CHASKA, Minn. — Correct restaurant, correct time. Bryce Molder knew that much. What he didn’t know was why the receptionist couldn’t find his table.
“Kuchar,” Molder said, knowing his friend Matt Kuchar had assured him that a reservation had been made.
“No Kuchar,” she said.
Molder thought for a minute, then realized who had made the reservation. “Do you have a Kucharski?” he asked. The receptionist looked, found that indeed, the Kucharski party for four was on the list, and told Molder to follow her.
At the table, good laughs were had, but Molder asked about using the name Kucharski. “It was funny, but why?” he asked Kuchar, with whom he had played college golf at Georgia Tech. “Why not?” Kuchar said. “Might as well have fun.”
Fun? It’s a 24/7 lifestyle for Kuchar, now 38 though living life like a carefree 18-year-old. “He still amazes me, after all these years,” Molder said. “There aren’t many guys out (on the PGA Tour) who I would say have good ‘golf attitudes,’ but Matt does. He lives in the good shots, which is something to be admired.”
And nowhere does the Kuchar personality shine through more than when “the needle” is out, those times when poking fun is the order of business. His place of work, the PGA Tour, is an arena dominated by a machismo. Competitive fires run hot, egos are massive and the desire to out-do the other guy is enormous.
Only the best survive on the golf course, but it’s in the lunch room, in the locker room and in those long practice rounds where you need your greatest strength. That is where Kuchar reigns as the undisputed king, where he is the Tiger Woods of “giving the needle.”
“I would agree 100 percent with that,” Gary Woodland said.
Wait. Hasn’t it always been suggested that Phil Mickelson ruled this side of the PGA Tour?
“Phil tries to compete with Kooch, but Kooch is too much for him — and it drives Phil nuts,” Dustin Johnson said.
To get a sense for why Kuchar is such a maestro with the needle, drift back to the Memorial Tournament in June. A showcase event by itself, it would be the first appearance for Mickelson since it became public that he had settled an “insider trading” mess by repaying close to $1 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission for profits made by buying and selling Dean Foods stock.
When Mickelson saw that he would be paired Thursday and Friday with Kuchar, he knew it would be bad. “Give it to me now,” Mickelson said when he saw Kuchar on Tuesday, but the guy with the perpetual smile declined. Because he had a captive audience for two days, Kuchar said he was going to drag it out and have more fun.
The next day, Kuchar sauntered into the lunch room, found Mickelson and sat down. Big smile, of course. Then, he stretched so that Mickelson could see what was on his shirt — a freshly made-up Dean Foods logo.
“I was sitting right there,” Woodland said. “I was crying laughing.”
Kuchar explained to Mickelson that somehow “a million dollars” had become available, so Dean Foods had signed him to an endorsement deal. Michael Spinks lasted longer against Mike Tyson.
“That was some good fun, yes,” Kuchar said. “I enjoy Phil. Phil is so much fun to have fun with, to have games with. He takes it pretty well.”
In Molder’s view, that is where Kuchar also ranks best: “He takes it better than anyone.”
There was the time at a Georgia Tech awards dinner, for instance, when Molder was going to be honored. Hundreds of people attended, and as the night wore on, players began having fun with their name tags. Sophomoric stuff, yes, but Molder was part of it, and Kuchar was the unsuspecting target. Soon, about a dozen name tags were on Kuchar’s back, and when Molder stood to say a few words, he made sure to credit his great friend.
“Please, Matt, stand up,” Molder said, and Kuchar obliged. It ignited a room full of laughter, everyone seeing the name tags plastered to Kuchar’s back.
“I got him,” Molder said, “but I remember thinking, If he gets me back, it’s going to be bad. But he took it so well; that’s the great thing about Matt.”
No argument from Woodland, who ceases to be amazed at his friend’s uncanny ability to deliver the goods.
“He gets away with saying so much more because he smiles and everyone thinks he’s a jolly happy person,” Woodland said. “He gives it to you with a smile on his face. He doesn’t care who it is.”
Guys such as Woods, for instance. He might intimidate a long line of colleagues, but not Kuchar. “Matt’s probably the only guy who has been able to poke at Tiger, and I think that’s why Tiger likes him so much,” Molder said.
“He told me once that he knows he shouldn’t be on Twitter,” Molder said, “that he’d probably get in trouble because he likes to say things, to have fun. But I love being around Matt because he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder; some guys out there have chips on each shoulder.”
Kuchar’s smile, easy-going manner and penchant for laughs traces to his father, Pete. “He kind of treated me like a little brother in so many ways,” Kuchar said. “Then the guys at Georgia Tech used to try and distract you while you played.
“I learned that if you were going to be around friends or peers who would give you a hard time, if you showed it bothered you, it was a win for them and it was only going to get worse.”
Kuchar decided to embrace it all.
“I learned the self-depreciating trait really well and learned to throw the needle right back.”