MATT KUCHAR HAS one of the biggest smiles in golf, and rightly so. He has a lot to smile about. His victory at The Players Championship on Sunday was without doubt the biggest victory of his career.
With the win, he has moved to number five in the world rankings and has now spent almost a year in the top 10. Kuchar is a serious player.
He may not have the most orthodox swing, but it’s very difficult to argue with his record over the past few seasons — 30 top ten finishes between 2009 and 2012 is very solid golf. That is a recod that very few players can match. ESPN have dubbed him the ‘Top 10 Machine’.
Some think of Kuchar as a player that has come out of nowhere, but in fact his first ever win on the PGA Tour was way back in 2002 at the Honda Classic where he won by two strokes over Brad Faxon and Joey Sindelar.
His successes go back even further. He came on Tour with a great reputation, having won the US Amateur Championship in 1997.
After this early success, however, he had a string of barren seasons during which he lost his PGA Tour card and had to grind it out on the second-tier Nationwide Tour.
That forced him to make some swing changes and he now has a noticeably flat swing for a tall player. But as we have seen, it has proven incredibly consistent and he can rely on it when the pressure is on.
His playing partner in the final round was Kevin Na, a man who, when the pressure came on, looked like he simply hadn’t a clue what he was doing.
Check out this video of him trying to hit the ball on two different occasions while in contention during the tournament.
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Golf, even at the best of times, can be a battle of wit and nerve where the player has to have full belief that they are going to execute the shot in order to actually do so. At certain points during The Players Championship, Na looked like he just couldn’t bring himself to hit it.
In the video we see him shouting at himself, saying ‘Pull the Trigger’, as he steps away from the ball and tries to recompose himself. It’s like he’s afraid to hit it, which can’t be a very good way to be when you have to make a living from hitting it.
But having said all that, he still managed to put together a good tournament, and although a poor final round left him in a tie for 7th place, the fact that he was well in contention after three rounds means he has to be doing something right.
He said in his post-round interview that he believes he has the ability to win on Tour this year, so maybe confidence is not even the issue, maybe it’s just a mental block he has when he steps over the ball.
His post round interview goes a little way to getting an insight into his thinking – clearly he wishes he was not like that and wishes he could just grip it and rip it.
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Interesting there also in that interview is the impact Matt Kuchar had on Na during the final round. It can’t have been easy to play alongside Na in that state, but even in the intensity of competition Kuchar found the time to encourage his playing partner and try and relax him. Kuchar comes across as being a pretty nice guy anyway and it is much to his credit that he was able to manage his partner as well as his own game.
Kevin Na is not without some history when it comes to the bizarre and the crazy. Many of you will remember the 16 he once had on the 9th hole in the first round of the Valero Texas Open last year.
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The contrast of Kuchar’s solid consistency and Na’s unpredictability could not of been more stark, but in this case, as it tends to be in golf, slow and steady won the race.
This week the PGA Tour moves onto Texas for the Byron Nelson Championship where Keegan Bradley defends, while the Volvo World Matchplay will bring together some of the World’s Top Players in Andalucia in Spain.