Kuehne Winds Down Amateur Career

By Associated PressApril 9, 2008, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Trip Kuehne will always be remembered as the other guy, the one who played a pivotal supporting role on that summer day when Tiger Woods revealed to everyone just how special he was going to be.
 
Who knows how their lives would have turned out if Woods had not rallied from five down with 12 holes to play to win the first of three straight U.S. Amateur championships in 1994?
 
Well, Woods likely would have survived the disappointment and still gone on to be the worlds greatest golfer. But theres no way Kuehnes life would have been the same.
 
My whole life would have been different, he said. I wouldnt be married to the great woman I am today. I would not have my son. I would have turned professional.
 
Kuehne had an epiphany at the TPC Sawgrass, as he watched Woods hoist a trophy that was supposed to be his. Maybe professional golf wasnt all it was cracked up to be. Maybe he wasnt going to be the games No. 1 player. Maybe he should consider another line of work.
 
Kuehne did just that, going into the investment business and playing golf on the side as an amateur. He now runs a Dallas-based company that deals in hedge funds, though he did find time to squeeze in a victory at last years U.S. Mid-Amateur championship, earning him a spot in the Masters.
 
Hes come full circle. For two days at least, Kuehne will be on the same course as Woods, the childhood friend who bested him 14 years ago and sent their lives veering off in strikingly different directions.
 
I learned you can play your best, give it your all and still not come out on top, Kuehne said Tuesday, looking back to his landmark duel with Woods. But it very much made me the person I am today. Its great to always be linked with Tiger in that tournament.
 
As the runner-up to Woods, Kuehne got a chance to play in the 1995 Masters. He was gone in two rounds, then had to wait 13 years to get invited back.
 
The course was a lot shorter then, he recalled. I made every rookie mistake a guy could make. I was under the grand illusion that I could do pretty well. When I didnt do it, I was more crushed and depressed than anything.
 
Hes under no such illusions now. Hes a family man with a rambunctious 8-year-old nipping at his heels. While Kuehne talked with family, friends and business associates just outside the stately clubhouse at Augusta National, young Will pulled on his dads slacks, chewed on a green felt pen and played with a Pokemon toy.
 
Kuehne insists there are no regrets. Even in a family that sent brother Hank and sister Kelli to the pros, the eldest of the siblings charted his own unique path. Hell leave the office at 4 oclock in the afternoon, go to the range to hit balls, and still be home in time for dinner.
 
Golf is my stress release, he said. Some people after work drink a couple of beers. Some people run. Some people lift weights. I hit golf balls for an hour and a half. It just relaxes me.
 
This is where the golfing part ends for Kuehne, at least on the competitive side. At 35, its getting harder and harder to keep it up with all those big hitters coming up through the college ranks. He can think of no better place to call it a career than Augusta, which was founded by greatest amateur golfer there ever was, Bobby Jones.
 
Kuehne wishes there were more people who followed his and Jones path, though he knows amateur golf doesnt stand a chance against the big money being thrown around on the PGA TOUR. Still, the not-for-pay ranks have given him a chance to play some of the worlds greatest courses, some of the worlds most prestigious tournaments.
 
In addition to making the Masters twice, hes been in four U.S. Opens (making the cut in two of them). Hes also represented the U.S. on three Walker Cup teams and at the World Amateur.
 
If you play golf well, you can get a phenomenal job that still allows you to play five or six tournaments a year, Kuehne said. You can get the thrill of the competition, but you dont have to worry about making a 6-foot putt to put bread on the table for your family. It was a great decision for me.
 
He played a practice round Tuesday with Phil Mickelson, his one-time college roommate. For Kuehne, it was only further confirmation that he made the right call to pursue business instead of golf.
 
If we were keeping score for 18 holes, Phil probably would have beaten me by 15 strokes, Kuehne said. Never in my lifetime could I beat him. I always wanted to see that, and I got to see it today. Hes truly special. I love watching people who are best at what they do when theyre playing their best.
 
Mickelson enjoyed catching up with his old roomie.
 
I respect the fact that he has put his family life and his business life first, Lefty said. He didnt want to travel, wants to be in one place and be able to raise his son and be with his wife. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.
 
A day earlier, Woods and Kuehne bumped into each other on the putting green. They talked briefly, then moved on to more important things. The worlds greatest golfer has a fifth green jacket to win, an unprecedented Grand Slam to get started on. Kuehne has the rest of his life in front of him.
 
Theyre living their dream, Im living my dream, Kuehne said. This is just a chapter in my life coming to an end. Hopefully it will be Sunday, not Friday.
 
Woods still remembers that week in Florida.
 
I hit the ball well, he said. Trip played well in that final and I just got hot at the right time in that second round (of the 36-hole final) and got ahead somehow.
 
Kuehne is glad it worked out that way.
 
Seriously.
 
The good Lord was looking out for me when he gave Tiger a couple of nice bounces, Kuehne said, managing a slight grin. Im not ashamed of how I played. Yeah, Im disappointed I lost. But Ive told people on many occasions: Two winners, two champions came out of that day.
 
Tiger Woods became the golf champion he is. And I get to live a much easier life than Tiger Woods.
 
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