PGA Tour Confidential: Matt Kuchar wins Players Championship
Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
NICE GUY KUCHAR GETS BIGGEST WIN
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Matt Kuchar is your 2012 Players champion. In past Confidentials, as Kuchar was racking up top-10 finishes and padding his bank account, some folks on this panel said Kooch wasn't converting more of those close finishes into Ws because he lacked a killer instinct and was just too darn nice for big-time golf. Now that he's won the unofficial fifth major, have you changed your opinion on Kuchar?
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I have always been a Kuchar fan. Before all of those close calls, Kuchar pretty much hit rock bottom. You don't get back to where he is without having a killer instinct. I think he's ready to take the next step.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I never thought he was too darn nice. He may have a goofy grin, but the guy's a killer. Kuchar has had a long, tough journey since 1997. Great to see him succeed on a big stage.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: My opinion is the same: Very good, consistent player who will every now and then put it together and win. I don't think he's suddenly going to become a killer on the course, but he'll remain toward the top of the heap.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Great win for Kuchar. I especially liked his clutch birdie putt on 16 that gave him a three-shot cushion entering those tough final two holes. Sure, he's a nice guy, but he's been cold-blooded enough to win four times on Tour. I think he'll pick off a major sometime soon.
Reiterman: That putt showed a lot. Kuchar saw Rickie make his putt from across the pond, then stepped up and answered with a birdie. Good stuff.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Matt's greatest asset is his consistency, and that's just not sexy, especially when you compare his game to guys who nuke their drivers or are especially good with their putters. I haven't changed my opinion, but I've thought he was a solid player for a long time. He could be a savvy pick for the PGA Championship at Kiawah.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Peter Kessler had a great line on Kooch, that he's the type of guy "who's just happy to be invited to the birthday party." At the time I laughed and agreed with him. Now I'm not so sure. Maybe Kooch is turning into the type of guy who steals an extra-large piece of the cake.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: In good times and bad, Kooch has always seemed to carry a healthy attitude and that toothy grin. Maybe he can be a happy assassin. Plus, I really liked that eagle on 15 on Sunday at Augusta. That hole and the Players win tell me he's ready for more.
Godich: Great point, Damon. Kuchar shot 69 on Sunday at Augusta and finished tied for third, two back. Don't see how he can be dismissed at Olympic.
Morfit: Kuchar spoke yesterday about learning from Phil and Tiger that he needed to be more aggressive and seize the opportunity when he gets in contention. Nice to see him back up those words Sunday.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I still say he's too nice.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I don't think it's possible for anyone to be that nice. The "aw shucks" persona comes on a little too strong, and it can seem a bit disingenuous.
Reiterman: They've been saying the same thing about Phil forever. If they're acting, they better get some movie roles soon.
Wei: I'm not saying he's not a nice guy, but no one is that perfect.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Acting or not, who cares? They're being polite, friendly and kind, qualities that are nice to see.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: You know, some people really are just nice and pleasant to be around. We never suspect that jerks are just putting on an act, and deep down they're really sweethearts.
Wei: Great moment in the presser: A scribe pointed out that Kuchar had a lot of top 10s but hadn't won much. Kuchar interrupted him, raised his voice for effect and said: "You can suck it, big guy!"
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Kuchar tough enough to win a major?
KUCHAR AT OLYMPIC
Reiterman: We're only a month away from the second major of the year. I'll give you five picks to win the U.S. Open. Is Kuchar in your fave five?
Godich: Why not? It's never wise to get off the hot horse. He's long and straight enough, and his patience and consistency are benefits.
Herre: McIlroy, Donald, Oosthuizen, Mickelson and Curtis (loved the way he rolled it at the Players).
Wei: Glad someone has noticed Ben Curtis! Last four starts? Win, T13, T5 and T2, but he's still flying under the radar.
Ritter: Kuchar would probably make my second five. 1. Donald, 2. McIlroy, 3. Mahan, 4. Fowler, 5. Webb.
Lipsey: He was in my top five even before he won the Players.
