PINEHURST, N.C. – On U.S. Open eve, at an Italian restaurant, over a plate of pasta, Matt Kuchar let everyone know what he thought of Pinehurst No. 2.
“I really love the golf course,” he told his family.
Then, the morning after the carbo load, he went out and played like someone with an intense feeling of deep affection. The smiley top-10 machine went 15 holes before making a bogey, a U.S. Open rarity, en route to an opening, 1-under-par 69.
“I’ve always thought my game was suited for a U.S. Open,” the seven-time PGA Tour winner said.
Makes sense here. Kuchar keeps the ball in play and chips and putts well. He ranks 12th in putting and sixth in up-and-down percentage on Tour.
“I think my (Open) chances are good in that I scramble well,” he said after posting one of the eight under-par scores in the morning wave. “I manage my game well. Around the greens, saving par is critical at U.S. Opens, and I think that’s part of my strength.”
Short-game touch is a prerequisite particularly at Pinehurst, where the greens probably should be called hills or humps.
H.I.R. Hump in regulation.
Often, though, a ball will roll down to a collection area, where a player can have options from bump-and-run to putt up a ramp to pitch. You might say that gives Kuchar an advantage over so many others.
“I just call his short game magical,” proud father Peter Kuchar said.
Plus, the son seems to play well just about everywhere. Check the record and hit the cash register buttons. Kuchar leads the Tour with 46 top 10s since the start of 2010; remarkably, that’s nine more than Luke Donald. Kuchar has earned about $30 million in Tour prize money. All but about $3 million have been deposited since Kuchar rejoined the Tour in 2007 with that flat, efficient swing rebuilt by instructor Chris O’Connell.
Hence, one can argue that no golfer has benefitted as much financially after a swing overhaul than Kuchar has with O’Connell’s help. Yes, Nick Faldo had much more big-trophy success (six major victories) after David Leadbetter got a hold of him. But money then was a fraction of what it has become in the Tiger Woods Era.
Trust the swing. Love the course. Both help.
“It helps out a lot if you like a course,” Kuchar said with Pinehurst in mind. “If you say your game is not suited to a course, you tend to get bad breaks and probably don’t do well.”
Kuchar performed well Thursday in part because he decided to take last week off at the last minute. He played the Memorial, spent the next day scoping out Pinehurst and then was planning to play the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
“I told him that I didn’t want to get into his personal matters but said, ‘Matt, don’t go to Memphis,’” Kuchar’s father, Peter said. “Then he woke up gassed on Tuesday morning and decided not to go. He finally listened to his dad. (Smiles.) It was the first time in 15 years.”
Kuchar, with what those rosy cheeks and permanent smile and easy gait, might look like he’s playing casual golf. But, even though he has had trouble closing at times, there’s a competitive assassin under that happy face.
“He’s so focused,” Peter said. “He knows this is his window.”
Yes it is. Kuchar turns 36 on June 21. He’s around the age when golfers tend to peak, when mental and physical mesh nicely.
As it is, Kuchar seems to play his best when par matters. He’s not bad on holidays, either.
He won the 2012 Players Championship on Mother’s Day. He won the Memorial Tournament last year the week of Memorial Day. He claimed this year’s RBC Heritage on Easter.
Now he seeks to collect his first major victory on Father’s Day.
A Hallmark Grand Slam might be worth writing home about.