Kuchar off to good start in Nelson


IRVING, Texas – In his first round after winning last week’s Players Championship, Matt Kuchar posted an opening 4-under 66 at the Byron Nelson Championship, placing him just two strokes off the overnight lead.

It should hardly come as a surprise.

What, like you thought he was going to start tanking? Pack it in for the season? Move to a tropical island, set up a hammock near the beach and roll around in stacks of cash from the $1.71 million he pocketed in Ponte Vedra Beach?

That’s not the Kuchar Way.

“He’s a hard worker,” said his caddie, Lance Bennett. “He’s just not going to win and then be content and be like, ‘I’m done.’ That’s not the way he is.”

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So, what is the Kuchar Way? After a subdued celebration Sunday night at TPC-Sawgrass, he not only honored his previous commitment to compete in the Byron Nelson, but ventured here free of any complacency following last week’s victory.

In fact, he punctuated the win by working even harder this week.

Kuchar’s instructor, Chris O’Connell, lives here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so he annually uses the Texas Swing as an opportunity to get his own swing tuned up and ready for the upcoming U.S. Open. Even with a maneuver through the ball that often appeared flawless during victory, Kuchar stuck with the plan and grinded on the practice range in the days leading into the event.

“There is some room for improvement, some things I would like to continue to dial in on [with] my ball-striking,” he explained. “Having Chris here, we don't have that many chances to get together, and I figured I would take advantage. The U.S. Open is not far around the corner. I'm hoping to really continue to be sharp and get even sharper come the U.S. Open.”

What is he working on with O’Connell?

“The same stuff,” he continued. “You know, getting the club as close to the shaft line as possible, so getting the hands lower and tighter to my body.”

There is often a negative emphasis on players who attempt to make improvements after enjoying success – think Tiger Woods – but Kuchar is proof that a player treading water in the status quo is in effect losing ground to his fellow competitors.

The truth is, whether Kuchar had won last week or missed the cut by a mile, he was going to keep digging in the dirt, trying to uncover any new secrets to the swing.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he came into this week without a good feel for his game.

“There’s extra confidence,” he said. “I know that I’m doing a lot of things well.”

“You can just tell how hard he’s working,” Bennett added. “You know he would like to back it up with another one.”

In the brave new world of PGA Tour golf that has turned into a parity party, no player has won in back-to-back weeks since Woods did so three years ago. That would be tough to ask of Kuchar – now in search of his fifth career victory – but certainly well within the realm of reason.

For now, though, backing up his win with one strong round is momentous enough. Just ask a player who knows about being in that situation.

“It's impressive,” said defending champion Keegan Bradley. “I didn't do that at the Memorial after I won here, so it's a tough thing to do. He's won four times, so he's more used to it than I am, but that's a great round, and I'm happy for him.”

Maybe someday Kuchar can enjoy the luxuries of a hammock, a beach and a cash cushion. For now, he’s just going to keep grinding his way up the leaderboard, leaving the idea of complacency far out of mind.