Finally, Kuchar finds a partner for World Cup
You can put down the pens, halt the resumes, and stop dialing the fax machines. The personnel department is closed. Matt Kuchar has called off the search for a World Cup of Golf partner. Kevin Streelman has accepted the task of going Down Under to try and help Kuchar defend America’s title in this biennial competition.
What might have been a no-brainer –- simply let Kuchar and Gary Woodland defend what they won in China in 2011 –- turned into a lengthier exercise than anticipated. With officials having altered the qualifying process for the World Cup, a player such as Kuchar was no longer allowed to simply pick his partner; instead, he had to go down the list of candidates based on the Official World Golf Ranking.
And sitting 81st, Woodland is behind a long list of countrymen.
Problem is, those Americans who have loftier status kept turning down the chance to play in a championship that dates back to 1953. For weeks, it appeared as if the Americans weren’t even going to field a team in an effort to win a 25th title.
Now before you think that Kuchar was starting to wonder if “it was something I said,” the notable list of candidates offered a variety of reasons for turning down the invite. The time of year (Nov. 21-24, just before Thanksgiving), the travel (Royal Melbourne in Australia) and the desire to get some time off were the reasons why a healthy list of Americans said no, including Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Billy Haas, and Rickie Fowler.
(Kuchar, ranked eighth, actually got the first nod only after higher-ranked Americans, Tiger Woods, No. 1; Phil Mickelson, No. 3; and Steve Stricker No. 7, said no.)
Finally, Streelman said yes, so Kuchar will head Down Under with a guy who had his best PGA Tour season in 2013. Streelman won the Tampa Bay Classic, finished second at The Players, third at the RBC Heritage, and T-12 in the PGA, and sits 37th in the world order.
Now had Kuchar not secured a playing partner, his World Cup participation would have gone on as planned. That’s because officials have revamped the World Cup so that the greater emphasis is on individual play. There will be a $7 million purse up for grabs in the 72-hole stroke-play competition. The team scores will be the sum total of the two scores, with a $1 million purse available.
The field will be 60 players and a country could have been allowed to have as many as four if they were ranked within the top 15. (In theory, the U.S. could have had Woods, Mickelson, Stricker and Kuchar.) For the first time, world ranking points will be offered, but for all the enticements, players have not hesitated to turn down the invite.
Not that they didn’t have plausible explanations.
Zach Johnson said he declined the chance to play, but it’s not out of indifference to representing his country. He took part in the 2005 World Cup (with Stewart Cink) and, in fact, it’s his strong desire to be with the American contingent for next fall at Gleneagles that sits at the heart of his bypass of the World Cup.
“The Ryder Cup is my priority,” said Johnson. “The starts here (in the U.S. with Ryder Cup points) are my focus. It’s just that important.”
That’s why Johnson played in Las Vegas and will tee it up Nov. 7-10 in Sea Island, Ga., at the McGladrey. He then wants a break to prepare for the resumption of the 2013-14 season.
At 37, Johnson’s priorities have changed, too.
“I’m not putting down traveling abroad to play, or being away for Thanksgiving,” he said. “I played in a tournament in Korea (a few years ago) and missed Thanksgiving, but there were no kids then. Now, I have three kids 6 and under so it’s different.”
Watney also turned down the chance, even though he enjoyed his 2009 World Cup experience alongside John Merrick. But Watney has dates in Malaysia and China the next two weeks and going back to Australia three weeks later didn’t make sense.
To Kuchar, the World Cup at Royal Melbourne made nothing but sense. One of the world’s great courses, Royal Melbourne will host the Australian Masters the week before and Kuchar has signed on for that one, too.
So with wife, Sybi, their two young boys, and two weeks at the famed Sandbelt golf course, Kuchar has what he thinks is a marvelous way to spend the lead-up to Thanksgiving.
And best of all, he now has a partner.