DUBLIN, Ohio – Matt Kuchar rolled in a birdie putt on the opening hole, flashed his familiar smile and started walking toward his partner. Tiger Woods smiled right back and walked toward Kuchar, too. They both knew what was coming next.
The two players slapped hands, but added a little flair. They each punctuated the slap by pulling their hands back to the right and tilting their heads in unison, much to the delight of the raucous gallery.
To some, it just looked like a silly celebration, a you-had-to-have-been-there moment stolen from the United States team room. To any child of the '90s, though, the move was instantly recognizable.
“That was definitely all me,” Kuchar later said, impervious smile still plastered to his face. “That stems from the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air.’”
Even the International judge would give high marks for creativity and originality.
“I'm not a huge fan of bumping knuckles,” he continued. “I thought there was something a little extra, something fun to do. Baseball high fives look like a lot of fun, but look a little too complicated. So we went old school.”
It didn’t stop there, either.
When Woods rolled in a birdie putt to win the sixth hole, they did it again. When Kuchar posted another on the ninth, they did it again. Every time the duo won a hole, they did a perfect depiction of the Fresh Prince handshake.
And they won a bunch of 'em. Six to be exact, while losing only one. The end result was a relatively easy 5-and-4 fourball victory over the International team of Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman, leaving the Woods/Kuchar tandem celebrating in their first-ever match as partners.
“We ham-and-egged it pretty good,” Woods explained. “Kooch made a bunch of putts on the front nine, I got it rolling there for a little bit and on the back nine. It was him or me on each hole. We did pretty good.”
Come for the golf, stay for the wacky merriment. That could have served as the slogan for the day’s fifth and most lopsided match.
In a contest that held few questions throughout as to which team would prevail, perhaps the only queries surrounded the celebration itself. Not “Who?” nor “What?” so much as “Why?”
Why don’t players look like they’re having more fun in these competitions? Why does it appear so difficult to transition from an individual pursuit to a team venture?
Consider it a conundrum of chicken-or-egg proportions. It’s easy to play well when you’re having fun, but you can’t have fun unless you’re playing well.
“I think most people tend to play better when they are enjoying themselves,” Kuchar explained. “I don't know that one necessarily precedes the other, but certainly it holds true for me. I would say that if I'm in a good mood, I'm enjoying myself out there, tend to play a little bit better golf.
“And maybe it kind of carries over, maybe in the team competition, help a partner enjoy themselves, have a good time. It's just part of the teamwork out there.”
That teamwork led to Woods’ 21st career win in this event, the most of any player in its 10-year history.
It seems like similar words are written every year (if not every other year), but much as with Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker in the past, it certainly looked like Woods had found a long-term partner in Kuchar.
“We both play well at the same time, and we did that today,” he explained. “Kooch was solid all day. When he made a mistake, I was there; when I made a few mistakes, he was there. We were just never really out of a hole.”
If there was a newsworthy tidbit in the aftermath of this match, it came from U.S. captain Fred Couples, who revealed that the pairing didn’t simply materialize out of thin air.
“They both told me months ago that they wanted to play,” he said. “They just had a great time today.”
It will give them another chance to show off that fancy Fresh Prince handshake after each hole they win. It will also give them a chance to right a small wrong.
When Kuchar was asked about the genesis of the celebration, he maintained, “I figured this guy was the perfect Carlton.”
It’s a well-intentioned thought, but any child of the '90s should know that it was DJ Jazzy Jeff who shared a handshake with the Fresh Prince, not the Carlton character. Carlton’s thing? Well, he danced. Really badly.
Good luck to Kuchar if he wants to talk his partner into that celebration on Friday.