The other side of The Open coin: Kuchar’s perspective – Golf Channel
Perspective can be relative. Consider Jordan Spieth’s 13th hole on Sunday at The Open. You know the one that took more than 20 minutes for the Golden Child to play a shot and will be a highlight reel special for the next 20 years.
For Spieth, the foul-ball tee shot and frantic moments that led to an unlikely bogey was nothing less than a sea change in the round, a shift so dramatic it would carry him all the way to the claret jug.
For the fans who watched the surreal episode it was historic, like “The Shot” by Michael Jordan during Game 5 of the 1989 NBA Eastern Conference playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, or “The Catch” when San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the end zone during the ’81 NFC Championship Game. It was the kind of moment you tell your grandchildren about.
But there’s another narrative, another player whose part in Sunday’s duel will be largely overlooked but is no less important.
When Spieth rolled in that 8-footer for bogey at the 13th hole it moved Matt Kuchar into sole possession of the lead, one-stroke clear of the eventual champion.
“I didn’t lose any momentum,” Kuchar said following a final-round 69 at Royal Birkdale. “All of a sudden I now have a one-shot lead after that hole in the British Open with five to go. I’m playing really well. Hitting a lot of good shots. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. And he just … he really turned it up.”
Spieth would play the next four holes in 5 under to pull away from Kuchar, a run that included a 48-footer for eagle at No. 15 and a 25-footer for birdie at the next.
Late Sunday as he tried to process those frantic final moments, Kuchar struggled for answers. During that same run that propelled Spieth to victory, Kuchar was 2 under par and yet he lost ground.
“It’s crushing. It hurts,” Kuchar admitted. “You work so hard to get to this position. And to have a chance to make history and win a championship, you don’t get that many opportunities. And to be this close, to taste it with five holes to go, it’s a hard one to sit back and take.”
At 39, this was Kuchar’s 47th major and while he’d been close before, most recently at this year’s Masters when he tied for fourth place, this Birkdale Open was the first time he’d been in position to control his own destiny late on a Sunday.
He’s won seven times on the PGA Tour, including the ’12 Players Championship, but this was different, this was a chance to make the monumental leap from good to great.
A consummate teammate on both the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, Kuchar’s ever-present smile and “aw-shucks” demeanor belies a dogged competitor with a quick, and sometimes biting, sense of humor.
“That smile is not, ‘hey, how’re you doing?’ Let’s put it that way,” said Zach Johnson, a longtime friend and St. Simons Island, Ga., neighbor of Kuchar’s.
There’s a saying in sports that wealth and desire are very much mutually exclusive, and the golf landscape is littered with players who lost their edge after becoming financially comfortable. Kuchar is not that player.
In golf terms, Kuchar is a competitive ATM, having finished in the top 10 on 90 occasions in his career and he’s earned more than $40 million to rank 13th on the all-time cash list. That total puts him ahead of the likes of Justin Rose, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy.
But on Sunday as he made his way to the scoring hut, his head spinning and his title chances finally dashed with a closing bogey, it wasn’t Kuchar’s desire that was broken, just his heart.
Kuchar’s wife, Sybi, and children, Cameron and Carson, were supposed to be in Colorado, but they’d flown to Southport, England, for the final round and were waiting for him. Kuchar called it a “teary surprise.”
Spieth, who had just claimed the third leg of the career Grand Slam with his epic finish, noticed.
“I think Cameron is his oldest, he was in tears,” Spieth said. “At that moment I’m so happy. And at the same time I see that and I thought to myself, man, put this in perspective, he’s a dad. I’m not a dad, I don’t think that way. And I was able to kind of get a little glimpse into what that’s like.
“Matt didn’t lose the tournament at all today. He played well down the stretch. I believe Matt Kuchar will win a major championship. And I believe that he’ll do it sometime soon.”
The 2017 Open will be remembered for many things, but for Kuchar it was a deep-dive study of how perspective can be relative.