May 15, 2012 / 5:00 am
“I love playing the game of golf. I have fun doing it. I am a golf junkie.” In case you have cause to believe that this is some ridiculous sports psychologist pre-round, locker-room, anger management, 18-Hole affirmation to be hummed prior to your 2nd Round C-Flight Match-play against “3-Tooth Donny” the dentist… it isn’t. Instead, these are the words of one Matt Kuchar, husband, father of 2, Tournament Players Champion and a man who has $1.71M to help explain why that wonderful toothy grin and flat, impossible to reproduce swing were able to mask a mental toughness worthy of conquering one of golf’s most challenging examinations – the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Like Rickie Fowler’s win at Quail Hollow last week, this was an incredibly popular win amongst Fans and players alike who recognize, that while the Xs and Os of how these two got to their respective winner’s circles might be remarkably different, the boundless joy and dedication to the game which both show tends to be etched in their faces for all to see.
Sawgrass has a tendency to produce winners that most of us believe should have a Major by now – KJ Choi, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and of course “The Man Who Once Enjoyed Golf,” Sergio Garcia – and Kuchar, with his ability to keep the ball in front of him whilst maintaining some stunningly above average statistics, seems primed to one day capture a US Open. Matt Kuchar, like recent Hall of Fame inductee Phil Mickelson, has golf in its proper perspective and carries little in the way of baggage around the course with him. He played a family tennis challenge match before the 3rd and 4th rounds as a slightly unconventional method of loosening up and while no-one can claim that Kuchar has been a prolific winner on Tour, every week a sponsor appears to be writing a Top 10 cheque to the man who may have supplanted Scott Hoch as the PGA’s “ATM Machine.”
It seems as though the new #5 player in the world answered almost as many questions about his fellow competitor Kevin Na as he did about his victory and I suppose, in a train wreck kind of way, there is some justification to this. Na, while not being riveting TV – NBC no doubt found it hard to contain itself as he slid down the leader board – was a shining antithesis to all things Kuchar. Although he is regarded as one of the real gentlemen on Tour, Na literally battled his inner demons in the glare of the golfing world spotlight for two full days, eventually succumbing to a final round 76 and a tie for 7th. Instead of recognizing a man whose frailties and inability to ‘pull the trigger’ were being played out on a lonely national stage, John Q Golfing Public got their collective sneer on and decided that Kevin Na best bear the brunt of the most recent discussion on ‘deliberate’ play on Tour. Not enough that Na suffered through the endless pressers and interviews with class, dignity and numerous apologies to those who endured WaggleFest with him, but somehow he managed to avoid throwing punches at any number of the Instant Idiots Just Add Alcohol who followed him around as his personal jeering section. Ah, how the memories came flooding back of that US Open at Bethpage Black in 2002 when the weekend warriors were out in full force with their gratuitous on-course commentary of Sergio’s re-gripitis but then again ‘classy’ isn’t exactly the key description found in the tourist brochure for the great states of New York and Florida.
Asking if anybody noticed Rickie Fowler the last 2 weeks is a lot like being in Vegas and asking if anyone noticed the lights. Decked in his familiar Sunday garb of Electric Tangerine with pink Breast Cancer Awareness accents, Boy Wonder made another run at a title after finally shedding the moniker of “Best Player to Never Win a Tournament” last week at Quail Hollow. With trademark flat-brim, Movember porn-star moustache and early-Friends Jennifer Aniston hairstyle, Rickie is as visible and marketable as Kuchar is dependable and homely and inspires a legion of teen and pre-teen lookalikes which should keep galleries refreshingly colourful for years to come…assuming of course, that the constant Sergio Garcia swing comparisons don’t play out. Along with Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa and Matteo Manassero, Rickie has been anointed with the rather immense task of being part of “The Next Ones” – the generational shift away from Tiger and Phil. While the popularity of this younger group will never be in doubt – assuming TMZ doesn’t catch them trolling the less reputable streets of Bangkok at 4 a.m. or worse, hosting Saturday Night Live – the burden of Great Expectations in golf can be a heavy one. If one has any doubt of that, just ask Matt Kuchar who was the US Amateur Champion way back in 1997 or Kevin Na who turned pro at the tender age of 17 and has but one PGA Tour win to his name 12 years later and a mental twitch worthy of a 22-Handicapper over a twisty 3-Footer. Charles Dickens may have said it best: “Take nothing on its looks, take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.” Until next time Kelowna, keep it on the short grass.
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