NORTON, Mass. – As a 14-year veteran of the PGA Tour, Matt Kuchar has worn plenty of ribbons.
Some have been for causes he supports, and some have been donned as a sign of solidarity among his Tour brethren. None, though, have hit as close to home as the orange ribbon adorning his hat this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Three days have passed since Angela Bennett, whose husband Lance caddies for Kuchar, passed away unexpectedly. With Bennett’s encouragement, Kuchar decided to play this week at TPC Boston while his caddie remained home with family in Texas.
Kuchar thought of Angela before his first tee shot Friday, which he admitted was more difficult to hit than he expected. He thought of her when he began his second round, and he thought of her when he reeled off six straight birdies in the middle of his round to surge into contention.
He thought of the friend he lost, and also perhaps sensed her working on his behalf as the putts began to fall.
“You never know how things will work out in the game of golf,” he said, “But it felt like there’s some fate working, as well.”
Kuchar’s round of 5-under 66 was sparked by a run that began on the par-4 17th, when he rolled in a 9-foot putt for birdie. Three more birdies followed before he carved a hybrid to 12 feet on the lengthy par-3 third hole, and after he got up and down for birdie on No. 4 he had completed a career-best run of six birdies in a row.
“The holes that I birdied were all holes that you think there’s a possibility there,” he said. “I’ve done it at home a couple of times. Fun to do it out here.”
Brian Reed, who first connected Kuchar with Bennett seven years ago, is filling in on the bag for him this week. A veteran caddie, he explained that he was simply trying to stay out of the way while his player climbed the leaderboard.
“I didn’t even realize it was six in a row, with two before the turn and then four in a row,” Reed said. “Once he got going, I just sort of let him go.”
While the golf this week is important, the impact of Bennett’s death is clear when speaking with Kuchar, whose typically cheery demeanor is understandably muted. His tone of voice is softer; his pauses are longer when asked about how his longtime partner is coping with the loss.
“I talked to him a couple times,” Kuchar said of Bennett. “Not much I can say, not much he can say. We had a few more normal conversations.”
With a makeshift memorial for Angela adjacent to the first tee during the opening round, Kuchar struggled to take the club back on his first swing of the tournament. The round became easier from there, he explained, and the second round easier than the first, though his thoughts often strayed off the course – even during the run of birdies that moved him onto the first page of the standings.
“Today was easier. I think that’s the natural progression of how these things work. Day by day I think it gets a little bit easier,” he said. “Still felt like Angela was on my mind almost every hole, every shot, but yesterday I had a hard time pulling the trigger a couple of times.”
At 7 under, Kuchar is now in contention for his second win of 2014, and he carries plenty of momentum after a T-5 finish at The Barclays. The divide between the two weeks, though, is evident.
As Kuchar spoke of the importance of the ribbon clipped to his hat – one that honors not a cause, or a group, but a close, personal friend – it remained clear that much of his attention is still focused away from birdies and bogeys. Focused on a daughter who lost her mother, and on a friend who Tuesday will bury his wife.
So while the golf he plays this weekend pales in comparison to the grieving process that continues 1,500 miles away, Kuchar hopes to honor the memory of Angela Bennett with his performance – one that he insists may be aided by forces outside of his control.
“It’s an interesting cycle in life that we live,” he said. “To have such a close person pass … right now I feel like there’s some inspiration and some fate working.”