The first time I remember seeing Matt Kuchar was at the 1998 Masters. As low amateur he finished the tournament tied for 21st, a feat that 90% of the professional golfers in the world still haven’t accomplished. I don’t remember anything about his swing, but what I do remember is his smile, which as it turns out, may be the most important club in his bag.
He was, without question, the next big thing in 1998, and why not? The Georgia Tech All-American followed his Masters performance with an even better one at the U.S. Open where he tied for 14th. At the age of 23 he won his first PGA Tournament, then wouldn’t win another PGA Tour Tournament for seven years... that’s right, seven years, and it wasn’t even close. He wasn’t losing by a stroke here and there, he was terrible, so terrible that he lost his card and ended up on the Nationwide Tour. Still, through it all, some how, some way, Matt kept smiling.
To his credit, he never stopped fighting, and he never stopped smiling. The self-taught prodigy hooked up with Chris O’Connell in 2006 and Jim Hardy and started rebuilding his swing, and what a swing it is. By all accounts, it may be the flattest swing in golf, or maybe it just looks that way because he’s 6’ 4”. Nevertheless, Matt could take a full swing in your dining room and not hit the chandelier, but here’s the bottom-line… it works. Swing doctor Butch Harmon, put it this way, “Matt doesn’t do anything spectacularly well, but does everything very good.”
Butch was smiling when he said that, and Matt was starting to have a reason to smile.
In 2006, Matt finished 10th on the Nationwide money list, earning his PGA card for 2007. He finished 115th on the money list that year. In 2008, he finish 70th. Then, in 2009, seven years after his first PGA Tour Win, he won for a second time, but even that wasn’t easy. He had to win a playoff over Vaughn Taylor, which wasn’t completed until Monday due to darkness. That which does not kill me makes me smile.
Now Matt was really smiling.
By 2010 everything had changed. Matt Who, was now Matt Kuchar, Ryder Cup Team Member. At the time Matt was named to the team he lead the PGA Tour in top10 finishes, but he didn’t have a win in 2010; however in August he added an exclamation mark by winning The Barclays, and his smile got bigger.
He went on to win the Vardon Trophy and the Byron Nelson Award that year for lowest scoring average; then to top it off, he won the Arnold Palmer Award as leading money winner. Now, the entire Kuchar family is smiling.
By 2011, Matt his in a zone, three top-ten finishes in the first three weeks. In February, Matt had a great showing at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship before losing to the eventual winner Luke Donald. Then in June, he finished second behind Steve Stricker at the Memorial, causing fellow scribe Cathy Erickson to suffer palpitations for nearly a week. Now Cathy and Matt were both smiling like a Cheshire Cat. Matt went on to finish second at the Barclays in 2011, then he and Gary Woodland teamed up to win the Omega Mission Hill World Cup that November just for laughs… or smiles.
Now, assuming that you don’t play golf under a rock, you already know that Matt smiled his way to a tie for third at the Masters in 2012, which brings us to the Players and the infamous TPC Sawgrass, which Matt Kuchar whistled and smiled his way around for a two stroke victory. That’s right he not only smiled, he whistled.
I don’t know what to make of someone who smiles as much as Matt Kuchar does. It’s unnerving. Perhaps he already knew that he was about to become the 5th ranked player in the world. Heck, that would make anybody smile, but I like to think he’s a fan of Rudyard Kipling who famously said:
If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.
I think Matt Kuchar has figured out that triumph and disaster are both imposters. That’s what keeps him going. That’s why he’s always smiling.