Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed keen on Match Play
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 26: Matt Kuchar celebrates his birdie on the 18th hole green as fans cheer during the fourth round of the World Golf Championships - Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club on March 26, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
Seven-time PGA TOUR winner Matt Kuchar can’t wait to get to Austin Country Club for this year’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Kuchar enjoyed the venue that first hosted the event last year and thinks that Austin, Texas, is “a fun city, a fun place to hang out.”
Kuchar also thinks match play is such a unique game, that it doesn’t matter about the golf course as much as it does in stroke play.
“You can kind of trick it up and it's just a one‑on‑one thing where if you make a triple bogey on a tricked‑up hole, it's not that big of a deal,” he said. “But Austin Country Club had a lot of fun holes, a lot of fair holes, and really didn't suit any particular style of play, so it was a good course for everybody.”
Golf’s match play format is close to Kuchar’s heart. As a 19-year-old, he won the U.S. Amateur Championship, which was a most important victory that launched him into a successful professional career.
“Winning the U.S. Amateur in '97 was such a big thing for me,” said Kuchar. “There's a lot of things that are very vivid about that week.”
He pinpointed the second day of competition at that event as perhaps his most memorable match play moment. After winning his first-round match, Kuchar was scheduled to play two matches on the second day. He started out playing poorly but managed to defeat his opponent, Californian James Young, who was also playing poorly. He then progressed to the third round that afternoon where he got into a “phenomenal match” with John Rollins (now a three-time PGA TOUR winner) where both played brilliantly. Kuchar went 1-up at the 17th hole at Cog Hill and eventually closed out the match with a par at the last.
“That full day of match play, that scenario, if you happen to run into a guy who's hot, there’s not much you can do. You have to have some luck,” he said. “It’s hard to be hot for six matches, hard to be really on. When I was on, I was just on enough to beat my opponent.”
Kuchar went on to win the U.S. Amateur title with a 2 and 1 victory over Joel Kribel and played in the 1999 Walker Cup before turning professional in 2000. Since then he has become a stalwart of the USA Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. If he makes the 2017 Presidents Cup squad at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey he will have made four consecutive appearances in each of those match play competitions.
In 2013, when he won the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play with a 2 and 1 margin over Hunter Mahan, Kuchar joined Tiger Woods as the only players to have both championships on their resume. Woods owns three of each – the U.S. Amateur in 1994, ’95 and ’96 and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in 2003, ’04 and ’13.
“That’s a unique thing for me,” said Kuchar. “I think I've certainly done very well in match play formats but it’s hard to put a finger on why. I think I just do my best not to give up holes, not to give a guy a free hole, and I think in the long run that's proved successful.”
The group match play format at the Dell Technologies Match Play calls for players to be seeded into 16 groups of four players. Each of the top 64 players available from the Official World Golf Ranking are guaranteed to play at least three matches. The player with the most points from each group will advance to head-to-head matches to determine the winner. The format satisfies Kuchar, but he prefers the original, straight draw, win-or-go-home format.
“I understand (head-to-head elimination) is not as great for television or sponsors, but that's kind of what match play's about,” he said. “Match play is -- it's unenjoyable to a point where you're so nervous, you're almost sick out there. You don't want to lose, and you're playing with good guys, and you hate to think that you're sending them home, but you don't want to go home either.”
Patrick Reed, a San Antonio, Texas native and a regular teammate with Kuchar, is another player who thrives on the match play format. Reed, who became known as “Captain America” after stunning performances at the last two Ryder Cup competitions, has a 6-1-2 record in the biennial competition. He also owns five PGA TOUR titles and a 1-2-1 record in his lone Presidents Cup appearance in 2015.
“It’s always fun to play something different,” said Reed, when asked about his match play expertise. “I thought Austin Country Club was a great match play course because there’s a lot of risk/reward shots.”
Kuchar, the bronze medalist at the 2016 Olympic Golf Competition, appreciates the variety of formats he and Reed, and their peers on the PGA TOUR, have on offer at different events each year. As highly-ranked American players they experience match play twice each year, once in Austin and again at either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. Kuchar looks forward to the Dell Technologies Match Play, as well as the new two-man team format of combined four-ball and foursomes at the upcoming Zurich Classic in New Orleans in April.
“I think it's fun to do something other than 72 holes of stroke play,” said Kuchar. “I know we have Stableford in Reno-Tahoe (at the Barracuda Championship) but I kind of wish we still had Stableford when it’s not in an opposite event. I think guys enjoy doing something different.”
“The best thing, though, were the fans at Austin Country Club,” added Reed. “They got pretty rowdy, especially when we made birdies.”
Birdies are something fans will always appreciate, no matter the format.