Kuchar Putting It All Together

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04 Honda ClassicIn the early morning hours, on a chilly Tuesday earlier this season, Matt Kuchar stood isolated among a small crowd on the practice green.
 
Putting from all angles, at two separate holes, he stroked one putt after another, until at least 15 minutes had passed.
 
He then went to his bag, and instead of packing it up and heading to the range, he pulled out a different putter.
 
The same routine ensued.
 
Then he did it with a third putter. And a fourth.
 
Finally, after nearly an hour of practice, he appeared ready to exit the putting premises.
 
His walk, however, was a false alarm. He was only headed to a Ping representative, from whom he borrowed a putter with a head shaped like a steroidal potato masher.
 
Another 15-20 minutes later, Kuchar was finally putter-pooped.
 
I like to experiment, just play around with different equipment, Kuchar said between his putting and ball-striking practice sessions. But I always go back to my trusty old putter.
 
Old Trusty didnt live up to its name last year, and it cost him a little confidence and a lot of cash.
 
A season removed from Rookie of the Year consideration, Kuchar dropped from 49th on the PGA Tour money list to 182nd ' more than a $1 million difference. He made only eight of 23 cuts, and not a single one after the Western Open in July.
 
Kuchar had one victory (Honda Classic) and four top-10 finishes in 2002. He took the collar in both departments last season.
 
It was frustrating, Kuchar said in classic understated fashion. Id say the main reason why I didnt perform well was putting. If youre going to win ' or just play well ' you have to putt well.
 
In his first full year on tour ' after a near pristine amateur career that saw him win the 1997 U.S. Amateur Championship and twice earn first-team All-America honors at Georgia Tech ' Kuchar ranked 40th in putts per round, at 28.63.
 
Last year, he sank to 107th, needing 29.18 swipes every 18 holes.
 
But, thanks to his win at Honda a season prior, Kuchar had a mulligan in his pocket ' an extra year to regroup, recover and retain his tour card.
 
Now, the pressure is really on to perform. Another finish outside the top 125 on the money list and hell have to make his maiden Q-School appearance ' he initially earned his card by playing well in sponsors exemptions in 2001 ' in order to gain full exempt status next season.
 
Definitely, this year I need to make the top 125, he said. That now becomes kind of a priority.
 
But, I set my sights pretty high, instead of just saying I need to make the cut or I need to make the top 125. If you set your goals high, even if you dont make them, sometimes you get close anyway.
 
One of those lofty goals is a return trip to the winners circle. That would almost assure him of hitting another target.
 
Id really like to make the Tour Championship. Its at East Lake; I have a lot of connections in Atlanta and at the club, said the former Yellow Jacket.
 
He also hopes to be a 'major' player.
 
Kuchar -- who awed fans with his brilliant play and omnipresent smile in the 1998 Masters and U.S. Open -- failed to qualify for a single major championship last season.
 
Thanks to his Honda triumph, he played in all four majors in 2002; though, he missed the cut in each one.
 
Kuchar has had plenty of weekends off lately.
 
His sophomore season ended dreadfully with seven consecutive missed cuts. But it dramatically got better when, a week after his final event, he married Sybi Parker, a former Georgia Tech tennis standout.
 
It was nice to take a break. We went to Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, he said.
 
I basically had just the honeymoon off ' it was about a month off. Then I got back to practicing and getting ready for this season.
 
I wanted to come out and be prepared. I didnt want this year to creep up on me without being ready to go.
 
Kuchar said he has been working with instructor Randy Sonnier, who helped Frank Lickliter overhaul his swing and win last year in Tucson, and Rick Smith, the notable swing coach to Phil Mickelson.
 
My swing has been on good form for a while now, Kuchar said. Working with the two of them has been good for me.
 
Ive mainly been working on my putting.
 
You look at a guy like a Tiger Woods or an Ernie Els, Kuchar continued. You look at them address the ball and you say, How can they not hit anything but a good shot? And so the rest of us, we never quite look like Tiger Woods or Ernie Els setting up. I think that might be part of our problem; we don't always look like we're going to hit a good shot. I think from the start, when you put yourself in such a good position, you have some margin for error.
 
And so that's been the major key that I've been working on.
 
While mentally and physically prepared to attack 2004 head-on, it took Kuchar a few rounds to awaken his putter from its slumber.
 
Kuchar missed his first two cuts of the season before earning a share of the first-round lead in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
 
He needed only 25 putts in shooting 65 at Poppy Hills, but couldnt crack 74 over the next three rounds and tied for 48th.
 
He then missed the cut in the Buick Invitational and last week at Doral.
 
Apparently his putter just rolled over and went right back to sleep. His putts-per-round average has actually increased, to 30.00, this season.
 
And so he continues to practice.
 
Just trying to match my lines up, and move the handle a little more. I tend to move the putter without moving the handle ' a little wristy, he explained.
 
Putter-by-putter, he putts away.
 
Until Old Trusty starts earning its keep. Or he finds a new Old Trusty.
 
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