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Catching up with Kooch

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What is it about love and money that ties people up in knots? The world adored Matt Kuchar when he played for love not money, hammered him when he turned down the money to finish his first-rate education, and now seems to have no faith in his abilities now that he is playing for cash.

I know there have been people who say that I missed my time, he told me. They say I should have gone out and turned pro a couple of years ago.
 
Kuchar enjoyed the college life in Atlanta, and so he stayed to complete his degree at Georgia Tech. That hes picked apart for such a decision lingers as a sad statement on how professional sports have skewed a societys priorities.
 
When Kuchar failed to recapture the magic of the 1998 Masters and U.S. Open, he faded from view.
 
Sure there were times when I wasnt on top, he recalls. You know who was with you and who were your friends for the moment.
 
Matts family has long been a source of strength, but now even theyre heading in new directions. His parents, Meg and Peter, recently moved from just outside Orlando to Ponte Vedre.
 
Dad was ready for a change, Matt explained. And Mom wanted to be closer to the beach.
 
Also this spring, Matts 21 year old sister, Becky, married Michael Morris, a former University of Georgia golfer now in the real estate business in Atlanta.
 
Even though hes a Bulldog, Kooch joked of his one time rival, hes a great guy.
 
And so Matt Kuchar begins his own journey. It started in Jupiter, Florida with a job in investment banking. But the lure of golf pulled him away and late last year in Australia he turned professional with little fanfare and far from the glare of the American press.
 
Australia was an amazing experience, he said. I loved the country and loved the people.
 
Back in Jupiter, Greg Norman offered the former U.S. Amateur champ playing and practice privileges at the Sharks swank Medalist Club. Its a perk he says hell try to keep even after he makes an upcoming move back to Atlanta, where hell play out of The Golf Club of Georgia and East Lake, thanks to his relationship with Georgias first family of golf, the Yates.
 
I miss Atlanta a lot, said Kuchar. Wherever I went I was looked after and the people there have always been great to me.
 
In the meantime, hell continue to do corporate and charity outings, as well as practice.
 
I normally work out for an hour in the morning, he explained. Then Ill hit balls, play 18 and then work on some aspect of my game in the afternoon.
 
Kooch has made changes to his putting, reverting to some of the techniques he used as a kid when, like so many, he seemed to make everything he looked at.
 
I remember that I loved to watch Dave Stockton so Im going with more of a broad stance and forward press, he said.
 
The work seems to have paid off. He finished 17th at Greensboro on a sponsors exemption after having missed cuts at The Sony Open, The AT&T, and The Bellsouth. I heard more chants of Kooch at Greensboro than Id heard in a long time so it was fun, he recounted.
 
I now understand how things work, he said of the professional life. I feel like I finally prepared well for Greensboro.
 
Hell try to make enough money with his three remaining sponsors exemptions to earn a card, hoping for slots at Westchester, The Western Open and The John Deere. He also plans a couple of Buy.Com appearances and ultimately, in all likelihood, a trip to the Qualifying Tournament.
 
As for those corporate gigs, he admitted that he could make a handsome living simply trading on the popularity he cultivated as an amateur, but that obviously hes playing for more than money. Still, he laughs at the idea that hes actually getting paid for such work.
 
Playing golf and speaking is easy and fun for me, he mused. To know youre going to get a sizeable amount of money for just one day allows me in a funny way to check off some items I might need like a TV or new furniture.
 
Whats been flattering, he added, is how many times Ive gone to a draw party and been the first one selected even with a dozen other professionals there.
 
People do remember, and Kooch is betting itll pay dividends. Thats why he eschewed the established golf management firms and signed with Wilhelmena Artists, an entertainment concern with a sports division. They represent not only the likes of NBA star Stephon Marbury but Destinys Child, a red hot recording act. Matt Kuchars the only golfer in the stable.
 
Basically image branding is what they do, Kuchar said.
 
And what, Kuchar was asked, will his image be?
 
I guess the All-American kid, he conceded.
 
If thats not gritty enough for public consumption, or perhaps phony in some peoples eyes, so be it. Kuchar may have been a likeable innocent three years ago, but American appetites change quickly. And yet, theres really no discernable reason to believe that Kuchar, with the degree and the easy smile, is anything but what that image will project. The key now is winning, plain and simple.
 
Ive had so many people say to me that they think golf is ready to see me again, he said. Ive been lucky in the past that people have really taken to me so if I can get back out there I believe Ill see that great support all over again.
 
So Matt Kuchars begun navigating his way through that twisted world of love and money that is professional golf. If all goes well, this time hell have an abundance of both.