Kuchar Q&A: Unusual path from elite am to elite pro

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 14, 2016, 11:40 am

Over the past 16 years, Matt Kuchar has won seven times on the PGA Tour, finished in the top 10 in 23 percent of his starts and banked more than $37.5 million in earnings.

Not bad for a one-time investment banker.

It’s easy to forget that Kuchar has performed at an elite level for nearly two decades. As a happy-go-lucky 19-year-old, he contended at both the 1998 Masters and U.S. Open, finishing T-21 and T-14, respectively.

Not only did he reject the pros (and millions in endorsement deals) after his dazzling sophomore year at Georgia Tech, but Kuchar also was the rare college star who didn’t join the play-for-pay set immediately after college, either. Instead, he worked for a few months as an analyst at an investment-banking firm in South Florida as he contemplated becoming a career amateur.

After he finally turned pro – to little fanfare, in late 2000 – Kuchar won only once in the next eight years before transforming into a human ATM.

And so, with world No. 1 Maverick McNealy set to make a decision later this year about whether to pursue a pro or business career, Kuchar reflected recently on his unique path to the PGA Tour. 

What factors went into your pro decision?

The biggest debate in my mind with the thought of whether to remain amateur or turn pro was to see how good could I become. Any athlete wants to see how good they can become. I thought that I could maybe do that as an amateur. I thought I could play in enough amateur events and qualify to play in enough professional events – hopefully the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and then a handful of other regular Tour events so that you might get six events a year. So I tried that for a while, and I realized pretty quickly that for me to see how good I could become, I needed to be a professional. I needed to be out there playing week in and week out to really do myself justice to know how good I could become.

Related Articles

What was the turning point?

I remember distinctly playing as an amateur at the 2000 Texas Open in San Antonio at La Cantera. I remember missing the cut by a shot and wanting nothing more than to play the very next week, knowing that I was better than that, knowing that I needed to prove myself, that I needed to really test myself. It was pretty clear to me then that I needed to give it a crack as a professional to really see how good I could become.

After your breakout sophomore year in 1998, why did you choose to stay in school?

Payne Stewart. I played a practice round with him and Paul Azinger at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale. I had a great summer. Played well at the Masters. Played well at the U.S. Open. Everybody was looking for me to turn pro. I asked a number of pros that week, and everybody said, ‘Well, Matt, you seem ready.’ But Payne Stewart was the only one who said to stay amateur. He said: ‘You’ve only got four years to be a college kid, and college is such a great experience. The PGA Tour is going to be here for 100 years. Don’t turn pro and 10 years from now, when you’re in the routine of playing golf on the PGA Tour, think, Gosh, I wish I had two more years to be in college.’ That made a lot of sense to me.

How much pressure did you feel to turn pro?

Not much at all. I wasn’t having a hard time making the decision. I loved being a college kid. I was having too good of a time in college. I wasn’t ready to leave college. Payne Stewart said the thing that triggered in my head that I needed to stay in school.

Matt Kuchar, then 19, after winning the 1997 U.S. Amateur (Getty)

Why didn’t you turn pro immediately after graduation?

I was propositioned by a guy to learn a business skill at a little boutique investment-banking group, with the idea that a professional golfer could make a lot of money, but it also pales in comparison to the earnings that can be made in the business world. This was a degree I had, something I was interested in, and I thought that I could learn a real-life experience and also see how good I could be as an amateur. So I said it was worth a shot. I spent nearly a year doing that [about six months]. And I enjoyed it. But after San Antonio [in September 2000], I realized that I needed to be out here to see how good I could become.

What did you do in that job?

It wasn’t a suit-and-tie deal. I was figuring out what a fair price would be to pay for some of these companies that may need some help to be able to turn them around. It was learning in a real-world sense – learning some accounting skills that weren’t really taught in school. And then there was a whole lot of networking that was done. It was the first time I really saw business done on the golf course, figuring out with different bankers what companies may be struggling and which companies may be coming on the auction block. It was quite an interesting networking skill, in that certainly what you knew was very important, but who you knew was very important as well. It was a very interesting year.

Could you have been happy doing that for a living?

It still interests me. But I’d rather do something post-golf or dabble during professional golf. It’s something I still think about, and something maybe post-golf that I could revisit and get back into the investment-banking world. But I think if you’re really, really sporty, if you’re into this, then you’ve gotta be able to figure out how good you are.  

