Winning the 1997 U.S. Amateur Championship will forever be one of Matt Kuchar’s crowning achievements. He also raised eyebrows when he opted to stay an amateur until finishing his collegiate career at Georgia Tech and forgoing potential riches.
“I never have felt or think that you make decisions solely based on money,” said Kuchar after winning the Honda Classic two years after turning pro in 2000. “You make decisions based on happiness.”
These days, Kuchar, 32, could hardly be happier in terms of golf. On Sunday, Kuchar fired a 7-under-par 65 to tie for second at The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Kuchar finished at 15-under 273, one stroke behind Steve Stricker.
Coincidentally, Stricker, who has seven of his 10 PGA Tour wins past the age of 40, is the type player Kuchar would not mind being compared to—and has been.
“I had Jim Furyk tell me a couple weeks ago after I snuck into another top 10, he says, ‘You know, another 10 more years like this and you’ll be the Steve Stricker of the PGA Tour,’” Kuchar said. “A couple years ago that would have been the guy that I said I’d like to play a game like he does. I’m not going to overpower courses, but Stricker seems every week to be up there, whether he’s leading the tournament or seems to just always be in contention.”
For years, Kuchar’s career was mediocre, at best.
In the nine years after turning pro in 2000, his results were ho-hum and did little to dispel naysayers. Kuchar made only 50 percent of his 182 PGA Tour starts, recorded six top-three finishes and 33 top-25 finishes.
Kuchar remained vigilant in his perseverance, and the rewards started being reaped in 2009.
Between the start of 2009 and entering the Memorial Tournament, Kuchar had made 85 percent of his 64 starts, added seven top-three finishes and has 40 top-25 finishes.
He also made the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup squad, a year in which he led the PGA Tour in earnings and scoring average.
Last year was a huge step in Kuchar’s career, but he entered 2011 eying more.
“I’d like to have a year with multiple wins and definitely like to win a major championship or win major championships,” he said. “It’s definitely a next goal and a next kind of step, I think, for me. Certainly what I’d like to achieve in golf, we try to put our stamp in history, and with major championships it is putting your name down in history. It would be a great thing to be a part of.”
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.