Kuchar again the talk of Atlanta

By Doug FergusonSeptember 22, 2010, 11:57 pm
2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA – Matt Kuchar is the face of golf in Atlanta this week at the Tour Championship, just like he was 10 years ago.

There’s one difference.

Actually, there’s about 10 million differences.

Kuchar is the No. 1 seed in the FedEx Cup going into the final playoff event, which starts Thursday at East Lake. That gives him a slight edge in the race for the $10 million bonus, the biggest payoff in golf.

It’s hard to believe that Kuchar, perhaps the most celebrated amateur golfer at Georgia Tech since Bobby Jones, wasn’t even sure he wanted to turn pro when he graduated a decade ago.

He had won the U.S. Amateur. He lit up Augusta National with his engaging smile and a game good enough to be the low amateur at the Masters in 1998. Then came the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, where he held his own against golf’s best and tied for 14th.

Not long after that, a businessman tossed out the idea of staying an amateur.

“He said, ‘Nobody has really done it since Bobby Jones. There’s plenty of money to be made in the business world. It’s not that you have to turn professional to make money,”’ Kuchar said. “And he encouraged me to still stay competitive as an amateur. He said, ‘The doors that will open for you will be amazing, and the better you do in golf – if you keep playing Masters tournaments, if you keep playing well in Amateurs – it’s only going to open more doors.

“So it was a neat opportunity.”

Kuchar went to work for Liberty Associates, a boutique investment banking firm in south Florida, a job that entailed plenty of golf with prospective clients, a chance to see how business gets done as efficiently on manicured fairways as in boardrooms.

Chasing the amateur dream, however, soon turned into a sprint.

Kuchar played the Texas Open on a sponsor’s exemption in the fall of 2000 and missed the cut by one shot. He was furious with himself and wanted to tee it up the next week to prove he was better than that.

“And it was then that I knew I needed to really go week in and week out to see how good I could be,” he said.

It took him time to find out. He won his first PGA Tour event two years later at the Honda Classic, immediately went into a tailspin and didn’t emerge until hooking up with Chris O’Connell, a Texas-based coach who taught him a one-plane swing that was more about making a consistent swing than a perfect one.

The plan has worked to near perfection.

No one has more than his 11 top 10s on the PGA Tour this year. His consistent play, coupled with a victory at The Barclays, has put him atop the PGA Tour money list for the first time in his career, his first Ryder Cup team and No. 10 in the world ranking.

It’s also his first appearance in the Tour Championship, a big goal for a Georgia Tech alum who used to play East Lake in college.

“It’s definitely been a neat progression,” Kuchar said. “I think I was definitely well-celebrated as an amateur, and it’s fun to take the steps forward. … To make those steps, it’s a very rewarding feeling.”

The timing of the Tour Championship provides one coincidence – Kuchar, who always has felt at home in Atlanta, is in the process of moving across the state to St. Simons Island.

The memories will stay, particularly his amateur days.

“It seems like coming back from the Masters (in 1998) there was a lot more fanfare,” Kuchar said. “I remember classrooms standing up and applauding. I can remember teachers coming up and congratulating me. The Masters was kind of what seemed like the real significant event to folks from Georgia, folks from Georgia Tech.”

The U.S. Amateur was a big deal in a different way.

There are pictures of Jones returning to Atlanta with the U.S. Amateur trophy, arriving by train, greeted by a host of Atlanta’s finest. A half-dozen people in those pictures were brought back together when Kuchar came home in 1997 with the same trophy, and they put together a mock photo to celebrate the occasion.

Kuchar was told later some in the group had tears in their eyes at the sight of the U.S. Amateur trophy belonging to a Georgia Tech kid.

“It was a very touching moment, and I kind of realized how big of a deal it was,” Kuchar said.

It’s a big deal, now – a chance to be the FedEx Cup champion with a $10 million bonus, perhaps enough for him to be voted PGA Tour player of the year, with the Vardon Trophy on the line for the lowest scoring average.

Kuchar isn’t alone in his pursuit of the big prize.

The top five in the standings – Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Charley Hoffman, Steve Stricker and Paul Casey – determine their own fate. If they win the Tour Championship, they win the FedEx Cup. Everyone else from No. 6 to No. 30 needs help to win.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson is No. 10, having slipped in the standings with mediocre results in the playoffs. He still has a chance, and can get more than money. A victory would make him No. 1 in the world for the first time, and considering his Masters victory in April, make him the favorite for player of the year. For all he has done in his career, Mickelson has never won any top awards.

He has never had a better chance than now – on a course where he is defending champion, with Tiger Woods not around because the world’s No. 1 player didn’t qualify.

Getty Images

Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

Getty Images

In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

Anxiety.

Frustration.

Anger.

Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”

Getty Images

Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

"Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

"I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

"I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

Getty Images

Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

"Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

"I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."