In this day and age, it’s not a knock to go professional. Back in Bobby Jones’ day, there wasn’t a whole lot else for you. Now, I think it’s a well-perceived job, and I think the coolest thing about the game is that our pay scale is completely based on performance. We have such respect from all the fans because you have to perform to earn a living. There’s no guaranteed contract, no guaranteed money. It’s how America was built – you’ve gotta perform to earn a living. There’s a lot to be proud of when you’re a professional golfer.

How seriously did you consider becoming a career amateur?

I had a couple buddies at Georgia Tech who were tossing around the same idea of possibly staying career amateurs. But you don’t lose anything by turning pro. What you gain is when you’re 40 years old, 50 years old, sitting on your couch watching the guys on TV play, you don’t think, God, that could have been me. That could have been me. You owe it to yourself to give it a try so that you’re not that 40- or 50-year-old sitting on the couch saying, ‘That could have been me!’ Because you know. It either is you or you tried it.

Now those same guys are playing amateur golf and they love it. There’s no shame on them because they spent two years as a professional. They’re just loving the amateur game and playing in all the fun events and have a lot of pride now – not in playing for a paycheck, but trying to put their names up in clubhouses. They take a lot of pride in that.

So I don’t see it as that debatable of a decision. It seems like a very easy decision. You try and then there’s always time to go back as an amateur, or there’s always time to go find a job.

Is it still possible to head into the business world for a few years and then turn pro?

Theoretically, it’s still possible, because guys hit their prime at 30ish. But there were a lot of struggles for me to get on the PGA Tour. Getting out here wasn’t just straight into the winner’s circle – it wasn’t even straight into keeping my card. There aren’t many Jordan Spieths who can make it look easy. Most guys see the Rickie Fowlers and the Jordan Spieths, and since they’ve had two good years of college, they think, I’m an All-American and I can turn pro now. That’s something I would second-guess more than an All-American finishing school and staying amateur if he’s truly good enough to make it out here. There’s no guarantee to come right out and have success on the PGA Tour.  

Did you ever waver once you turned pro?

It has crossed a lot of people’s minds at some point. The game beats you up and you say, ‘Hey, I’m not cut out for this.’ There were times, when I missed cut after cut, that I thought, Geez, I might have to get a job. I don’t think I ever really wanted a job, but the game was beating me up to the point where maybe I’d have to get a job because I wasn’t gonna be able to make it as a Tour pro. But I think once you get a taste of it out here, you don’t want to leave.

Is the concept of the career amateur dead?

How do you define career amateur? My buddy that played two years as a pro and is now an amateur? That’s not a career amateur, right? Technically, no, but at 26 he goes back into the amateur game and plays the rest of his days out. I’m sure there are a lot of guys that are late bloomers who go on to be really good amateurs that maybe weren’t great collegiate players – at least not good enough to turn pro – and they said that their path was going to be another way. There’s always going to be a stable of career amateurs. You’re just not going to see the top guys become career amateurs.

Why not?

Because you want to test yourself and now there’s so much money to be made. It’s the money and the status. In the old days, it was somewhat frowned upon; the amateur was held in higher regard than the professional. That’s completely changed now, particularly when you think of Bobby Jones’ day. He loved the game and stayed amateur, but in today’s world, would Bobby Jones have turned pro? I think it’s a fair question. So you wonder about the lifelong amateurs.

What do you make of the decision that McNealy faces?

I see it as being a pretty simple decision. At least try for a couple of years, and then at 25 or 26, you can easily say, ‘Hey, I’m not cut out for this,’ and you haven’t hurt yourself. You’ve probably met some more contacts that would be useful in the business world. I see it as a pretty easy decision turning pro and at least having a chance to see how good you can be.

Getty Images

Golf Channel Ramps Up Six Weeks of Comprehensive College Golf Coverage Culminating With The NCAA Women's and Men's Golf Championships, May 18-30

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 24, 2018, 9:00 pm

Golf Channel to Announce NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections on Wednesday, April 25 and Wednesday, May 2

 Golf Channel to Expand Coverage of NCAA Women’s and Men’s Regional Championships  

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Four-Part Docu-Series Executive Produced by Rickie Fowler, Premieres on Golf Channel Monday, May 7

 More than 100 News and Tournament Hours Planned for Women’s and Men’s Championships, Back-to-Back Weeks at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.


