For Your Game: Matt Kuchar
This story appeared in the April 23, 2010 issue of Golfweek
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Matt Kuchar is starting to have the success that many predicted for him after his impressive summer of 1998. It may have come later than expected but it has arrived nonetheless.
Kuchar won the 1997 U.S. Amateur, then was low amateur at the ’98 Masters and U.S. Open, finishing T-21 and T-14, respectively. He won his first PGA Tour title in ’02, at age 23, but didn’t win again until last fall’s Turning Stone Resort Championship.
In the time between victories, Kuchar never worried that he wasn’t living up to expectations but did know he was capable of playing better, which is why he started working with instructor Chris O’Connell in ’06. Kuchar, who was mostly self-taught, regained his PGA Tour card via the Nationwide Tour that year.
“He always comes across as optimistic, as looking forward, not backward,” O’Connell said. “He has a fresh exuberance about him.
“But he has been honest with me. After he won early in 2002, he said, ‘It would’ve shocked me if you told me it would’ve taken seven years for me to win another one.’ ”
Kuchar is playing the best golf of his life. He re-entered the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, thanks to a stretch of 11 top 20s in 13 events.
“I think every year I’ve gotten more consistent,” Kuchar said. “I feel like now I can go out on a golf course, and if I don’t have it, if I’m not really dialed in, I’m still going to play some decent golf.”
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Backswing: Visual illusion
Kuchar’s backswing is one of the first things people notice. It appears extremely flat. O’Connell thinks it is misguided to describe Kuchar’s swing that way.
“The left arm looked higher prior to us working together because his shoulders turned flatter,” O’Connell said. “A lot of people think he flattened his swing. He’s actually steepened it, but his left arm is lower, relative to his shoulders.”
Several factors contribute to the perception that Kuchar’s swing is flat.
• He is tall (6 feet, 4 inches) and has long arms. Tall people usually swing more around their body. Kuchar’s long arms mean that his hands appear more behind his body at the top of the backswing.
• His shoulder turn is steeper, with the left arm at relatively the same angle, which makes the left arm look “low” at the top of the backswing.
That’s the way O’Connell wants it, though.
“If you cut his arms and club off, and looked at his body and shoulder turn, you’d say it’s a steep swing,” O’Connell said.
Kuchar’s swing is rounded in part because he played tennis growing up, a sport where players swing a racket around their body to propel the ball forward.
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Downswing: Fixing the lefts with right aim
Kuchar used to aim left and thrust his lower body toward the golf ball in order to swing right and block the ball toward the target. His miss was a hook.
Many players that miss left think they have a club path problem when in reality they have a club face problem. “They try to stop missing left by swinging more to the right, which causes them to block the ball or miss father left,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell wanted Kuchar’s arms and club to swing to the left after impact. To accomplish this, O’Connell would have Kuchar aim down the target line, or slightly right. O’Connell then put a shaft about 10 yards in front of Kuchar’s ball, and wanted Kuchar to hit shots that started left of the stick and cut around it.
“I started swinging left, started swinging around my body,” Kuchar said.
Aiming down the target line, or even a little right of the line, allowed Kuchar to turn his body more aggressively through impact.
“If he’s aiming left, and he rotates through the ball, he’s going to knock it left,” O’Connell said.
“If he aims right, and tries to pull the ball back to target, he can really use his body to square
the club and swing in-to-in.”
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Hip turn: Gaining power
Kuchar’s hip turn was one of the few things that O’Connell changed in Kuchar’s backswing.
Kuchar had a tendency to “overpivot” his left side. He’d turn the left hip while limiting the
movement of his right hip. This would cause his hips – and subsequently his shoulder – to be too flat, and he’d lose leverage with the ground and consequently lose power.
O’Connell wanted Kuchar to do the opposite.
He wanted him to turn his right side while minimizing the turn of the left hip.
“Someone that swings their arms around them,” O’Connell said, “wants to pull their right side up and behind them on the backswing.”
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Short-game shots: Here’s the scoop
Players often are taught to minimize hand action while executing short-game shots. O’Connell wants Kuchar to “scoop” his bunker and pitch shots.
“It’s a different release in the short game,” O’Connell said.
This movement utilizes the bounce of the wedge and allows the club to work under the ball.
Also, O’Connell doesn’t want Kuchar to swing too steeply in bunkers.
“I think the best bunker players are very rounded, very shallow,” he said.
Swinging too upright in the bunker causes the bottom of the swing arc to be too narrow and can cause the club to dig into the sand.
The scooping action exposes the club’s bounce, which helps the club glide through the sand. Kuchar also puts his hands farther back at address to expose the bounce.
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Putting: Keeping the club on line
Kuchar used to take the putter outside during his backswing, which made it difficult to control speed. With the club outside the target line, he could not release the putter through impact without pulling putts.
Said O’Connell: “When you take it outside, all you can do is pull and accelerate the handle (because the face must be held open to keep from missing left).”
To make sure the putter starts on the proper line to the inside (pictured above), Kuchar places a string over his target line. Players also can use a chalk line for this purpose.