Genial Kuchar Wins Gallery's Total Affection

By Daly, Dan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

Genial Kuchar Wins Gallery's Total Affection


Daly, Dan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


SAN FRANCISCO - They love this Matt Kuchar kid out here. Love his rosy cheeks. Love his Jerry Mahoney grin. They even have a nickname for himnow - Kuch. Rhymes with smooch.

"This guy's unbelievable!" they exclaim when he rips his approach shot on the beastly 17th hole 20 feet past the cup.

"Just get it close," they whisper as he stands over a slippery downhill putt.

The Olympic Club was supposed to be Tiger Woods territory, inasmuch as young Eldrick had frequented the course when he was a scholar-athlete at Stanford. But now that Kuchar, a 19-year-old Georgia Tech sophomore, has played his way into contention in the U.S. Open, it's turning into Kuch country.

Just a week ago, Master Matt was sweating out final exams at Tech and wondering if he was going

to have enough time to work on his game before his first Open. (He wasn't.) And now here he is shooting 70-69 in the first two rounds to put himself in a tie for fourth at 1-under, two strokes behind leader Payne Stewart.

You know how long it's been since an amateur took a serious stab at the Open championship? Twenty-three years. (Jay Haas, then a Wake Forest junior, was tied for seventh going into the final day.) Woods never did it. Neither did Phil Mickelson. Fred Couples? Uh-uh. You can count on one hand the amateurs -

since, say, 1960 - who've been in the hunt in the Open: Jack Nicklaus ('60 and '61), Johnny Miller ('66), Marty Fleckman ('67), Jim Simons ('71), Haas.

So this is exciting. And if you don't think so, check out Kuchar's father Peter, who's carrying Matt's bag this week. One minute the man's pumping his fist, the next he's waving a towel or doing the cha-cha. The gallery is greatly amused by his antics, the players less so. At one point - maybe it was after The Boy Wonder chipped in from 30 feet on 15 - Ernie Els cut the cheerleader/dad a look as if to say, "Who does this guy think he is, the godfather of soul?"

"Dad gets excited after I make a putt or hit a shot," Kuchar said. "I don't know if he would be good [as a caddie] for other guys, but he's really been good for me. He keeps me calm, keeps me relaxed. And having him on the bag, seeing him get excited . . . . It's just a lot of fun for me to watch him."

The kid has kind of a '50s quality about him. You half-expect to see Lumpy Rutherford and Larry Mondello behind the ropes, following him around. He's just 19 - turns 20 tomorrow, if you can believe that - and he seems so wonderfully oblivious to his circumstances. Whatever nervousness he felt yesterday "wore off pretty quick - by the middle of the first hole," he said. …

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