ORLANDO, Fla., April 24, 2018 – With conference championships underway, golf fans will be able to follow their favorite college golf programs and alma maters as they attempt to qualify and compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships in May at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., as Golf Channel expands its comprehensive on-air and digital collegiate golf coverage the next six weeks.

“Through our new long-term partnership, the NCAA and Golf Channel are successfully raising the profile of college golf by shining a spotlight on the game’s future stars and the passion these programs have in competing for national championships,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive vice president of content and executive producer. “With our expanded coverage of the regional championships and partnering with OSU alum Rickie Fowler for Driven, our viewers will be treated to the most college golf coverage in network history leading into the NCAA Golf National Championships.”

REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENTS: On Wednesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET (women) and continuing Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET (men), Golf Channel will announce the teams and individuals selected by the NCAA to participate in the women’s and men’s regional championships, the first step on the road to the NCAA Golf Championships. Live streaming coverage of selection shows will be available through the Golf Channel Mobile App or GolfChannel.com, and Golf Channel will aggregate social content for the shows using the hashtag #NCAAGolf. 

  • Women’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, April 25, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce (live) the 72 teams and24 individuals selected to compete in the four NCAA Women’s Regional Championships, May 7-9 (18 teams and six individuals per regional). 24 teams and 12 individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.
  • Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, May 2, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce the 81 teams and 45 individuals selected to compete in the six NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, May 14-16 (13 teams and 10 individuals at three regionals and 14 teams and five individuals at three regionals). 30 teams and six individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.

GOLF CHANNEL TO EXPAND REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: New for 2018, Golf Channel will feature expanded coverage of the final day of the NCAA women’s and men’s regional championships, Wednesday May 9 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively. Beginning within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily lifestyle news show, and continuing hourly throughout the day via live Golf Central news updates from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET that will be published to Golf Channel Digital and Golf Channel’s social media handles. Coverage will conclude with live news segments, featuring highlights and interviews, announcing the teams and individuals who qualified for the women’s and men’s national championships.

RICKIE FOWLER AND NBC SPORTS COLLABORATE ON FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES DRIVEN: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: NBC Sports Group is teaming up with PGA TOUR superstar Rickie Fowler to give viewers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look into Fowler’s alma mater in a four-part documentary series – Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Driven, executive produced by Fowler, will premiere Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET and continue Monday, May 14 (10 p.m. ET) and Monday, May 21 (8 p.m. ET). The finale will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16, recapping their season that culminates with a run at a potential 11th national championship, taking place on their home turf.

NCAA GOLF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: Contested in back-to-back weeks, May 18-30 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Golf Channel will dedicate its full suite of production resources to the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships, featuring nearly 30 combined hours of live tournament coverage. In addition, Golf Central will feature nearly 30 hours of combined pre-and post-event live news coverage produced on location, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and Golf Channel Digital.                                             

Golf Channel NCAA Women’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   21       

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   22          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   22                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   23            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)


Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   28      

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   29          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   29                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   30            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)


COLLEGE CENTRAL – GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL COVERAGE: Golf Channel is providing comprehensive coverage leading up to and during the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships as part of College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, Ryan Lavner and Steve Burkowski, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel will cover the conference championships with scores and analysis across its on-air news platforms - Morning Drive and Golf Central – and online within College Central.

Getty Images

With help from partner, Burns could secure Tour status

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 8:33 pm

AVONDALE, La. – This week Sam Burns has yet another chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, but his partner may determine whether he’s ultimately successful.

In an interesting twist, Burns is burning one of his seven available sponsor exemptions this week at the Zurich Classic. He is 80 non-member points shy of securing special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.

Burns needs at least a two-way tie for fourth to earn the necessary points, but it won’t all depend on how he plays this week. The Zurich is a two-man game, with two rounds apiece of fourballs and alternate shot.

Burns' partner this week is William McGirt. Their games couldn’t be more different – Burns ranks eighth on Tour in driving distance, at 309 yards per pop, while McGirt is 143rd (290) – but they hope to compliment each other over four days at TPC Louisiana.

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

“I got a good pair of spurs sharpened up last week while I was in San Antonio,” joked McGirt, who is looking for his first top-10 since the fall. “I told him I was going to ride him hard this week. It’ll be fun.”

Burns will have at least two (and maybe three) more opportunities to earn status, with starts lined up next week at the Wells Fargo Championship and also at the Memorial. He doesn’t face quite as much pressure because he won earlier this month on the Web.com Tour and currently sits fourth on the money list, essentially locking up his PGA Tour card for next season.

