend at the 3M Championship near Minneapolis-St. Paul, he realizes he has got to make some money ' or else.
Koch is a fulltime announcer for NBC. Hes a part-time golfer. But he dearly wants to continue his golfing career. Hes 52 now and into his second year on the Champions. If he doesnt finish in the top 30 this year, he loses the exempt status that he got from being a winner on the regular tour (he won six times.)
Ive always known that is a very important year for Gary Koch of the Champions Tour, he said. I knew at the start of the year that it was make-or-break time. I knew I had to play well and finish high enough on the money list if I wanted to continue to play.
Presently he stands 32 in the money race and he needs to climb up two more places to the No. 30 spot.
Koch came within an eyelash of winning the ACE Classic this year, a victory that would have given him an automatic exempt status for next year. But Craig Stadler nosed him out in a playoff at the ACE and its been somewhat of a struggle ever since.
In Kochs case, its been far too long a time in the announcers booth - first for ESPN and then with NBC. And he still tries to maneuver his schedule around playing when NBC isnt doing golf tournaments. And that is very difficult.
You know, in my case, I was away from competition for a long time, he said. There were 13 years where I literally didnt play very often. There is something to having nerves that used to be there versus nerves that arent.
But regardless of whether Koch actually plays or not, many would argue that he still has the ideal job. After all, he IS a golf broadcaster, and as such he never misses a cut, never has to worry about non-exempt status to do his job. Koch knows hes very fortunate.
You know, I really dont look back, he said. At the time when I got into doing television, I did not enjoy playing. I was not playing that well, and I was at a point in my life where I had two small children and a wife at home, I was on the road a lot by myself, I was going back to hotel rooms by myself after shooting 73 and 74s. The television thing came along and I got involved.
Its very different ' for a guy who plays an individual sport, doing television is more of a team effort. There are anywhere from 120 to 200 people are involved.
So no, I dont regret at all going into television. If I suddenly had a lot of success as a player, I still would hold onto the television.
Koch thinks there is a definite advantage to working upstairs before going downstairs onto the course.
It certainly made me aware that the guys who win tournaments dont necessarily always hit the shots perfectly and dont always make a lot of putts. Youve got to have a lot of patience, he said
It was certainly something I was aware of when I got started. Unfortunately, last year, for whatever reason, I just got lost. I didnt know what I was trying to do with my golf swing, I was seeing all the courses for the first time. A lot of things compounded for me to not perform the way I felt I was capable of.
I tried to do the telecast and then come right out and play, and I found out in a very rude way that that isnt so.
So hes going to try this, and if it works out that he cant serve two masters, so be it. At times this year hes been exceptional. But at times, hes been run-of-the-mill. He was one of the games most brilliant putters as a regular-tour member. Now, putting has been a real problem at times.
I definitely feel I have not putted anywhere near as well as I used to, said Koch. The good news is, I probably hit the ball better now than I did then.
I think part of it is time, age ' I dont think theres any question about it. Talking to Ben Crenshaw ' who is still a very, very good putter but Im sure would tell you not as good as he once was ' we were kidding around and we agreed that you probably are allowed to make so many in a lifetime.
But I think age certainly has something to do with it. Personally I think eyesight ' as your eyesight changes ' I look at some pictures now of my setup during my regular-tour days and my setup has changed. Now, it hasnt changed consciously ' I havent purposely tried to set my head in a different position from what I used to. But it is different. And I think that has to do with your eyesight changing.
Koch, though, has already improved tremendously from last year, when he finished 73rd on the money list as a rookie. Hes getting adjusted to what it means to be a player again, and if he finds he can comfortably fit that in with the broadcasting ' well, hell be a broadcasting golfer.
I think this year what I really was able to do was set some pretty specific goals, he said. And I look back on last year and yes, I wanted to play well and yes, I kind of expected to come out here and play well.
But I really didnt set enough specific goals, things that I can get focused on. And the nice thing starting this year, I had to have some specific goals ' there was no choice. And I think thats really helped a lot.
Patience has never been my forte. So consequently the highs are usually higher and the lows are usually lower. Something Ive been working on very hard this year is not to get too high and not to get too low. So far this year, its been a little better.
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