Dusek: A lot can change in a month, but there's no reason to think he can't contend if he plays like that at Olympic. Is he one of my five picks? Probably.
Reiterman: I think Kuchar's just outside the top five right now. I'd go Luke, Phil, Rory, Lee and Hunter.
Gorant: Probably not in my five, although he played well at Olympic as an amateur. But that was many years and a totally different swing ago.
Godich: Kuchar just beat the best field in golf, on a difficult track in tough conditions. I don't know how you can leave him out of the top five.
Dusek: Only one player has won more than once on the PGA Tour this season, Hunter Mahan. Not picking Matt Kuchar at the U.S. Open is less an indictment of his game than it is an admission that there are a ton of good players right now, and the odds say that someone else is going to win.
Godich: I didn't say he was going to win, but he belongs in the conversation when you're talking about serious contenders.
Morfit: I have no idea what Kuchar's chances are at Olympic, because I have no idea what's in his head. Will this make him believe anything's possible? Could be. Maybe it was his T3 at the Masters that gave him that confidence.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Have to say yes to The Kooch. He can putt his ball, and his chipping and pitching were superb. His short game will keep him in it at the U.S. Open, or any tournament where pars are good scores. They say the U.S. Open is about patience. Who's got more patience than Kuchar?
Hack: My top five for Olympic: Throw Kooch in with Phil, Rory, Lee and Ogilvy.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who are your five favorites for the U.S. Open?
NA'S PRE-SHOT MADNESS
Reiterman: Kevin Na ... good grief, where do we start? The intentional whiffs. The waggles. Man, was it annoying. But it was also fascinating television. Your thoughts on the crazy adventures of Kevin Na.
Shipnuck: I think he's the most interesting person in golf right now. It's utterly riveting to watch him.
Wei: It is intriguing, especially to hear him explain what's going through his mind. Here's a bit of what he said Saturday: "I'm trying to get comfortable with my waggles. It's usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the trigger. But if it doesn't work, I've got to go in pairs. So it'll go four; and if it doesn't work, it'll go six; and after that, just . . . there's a lot going on in my head."
Godich: I absolutely hated it. Exactly what the game doesn't need.
Lipsey: Na looked like many golfers around the world, totally befuddled with himself and his swing. It was refreshing to see it, and how wonderfully he handled the public and media reactions.
Gorant: It's one thing to play slow (which Na does), but this seemed like more of a mental breakdown. Painful to see. Give him credit, though; he was better on Sunday, and you could see him fighting it.
Van Sickle: Isn't it amazing how Na could become an overnight sensation because of this? While he annoyed a lot of folks, he also won a lot of fans and used honesty and self-deprecating humor to make himself into a sympathetic figure. Every golfer, in some way, shares his frustration with the game. His galleries are going to be bigger on a weekly basis now.
Morfit: In the process of writing a column today about the curious case of Kevin Na, I spoke at length with Jim Furyk. He doesn't believe Na has no control of his condition. Furyk pointed out that he, too, was considered "on the slow side" earlier in his career, but Furyk addressed the situation and, according to him, hasn't been slow for 10 years.
Reiterman: It was interesting to read the reactions to Na's struggles on Twitter. There was sympathy. Lots of jokes. And several of his fellow Tour pros weren't shy about sharing their frustrations that the Tour doesn't do something about slow players like Na.
Van Sickle: It's worth noting that Na has been one of the slowest players on Tour for the last couple of years, and that was long before he began having trouble pulling the trigger. So this isn't a new issue for him.
Morfit: The biggest issue with Na is that the only way he reliably speeds up is to play badly, and he slows way down when he plays well. This is not a problem he's likely to figure out quickly or easily.
Dusek: It's interesting to see how a guy who has been knocked, rightfully, as one of the slowest players in the game was transformed into a tormented, sympathetic figure this weekend. Playing with him has got to take players out of their rhythm, which is regrettable, but I don't think he does it intentionally. Brutal.
Herre: Not fun to watch, and it has to be tough on his playing partners. There have been great golfers, though, with similar issues. Cary Middlecoff comes to mind.
