When you hear the shouts and heckles at golf courses nowadays, it can be one of the few bugbears of the game. ‘MASHED POTATO… ‘WOOOOOO…’ ‘GET IN THE HOLE…’ on a par five measuring 607 yards; it’s kinda excessive.
However, the first couple of times that Matt Kuchar was having audibles directed at him, those who weren’t in the know must have wondered what the Florida man had done to deserve the unified chorus of vilification.
Until, that is, they realised the shouters were roaring: ‘KUUUUUUUCH!’ Kuch. His nickname. It’s now a tradition and the 41-year-old is one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour.
At Royal Birkdale in 2017, Kuchar pushed eventual winner Jordan Spieth all the way – literally from start to finish, with his challenge for the iconic Claret Jug only diminishing in the closing three holes of the final round. Kuchar finished runner-up to the Texan youngster, three strokes behind.
That’s the closest that the nine-time PGA Tour winner has got to picking up one of the four major events in the sport, although with career earnings topping $50million, he’s doing OK, as he says to RSNG…
RSNG Is it possible to feel that you have played well even when you don’t make cuts?
MATT KUCHAR, THE KUUUCH ON THE LOOSE ‘It definitely is and I’m not just saying from a personal perspective to make it look like I never have a bad round of golf or hell, even hit a bad shot. The fact is that you can have your game in a reasonable, decent swing and you feel like the shots that you are playing are good.’
‘But, yeah – you’re way down the leaderboard, off the pace of the top players or, as you say, sometimes you don’t even make the cut. The fact is that you can be playing well, maybe not as well as you would like to, but you feel good about your drives, irons and putting, but the scores are not validating that.’
‘That’s because some courses can just eat you up if you don’t play how they want you to play. Some can really surprise you - it won’t matter that you feel really positive about what you are doing, how you are hitting your shots, how you are putting… none of that will matter.’
‘However, one thing that will happen is that I will still walk in to speak to the press gang and I will still tell them the truth and that I am feeling positive, because I will never let a couple of bad scores get to me. You’re never going to win every tournament, make every cut or hole every putt.’
‘The important thing is that you are giving yourself the chances to make birdies or to save pars, then you know you’re not far off where you want to be – it can only be around the corner.’
‘When that isn’t happening and you feel like you’re not in control of your swing, your game or your round, that’s when the negative thoughts can creep in.’
‘And these ideas are as relevant for amateur golfers as they are the pros. We are all playing the same game, we are all trying to win the ultimate battle… and that battle is, almost every time, against ourselves.’
‘For me the big thing is to give each tournament absolutely everything you have, whether you retain a title or not’
RSNG So when you do win a tournament, and you find yourself going back 12 months later to defend that title, is that challenge harder or easier that turning up somewhere where you have no real historical imprint?
MK ‘Well, I can’t say that I have a great amount of experience in ‘going back’, as I have only won nine times in my career on the PGA Tour.’
‘What I would say is, regardless of whether you’re defending a title that you have won previously or you’re getting that victory for the first time – winning a golf tournament is not easy to do. You don’t win that many so trying to defend at a course is hard, so hard. What you find is some can do it and others will never do it.’
‘Of course the main guy who comes to mind – especially in our generation of the game – is Tiger Woods. He seems to be able to repeat wins at a select amount of courses, but to be honest over the course of his playing career – in the main – he has been one of the only players who has been able to win at any time and any place.’
‘For me, the big thing is to give each tournament absolutely everything you have. Whether you retain a title or not, if you’ve tried your hardest you can’t really ask for much more than that.’
RSNG? Is there a particular formula for a golfer to be able to win more consistently?
MK ‘I wouldn’t say there is a textbook way of playing to make sure that you win, no. It’s not like there is this hidden ingredient or special secret that one player or a group of players have, which makes them more successful.’
‘For example, just go back to when I went back to Muirfield Village to defend my title for the Memorial Tournament there. I love that course and it has been good to me over the years. But when I went there and I had a look at the previous winners at that course before me, I remember thinking that there had been players who had games with not a huge lot of similarities to their games.’
‘That course, like a few others on the PGA Tour, demands that you do everything well. For example, the greens at the Memorial seem to get every bit as fast as the infamous greens at Augusta National. You have to be at the top of your game.’
‘When greens are fast, it’s not so much a premium on your putting but your iron shots and your positioning for where you want to be putting from. At the Memorial, you don’t have to hit a great deal of drivers – certainly if you’re a long hitter anyway, and that can be the same at any course you play at.’
‘I always try to hit more than most and challenge the shorter holes at any course for me to be able to turn those holes into birdie-able ones for me.’
‘Driving is one of my strengths in my game and I do always try to use that to my advantage more than most others. But I think that in order to do well, you just have to have all parts of your game working.’
RSNG? With you saying that driving is a strong part of your game, and that fits in nicely with courses getting longer. What has brought about that trend?
MK ‘Well, the courses and individual holes are getting longer mainly because the players are hitting every shot longer through their own make-up, their strength and conditioning, their technique and the technology making clubs allow players to hit their shots with great distance.’
‘However, what comes with greater power and distance is the margin of error that is increased and it’s not always a good thing to compromise accuracy with distance.’
‘You may be able to boom that driver up to 330 yards plus, but if you’re losing a bit of accuracy and spraying that ball to the left and right, it’s not going to help your second shot.’
‘At the courses I have gone to 12 months later, two, three, four years down the line and I have seen the changes to them, sometimes they aren’t even noticeable straight away. When I get to the tees on the holes which have been made longer, you can’t even see the previous tee box – and that’s impressive.’
‘For me, it’s usually just a case that I am having to change from using a 3-wood to a driver at some courses. But at others where the tee-shot is making you have to either place your drive when you want your second shot to be and then play a longer second shot, so be it.’
‘I mean, unless you can carry 300 yards with your drive, your second shot is always going to have to be longer!’
‘When I’m involved in a team event, I’m always like a kid again – I think it’s a cool thing to be involved in…’
RSNG? With the 2020 Ryder Cup being hosted on US soil again, when do you start thinking about making the team to help Team USA win that trophy back?
MK ‘To be honest with you, I’ve been thinking about being in every team since the Sunday at Medinah. I am always ready to have another crack at the Ryder Cup, regardless of where it is or when it’s taking place.’
‘When you’re part of the Ryder Cup for that year and you’re selected and you’re going in for your fitting for the uniforms that you’re going to be wearing throughout the event… when you’re around some of the guys who you are going to be with for that week of the Ryder Cup, it all starts to become a little bit real.’
‘When I’m involved in a team event, I’m always like a kid again. I think it’s a cool thing to be involved in, you go to your hotel room and you see all of your clothes lined up in there on a clothing rack, like you would see in a store.’
‘You’re supposed to try everything on as soon as possible to see if it fits and if not, you get the appropriate adjustments. That’s when it hits you.’
WHAT NEXT? If you missed our exclusive interview with PGA tour overachiever Xander Schauffele, then catch up here.
Then, watch Matt Kuchar’s backward right-handed shot at The Players Championship from 2015.