BRADENTON, Fla. – Trip Kuehne checked his phone, read his e-mail and smiled. The message, he said, detailed a 25th reunion for members of the Canon Cup, the AJGA’s annual team match-play competition, now called the Wyndham Cup, which features the best male and female junior golfers from East of the Mississippi River versus their counterparts from the West.
“I remember Tiger Woods was my partner and we kicked Stewart Cink’s butt,” Kuehne said. “He was so mad he was close to tears.”
All these years later, Kuehne, 41, the 2007 U.S. Mid-Am champion and runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 1994 U.S. Amateur, was making a rare return to competitive golf in another team-format competition. The inaugural Concession Cup pits leading male mid-amateurs (25 and older), senior amateurs (55 and older) and super-senior amateurs (65 and older) from the United States and Great Britain and Ireland.
“Alan Fadel told me about his concept for an international competition a few years ago, and I said, ‘If you ever get it off the ground, I’ll come,’ ” said Kuehne, of Westlake, Texas. “I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t have the game. I love the concept of these guys getting a chance to represent their country. So why not be a part of it?”
Kuehne called it quits after his appearance in the 2008 Masters. He said he had done everything he wanted to do in golf. Asked if he has any regrets, Kuehne doesn’t hesitate with an emphatic, “No!” He thought about turning pro back in 2001 but decided to make a career in the financial sector.
“If golf was my job, I don’t think I’d love it, and if I played like I did today, I definitely wouldn’t love it,” Kuehne said.
A day after the 2008 Masters, he was back home, pitching to his son, Will, in a coach-pitch Little League game. The joy he experienced in being around to watch his son grow up reinforced that he had made the right decision. Last week, Kuehne played the Coleman Invitational at Seminole Golf Club and shot the low round, a 69, in the second round.
He can still golf his ball at times. But his game lacks sharpness and consistency. At the Concession Cup, he lost his four-ball match on Friday and pointed to his miscue at 13 as the turning point in the match.
“From the center of the fairway, I had 198 yards to the front, wind blowing 25 (mph) and it was on the upslope,” Kuehne said. “So I tried taking a little off a 7(-iron) and stuck it in the ground. It was a disaster after that.”
He fatted the shot into a hazard and his team lost a critical chance to seize command of the match. Kuehne stared at his divot, then slammed the club in disgust. He’s a golfer. He still cares enough that he couldn’t hide his irritation, rushing to the range after he finished his round in search of a Band-Aid for Saturday’s singles match against Eoghan O’Connell. But soon the dispiriting episode would be forgotten.
“I have a pretty nice life, and if I shoot 80 it makes me mad for the rest of the day and I go home and it doesn’t change anything,” Kuehne said.
Kuehne no longer has the desire nor the time to dedicate to keeping his game sharp. He used to practice daily, for hours on end. Nowadays? “Finding 45 minutes is like pulling teeth,” he said.
Someday, perhaps when his son is off to college, he will look forward to returning to “the cocktail circuit” – The Coleman, George Thomas Cup, The Crump Cup, and The Concession Cup made his shortlist – and regaining the discipline he once had to prepare to play his best. Golf may not be his end-all, be-all right now, but the game still matters to him.
“Like I told my partner,” Kuehne said, “it’s not life or death. It’s just more important than that.”