NORTON, Mass. – Matt Kuchar is a fun guy, a prankster, and Deutsche Bank Championship week is usually a pretty light time for him. He had a grandfather from these parts, who weathered the harsh winters up in New Hampshire, and the family tree has been known to twist and turn with every autumn Red Sox pennant chase. He may have grown up in Florida, but this always has been a second home.
But the kid with the affixed perma-grin, the Kooch, who saunters along as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, has had a much, much different week than his norm here along the southern coast of New England. The sudden Wednesday morning passing of Angela Bennett, wife of Kuchar’s longtime caddie, Lance, has sent great ripples through the PGA Tour’s traveling band of brothers.
Kuchar has dealt with it the best he can. He’s been criticized in some corners for even playing this week, with his caddie and close friend struggling so direly back home in Texas, but the two discussed it and the conclusion was that Kuchar could help out more by playing. By filling others in, and getting started on a fund to help the family.
So there he was on the first tee at TPC Boston Friday afternoon to open his tournament, and shortly before his name was called, as he looked around, the emotion of it all rushed over him like a wave. Caddies were wearing all-black hats, and players wore orange ribbons to honor the loss of a Tour family member who was a wife to Lance and mother to a 4-year-old daughter, Emma Grace.
Kuchar put a peg in the ground, heard his name, and was struggling to hold back his tears. And once he managed to split the fairway with a 256-yard opening tee shot, he exhaled, turned to substitute caddie Brian Reed, a good friend of Bennett’s, and said, “That was harder than I thought.”
Kuchar shot 2-under 69, and afterward, being married himself with two sons, he struggled to put into words the incredibly difficult situation which has turned the life of a friend and week-to-week teammate upside-down.
“A caddie is part of the family; a caddie’s family is part of the family,” Kuchar said. “It’s one of those things, I can’t imagine how I would survive without my wife as the father of a couple of children, and Lance has a 4-year-old little girl. It’s sad. It’s things you wish wouldn’t happen and shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately they do . . . and it’s been a tough week.”
Angela Bennett, who would have turned 40 next month, had epilepsy, and she suffered from seizures. Her husband already was in Massachusetts on Tuesday to start his week when he received a call that she’d had a seizure and he needed to get home to Texas. Lance then phoned his good friend, Reed, the same man who’d introduced him to Kuchar years ago after Bennett came off the bag of LPGA great Lorena Ochoa, and asked if Reed could fly up from Florida to work for him.
“I didn’t ask for details,” Reed said Friday.
In a statement earlier this week, Kuchar called Angela “a cherished friend, a wonderful wife and a loving mother who made a major impact on all who were lucky enough to know her, and she will be greatly missed.”
As he played on Friday afternoon, Kuchar couldn’t help but keep taking in the scene that was all around him. His caddie is an integral piece of this tour, a traveling circus of sorts, and so, too, are families. Why, five months ago, Angie was at Hilton Head with Emma Grace, holding up the 18th hole flag to celebrate Kuchar’s latest Tour victory with her husband. And there’s the timeless picture of Angie and Lance, hand in hand, walking down a leave-strewn fairway two autumns ago after a heartbreaking U.S. loss at the Ryder Cup in Chicago.
At age 36, Kuchar has been around long enough to be asked to wear many ribbons for many causes at PGA Tour events. This one really hit home.
“This is certainly as close as I ever got to why we wear them,” he said quietly. “It means a lot more. It was an amazing tribute for the caddies to don the all-black hats, for everybody don the ribbons, to have everyone ask what they can do, to have a fund set up … it all will truly help. This is a difficult time. They’re going to have a lot of needs going forward.”
He and Lance had a phone conversation as Kuchar made his way to TPC Boston on Friday. Lance has two good friends from the Tour, fellow caddies James Edmondson (Ryan Palmer) and Jon Yarbrough (Scott Stallings), who quickly departed the tournament to be with Bennett in Texas. Kuchar said Lance has not taken many calls the past couple of days, but did say he has been touched by the many texts that have poured in, and he appreciates the outpouring of support he knows is there miles and miles away up near Boston this week.
“He sounded like he maybe got an OK night’s sleep last night,” Kuchar said. “But he has tough things going on. When we talked, he was heading to the funeral home to discuss the arrangements . . . and it sounds like there’s not much light there to help out.”
Those were the types of thoughts swarming and stirring through Matt Kuchar’s mind on Friday. This day wasn’t about birdies and bogeys. Those who have questioned or criticized him for playing, for even being here, have no idea. By playing, Kuchar believes he’s very much at his friend’s side.
To confront the question, what, exactly, does one do? With death, there is no manual. Just people’s lives thrown into turmoil and placed on hold, their futures diverted down a new road they’d never planned to travel. Services for Angela Bennett will be held on Tuesday in Terrell, Texas.
“All I could think,” Kuchar said, “was to try to play the best I can, try to help out any way I can, and hope that Angie is maybe looking down, helping me out a little bit.”
– Jim McCabe contributed