“It’s obviously nice to have that win,” he said, “but at the same time you have to be careful and make sure you play enough out there to where you’re secure for sure. You don’t want to get at the end of the year and then have two or three events left and you have to make a certain amount of money to get your card.

“So I’m just going step by step, tournament by tournament, and trying to figure out what’s the best route.”   

Getty Images

Spieth-Palmer draw Rahm-Bryan early at Zurich

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:49 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The PGA Tour’s only team event gets underway Thursday at the Zurich Classic. Here are some featured groups to watch at TPC Louisiana.

Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley/Daniel Berger-Gary Woodland: 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday off 10 tee, 2:08 p.m. Friday off 1: 

The Bama boys, Thomas and Cauley, team up for the second consecutive year, after tying for fifth a year ago on the strength of a final-round 61. Berger teamed with Thomas Pieters a year ago but missed the cut, so he’ll try his luck with Woodland, who also shares a management team at Excel Sports.

Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan: 8:52 a.m. Thursday off 10, 2:19 p.m. Friday off 1: 

Spieth and Palmer finished fourth a year ago, five shots back of the leaders. Spieth is making his first start since his epic Sunday run at the Masters. Rahm and Bryan have opposite strengths – Rahm is one of the game’s preeminent drivers, while Bryan, statistically, is one of the worst – but the Spaniard is coming off a European Tour victory at home. Another wrinkle here: Even though no world-ranking points are on offer this week, Rahm is set to supplant Spieth as the third-ranked player in the world.

Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels/Brooks Koepka-Marc Turnesa: 1:31 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:42 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Two stars with questionable sidekicks. Ruffels is an up-and-coming Australian who has been playing primarily in Latin America. (He also shares a manager with Day.) Turnesa, meanwhile, got the call late last week from Koepka, who is finally ready to return from a 15-week layoff because of a wrist injury. They both play out of Medalist in South Florida, but Turnesa, 40, has turned his attention to real estate instead of professional golf.

Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay/Jonas Blixt-Cameron Smith: 1:44 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:53 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Reed makes his first start as Masters champion after taking off the past two weeks. This duo tied for 14th last year, undone by a Saturday 75 in foursomes play. Blixt and Smith are the defending champions, after shooting 27 under par last year and holding off Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff. Blixt doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour since then, while Smith tied for fifth at the Match Play and the Masters.

Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson/Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar: 1:57 p.m. Thursday off 1, 10:04 a.m. Friday off 10:

Rose and Stenson, who have proved to be a formidable pairing in the Ryder Cup, were a stunning missed cut last year, after shooting 6 under par for two rounds. Watson teamed up with J.B. Holmes to finish fifth last year, while Kuchar is making his first start in this event since 2009.

Getty Images

Zurich Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:09 pm

The PGA Tour tries team competition for the second year in a row at the Zurich Classic. Here are the key stats and information for play at TPC LouisianaClick here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $7,200,000 ($1,036,800 to each winner)

Course: TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards)

Defending champions: Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt (-27) in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner

News and notes

• All four reigning major champions - Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed - are in the field this week. This is the first time all four reigning major winners have played this event since 1984 (Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Hall Sutton).

 Both members of winning team this week will earn an official PGA Tour victory, two-year Tour exemptions, and exemptions into the Players and PGA Championships.

• That said, no Official World Golf Ranking points are awarded from this event and winners will not earn exemptions into the 2019 Masters.

Notable teams in the field 

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson

 Rose won this event in 2014, when it was individual stroke play. From 2012-16, he was a combined 60 under at TPC Louisiana in stroke play, seven shots better than any other player.

 Rose has dramatically improved his performance on the greens from last season, moving from 123rd in strokes gained-putting to 10th.

 Stenson's last three starts look like this: solo 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T-6 at the Houston Open, and T-5 at the Masters.

Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan

 Rahm is coming off a victory at the Spanish Open, his second worldwide win in 2018 and fifth since Jan. 2017.

 Rahm outdrives Bryan by an average of 30 yards off the tee, 305.1 to 276.3.

 Rahm is second on Tour in the strokes gained-off the tee, while Bryan is 210th, last among qualifying players.

Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay

 Reed is just the fifth reigning Masters champ to play the Zurich since 2000, joining Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (twice), and Bubba Watson.

 Reed has gone T-2, T-7, T-9, WIN in his last four starts.

 Cantlay broke through for his maiden PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.