PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In the cutthroat, alpha dog world of professional golf, where wins are the thing and everything else comes a distant second, being classified as “consistent” can easily be construed as the ultimate backhanded compliment.
Might as well say, “Nice speed,” on a yanked 5-foot putt. Or, “You’re smarter than you look.” Or even worse, “Your wife has a nice … personality.”
All of which should spell bad news for Matt Kuchar, who over the past few years has been amongst the most – all together now – “consistent” players in the game. Entering this week’s Players Championship, he had competed in 59 official PGA Tour events since the beginning of 2010, finishing in the top-25 in a whopping 46 of them, but winning just once.
It would be enough to leave most players wrapping their irons around the nearest tree, but Kuchar simply kept on flashing that perma-smile, as if the negative connotations of such a label were only fuel for greater success.
All of which leaves the rest of us wondering: Does this guy ever get frustrated?
“I get asked that question a lot,” said his father, Peter Kuchar. “He just felt that one of these days the putter was going to get hot and when that happened, it would happen.”
“His strongest attribute is how patient and how mentally strong he is,” said his caddie, Lance Bennett. “He’s able to stay even – not get too mad or too excited.”
“Matt will always put a positive spin on everything,” said his instructor, Chris O’Connell. “He would look at it as, ‘Heck, I played at a high level, some of the best golf I can play and it just so happened that another guy played better and beat me.”
In most other sports – heck, in most other walks of life – consistency is a trait to be desired, one which makes fellow competitors envious of steady results. In golf, a player who finishes in, say, 12th place every week won’t reap the rewards equal to one who peaks twice per year, but parlays those performances into victories.
Not that it ever discouraged Kuchar.
“I'm really happy with the way my golf career has gone,” he maintained. “I've played some great golf, some consistent golf. I never wanted to be the guy that won once a year and missed 10 cuts a year.
“Back when I was thinking about this, Tiger Woods was either winning or finishing second or third every week, and I wanted to figure out, ‘How do I get to be like that; how do I play good golf? Lately, Steve Stricker was that guy. It seemed like Steve Stricker was a guy that I could be more like than I could be like Tiger Woods. I can't hit the shots Tiger Woods can. Steve and I play a similar game, just a consistent game, and that was a guy that I said, ‘I'd like to play like him.’ I'd like to show up, be playing good, have a chance to win tournaments, and it's gone that way.”
Even pros who value consistency understand that level results can have their ups and downs. Instructors, though, preach consistency – and for good reason.
“I think most people, when they come to take a golf lesson, they say they want to be more consistent,” O’Connell said. “As an instructor, it gives me great pleasure to know that week in, week out Matt is giving himself a chance to win. Some guys have two great weeks a year – they may win once and have a third-place finish. That’s great for winning money, but to be a truly elite player who wins majors and other big events, you’d better be a consistent player or just hope your game comes around at the right time.”
In the unstable world of varying rankings and parity within winner’s circles, Kuchar certainly ranks among the very few for whom consistency remains, well, consistent.
He understands that, much like at last month’s Masters Tournament, where he finished in a share of third place, he can only control his own score, not his destiny on the leaderboard.
It was that consistency – the same consistency which had so often resulted in top-25 or top-10 or top-five finishes over the past few years – that finally netted him another title on Sunday, taking The Players by keeping cool, calm and collected down the stretch.
In other words, just being himself.
You know, the guy who never becomes frustrated by consistency, never loses sleep over so many close calls without a victory cigar. It’s the reason why, when one intrepid reporter asked about his failure to win for nearly two full years, Kuchar responded by answering, “You can suck it, big guy!”
OK, so maybe he does get frustrated after all. Then again, that perma-smile never left his face, even when he said those words. And it almost never does.