The other side of The Open coin: Kuchar's perspective

By Rex HoggardJuly 26, 2017, 6:17 pm

Perspective can be relative. Consider Jordan Spieth’s 13th hole on Sunday at The Open. You know the one that took more than 20 minutes for the Golden Child to play a shot and will be a highlight reel special for the next 20 years.

For Spieth, the foul-ball tee shot and frantic moments that led to an unlikely bogey was nothing less than a sea change in the round, a shift so dramatic it would carry him all the way to the claret jug.

For the fans who watched the surreal episode it was historic, like “The Shot” by Michael Jordan during Game 5 of the 1989 NBA Eastern Conference playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, or “The Catch” when San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the end zone during the ’81 NFC Championship Game. It was the kind of moment you tell your grandchildren about.

But there’s another narrative, another player whose part in Sunday’s duel will be largely overlooked but is no less important.

When Spieth rolled in that 8-footer for bogey at the 13th hole it moved Matt Kuchar into sole possession of the lead, one-stroke clear of the eventual champion.

“I didn't lose any momentum,” Kuchar said following a final-round 69 at Royal Birkdale. “All of a sudden I now have a one-shot lead after that hole in the British Open with five to go. I'm playing really well. Hitting a lot of good shots. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. And he just ... he really turned it up.”

Spieth would play the next four holes in 5 under to pull away from Kuchar, a run that included a 48-footer for eagle at No. 15 and a 25-footer for birdie at the next.

Late Sunday as he tried to process those frantic final moments, Kuchar struggled for answers. During that same run that propelled Spieth to victory, Kuchar was 2 under par and yet he lost ground.

“It's crushing. It hurts,” Kuchar admitted. “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.”

At 39, this was Kuchar’s 47th major and while he’d been close before, most recently at this year’s Masters when he tied for fourth place, this Birkdale Open was the first time he’d been in position to control his own destiny late on a Sunday.

He’s won seven times on the PGA Tour, including the ’12 Players Championship, but this was different, this was a chance to make the monumental leap from good to great.

A consummate teammate on both the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, Kuchar’s ever-present smile and “aw-shucks” demeanor belies a dogged competitor with a quick, and sometimes biting, sense of humor.

“That smile is not, 'hey, how’re you doing?' Let's put it that way,” said Zach Johnson, a longtime friend and St. Simons Island, Ga., neighbor of Kuchar’s.

There’s a saying in sports that wealth and desire are very much mutually exclusive, and the golf landscape is littered with players who lost their edge after becoming financially comfortable. Kuchar is not that player.

In golf terms, Kuchar is a competitive ATM, having finished in the top 10 on 90 occasions in his career and he’s earned more than $40 million to rank 13th on the all-time cash list. That total puts him ahead of the likes of Justin Rose, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy.

But on Sunday as he made his way to the scoring hut, his head spinning and his title chances finally dashed with a closing bogey, it wasn’t Kuchar’s desire that was broken, just his heart.

Kuchar’s wife, Sybi, and children, Cameron and Carson, were supposed to be in Colorado, but they’d flown to Southport, England, for the final round and were waiting for him. Kuchar called it a “teary surprise.”

Spieth, who had just claimed the third leg of the career Grand Slam with his epic finish, noticed.

“I think Cameron is his oldest, he was in tears,” Spieth said. “At that moment I'm so happy. And at the same time I see that and I thought to myself, man, put this in perspective, he's a dad. I'm not a dad, I don't think that way. And I was able to kind of get a little glimpse into what that's like.

“Matt didn't lose the tournament at all today. He played well down the stretch. I believe Matt Kuchar will win a major championship. And I believe that he'll do it sometime soon.”

The 2017 Open will be remembered for many things, but for Kuchar it was a deep-dive study of how perspective can be relative.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.