Kuchar glad to be rid of frustration questions

By Jason SobelApril 21, 2014, 12:11 am

As soon as Matt Kuchar jarred a bunker shot on Harbour Town’s final hole and again when he clinched the RBC Heritage title some 30 minutes later to exorcise the demons of three consecutive top-five finishes in the past three weeks without a victory, I was reminded of a classic interview-room story from two years ago.

This was just after Kuchar had clinched his Players Championship win, arguably the most important of his career. Much like this week’s triumph on Hilton Head Island, that one vanquished a fair amount of demons, too, as he’d gone nearly two years without a win while banking enough money to be confused for a mint, the byproduct of 13 top-10 finishes.

And so when he sat down to answer questions from the assembled media, I asked him one that seemed totally reasonable. I asked how frustrating it had been to play so well for so long without earning a trophy.

“You can suck it, big guy,” he responded. “You had to point that out.”

Trust me: He said this with that patented perma-smile etched across his face. But that didn’t underscore the truth.

While he’s long made it a goal to be one of the game’s most consistent performers, he also felt the sting of so many wouldas, couldas and shouldas. Getting into contention is fun, but consistently getting there without winning can turn even a squeaky-clean guy like Kuchar into a downright potty mouth.

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Here’s guessing that if he was asked a similar question on Sunday, after his seventh career PGA Tour win, he may have proffered a similar response, weeks of that frustration filtering from his lips.

Entering the RBC Heritage, Kuchar owned seven top 10s in 10 starts this season, but it was a recent string of close calls that deemed him the game’s hottest player without a recent title.

Three weeks earlier, he’d failed to keep pace with Steven Bowditch at the Valero Texas Open and finished in a share of fourth place. The next week, he made a mess of the closing hole at the Shell Houston Open and eventually lost in a playoff to Matt Jones. And in his most recent start, he was among a group of contenders who ended up well back of Bubba Watson as he claimed a share of fifth place.

“You do what you can when you get opportunities,” he said presciently at Augusta. “Certainly I know better than to press in the game of golf.”

Like so many stories, there were two ways to look at this string of white-knucklers: Either he was building toward the crescendo of a victory or it was growing proof that he struggles to close the deal when in the mix on Sunday afternoons.

Following the 71st hole at Harbour Town, there were already whispers that the truth was the latter. Seven days after suffering a four-putt at the Masters, Kuchar three-putted the 17th green from just 4 feet away. A potential two-shot lead dropped him into a share of it with Luke Donald, the ghosts of weeks gone by already nipping at his heels.

What happened next, though, substantiated the crescendo theory. On the final hole, Kuchar deposited his approach shot into the front bunker, then calmly holed his next shot for an unlikely birdie, punctuated by a hat wave and a caddie hand-smack.

“I would have liked to have made the putt on 17, knocked it on the green on 18 and two-putted,” he later admitted. “But to go ahead and do it this way, hole the bunker shot, it’s something I’ll never forget. The roar of the crowd was awesome.”

Kuchar didn’t technically win the tournament until Donald finished the final hole, surrounded by his family in the locker room. “It’s trophy-getting’ time!” he told his two young boys. Maybe one of these days he’ll regale them with the old tale, The Little Engine That Could. If so, he could draw some terrific parallels.

In the golf version of this story, it was their dad who was chugging up and around that mountain, hoping to successfully reach the finish line. Which is exactly what happened. In the last four weeks, he owns four top-five finishes and has earned a whopping $2,350,000.

There isn’t always a happy ending when players consistently get themselves into contention. Sometimes all of these close calls never equate to a trophy. Sometimes they only lead to greater frustration at the thought of playing so well and having nothing to show for it – except, of course, that pile of cash which acts as a nice consolation prize.

If you happen to run into Matt Kuchar soon, ask him about these frustrations and how they were compounded in the weeks leading up to his latest victory.

He’ll still have that perma-smile splashed across his face, but don’t be surprised if one of the game’s most upstanding players responds with an answer that could leave him depositing a few bucks into the swear jar. Don’t worry, though. After the month he’s had, he can easily afford it.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.