Unlike many of his compatriots, Matt Kuchar will forgo Thanksgiving at home in America to tee it up in the Emirates Australian Open and partner Kyle Stanley at the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf.
And while the man known as ‘Kuch’ didn’t make the decision to skip what he identifies as an important holiday at home lightly, he has turned the trip into a family vacation. One where he plans on potentially adding some silverware to his mantlepiece to sit alongside his 2011 World Cup trophy, while enjoying time with his wife Sybi and two boys, and undertaking an Australian Thanksgiving, with or without some of the traditional trimmings.
“You can't discount the holiday of Thanksgiving,” Kuchar told an Australian teleconference of the main reason so many of his countrymen turned down the opportunity to head Down Under. “It's such a big holiday in the United States. There are plenty of people who put it above Christmas as it's one of the times where you give thanks. It's not about presents, it's not about some of the commercialism of a holiday. It's a holiday that Americans really get behind and really means a special thing to Americans.
“When we get down there, we'll still have an Australian version of Thanksgiving when we're down there. If it's turkey or whatever it is, we'll try to be thankful for the things you have, the place you live, the life we get to lead. So we'll still treat it as a holiday,” Kuchar added.
“My wife always does a great job of finding cool activities for the boys, and the boys are quite sporty and to be able to go to Australia where my boys are very into golf and tennis, there's so much of that activity, plus other cool things.”
Right: Kuchar is a former World Cup of Golf winner. Claiming the trrophy with Gary Woodland in China in 2011. PHOTO: Ian Walton/Getty Images.
Florida-born Kuchar perhaps swayed to make the trip to our shores with the World Cup returning to the Sandbelt in Melbourne, where he has previously played well. Despite some initial concerns that Metropolitan Golf Club wouldn’t match his previous positive experiences at Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath upon hearing of Marc Leishman’s comments about the course.
“It's funny, on the information sheet for the World Cup was a picture of Metropolitan Golf Club with a quote from Marc Leishman, ‘Best conditioned golf course in the world.’ That's a very interesting comment. I said, "If ever somebody asked me about a golf course and I say it's in really good shape, that means I don't like it very much,” Kuchar joked. “It's an interesting response and I told some people that, and some people that I told from Melbourne, from the area, said, ‘No, no, no, you don't understand, it is the best conditioned golf course and it's really good as well.’”
Once he was convinced by people in the know that ‘Metro’ was worth the trip, Kuchar set about campaigning those above him on the world rankings to be a potential partner. And with his previous victory in the event alongside Gary Woodland, experience on the Sandbelt and clear passion for the event and representing his country it seems the decision was a simple one for Kyle Stanley once he took up the option to play the event.
“To play in a team format, it's really cool event. That trophy I won with Gary Woodland sits in a prominent place in the house and I'm awfully proud of it,” Kuchar said. “To have a chance to go back was something I really wanted to do. This is a chance to be one of two people to represent your country.
“I understand that playing over Thanksgiving's a tough time and there were some of the top Americans that passed on the chance to go, but regardless of who was taking that bid, I was going to lobby to hopefully be their partner.”
Kuchar’s love of Sandbelt golf, which he describes himself as a “huge fan” of, should come as no surprise, with the ultra-consistent seven-time winner on the PGA Tour a master of controlling his golf ball and keeping it in play. A skill that is greatly rewarded around the firm and fast golf courses of Melbourne, and something that could potentially play into Kuchar’s hands if he is to be part of Tiger Woods’ Presidents Cup team for 2019 at Royal Melbourne.
For his part though, the former amateur standout isn’t thinking that far ahead. Kuchar’s focus firmly on representing his country with pride, as he has done on eight occasions at the Ryder and Presidents Cups and at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he won a bronze medal, playing a style of golf he thrives on. However, Kuchar admitted his previous experience and enjoyment of the typical test of Sandbelt courses guarantees nothing.
“I would like to think so, I don't know if that's always the case,” he said when asked if he plays better on courses he enjoys. “I know I've had success in and won tournaments on courses that I would just as soon not go back to, that I didn't care much for, so it's not always the case.
“But I like to think some of my performances, good performances, have come on courses that I really admire, that I really enjoy. I do love the golf down on the Sandbelt, I think it's fantastic, but that doesn't guarantee me playing well. I know that you've still got to perform and I know that those courses really demand good golf. I know that the hazards, whether it's the bunkers that creep into the greens, the firmness of the greens, the firmness of the fairways, that makes golf a lot more challenging.
“I think the firmness is really fun to play. We don't often play courses that are firm and fast, and you kind of always guarantee when you're down in Melbourne on the Sandbelt you're going to get a firm and fast golf course.”
Before he gets to the Sandbelt, Kuchar’s trip to Australia will begin at The Lakes where he will make his third Australian Open appearance and second start at the Sydney course. His most recent start coming in 2011 as part of one of the strongest fields in the recent history our national championship, with the majority of that year’s US Presidents Cup team, including Tiger Woods, teeing it up at The Lakes.
Kuchar missed the cut in 2011, but he is excited to return and challenge for the Stonehaven Cup before donning the red, white and blue at Metropolitan. With Kuchar’s comments about the standing of the event among his PGA Tour colleagues surely giving tournament organisers a boost after what has been a less than ideal build up to the event, with many big names set to miss the event.
“I saw Jordan Spieth just a couple days and he knew I was going down there and he's sorry he couldn't make it,” Kuchar said of the Australian Open.
“That event has always been a big event, but I think it's also seen as a big event by Americans. I think it's a huge deal for Australia, but we see it on a world stage as well. We pay attention, we know what's going on, what know what great golfers have come from Australia, we know what great courses exist there.
So yeah, to be part of it, to have a chance to put my name on the list of champions as good as the Aussie Open has, I'm certainly excited to try.”