Van Sickle: Na talked about how he made a conscious effort to play faster Sunday, including virtually sprinting to his ball 40 yards ahead of Kuchar so he'd have more time to play. He was pleased that Kuchar thanked him for the effort later in the round, but Na admitted that rushing might have hurt him a little bit. He also said he just played poorly, and his goal is to get rid of his swing waggles completely. "That'll be a tough battle," he admitted. You have to give him credit for trying, and that's something in an otherwise mostly selfish sport.
Wei: Na bared his soul to the media, which isn't easy. He was unbelievably open about his inner turmoil. He beats himself up more than anyone, and he's fully aware that it drives everyone crazy.
Godich: Yawn. He's got a problem. He needs to address it. His act will get old in a hurry, if it hasn't already.
Morfit: Hubert Green had what's known on Tour as "the Hubies," in which the golfer repeatedly looks up at his target and takes forever to pull the trigger. Sergio Garcia is probably the most famous recent example of a guy who couldn't start his swing, but that was a re-grip, waggle thing. I'm not sure how he resolved it.
Van Sickle: Jumpin' Joe Inman had a tough time getting settled before he made a swing. He was just jittery. Nothing like this. Na reminded me of Ray Fosse, the catcher, at the end of his career with the Brewers. He had the yips throwing the ball back to the pitcher, and would double-pump, triple-clutch, and sometimes more, before he was able to uncork the throw.
Morfit: Na is so disarming because he's the first person to laugh at himself. But there were moments in his Saturday press conference where I really thought he might start to cry. It was impossible not to feel sorry for him.
Wei: There were more moments today when I thought he was going to cry. He definitely got choked up. It was sad when he said he deserved the heckling. I wanted to give him a hug.
Reiterman: He better get it figured out before the Barclays at Bethpage. You thought they gave Sergio a hard time...
Ritter: Golf can always use more characters, and for better or worse, Na is unlike anyone else in the game. I didn't expect to find myself pulling for him, but I was strangely entertained by him today. Still wouldn't want to play a round with him, though.
Godich: Want to speed him up? Slap him with a slow-play penalty. What's the point of having the rule if you aren't going to enforce it? And it's not like he's just a second or five over the time limit.
Hanger: I also found it strangely compelling today, and I feel sorry for the guy, but I wouldn't want to watch him every week. I also think they should penalize the slowpokes, no matter the cause of their sluggishness.
Godich: Anybody have any idea how long it took him to play those 16 shots on the ninth hole at the Texas Open last year?
Ritter: He finished that hole about a month ago.
Van Sickle: I wouldn't be surprised if this Na episode doesn't focus more attention on the slow-play policies of the Tour and result in someone getting slapped with a penalty for the first time in 20 years.
Morfit: Furyk says the only way to really do something about slow play is to reduce the field size, just like the only way to reduce traffic on the 405 is to eliminate cars. The problem, he's quick to add, is that reducing fields would eliminate playing opportunities.
Reiterman: Funny, that's what the commish said this week when asked about slow play. He doesn't think adding a penalty stroke would speed these guys up. (Although it'd be nice if he tried.)
Wei: Tiger, who has been awfully opinionated lately, said today that players should be penalized a stroke. "Very simple. If you get a warning, you get a penalty. I think that would speed it up. "
Morfit: Geoff Ogilvy was funny in talking about slow play. He said in Japan the respect for authority is such that one warning will prompt actual running from shot to shot. If only the officials had such sway on the PGA Tour.
Wei: They dole out penalty strokes on the European Tour, too. Henrik Stenson didn't realize they didn't do that here. Random note: The Byron Nelson this week marks the 20th anniversary of the last time the PGA Tour doled out a penalty stroke to a player for slow play. Let's celebrate by penalizing a slow poke.
Hack: Na won't be known as the guy who made a 16 in Texas anymore. He'll be known for his brutal honesty, the hiccupy waggles and his tortured soul. I hope this is just a phase for him because I don't see how his pre-shot routine can ever hold up on golf's biggest stages, as his final-round 76 showed.
Wei: I think that 76 was an indirect result of his concerted effort to play faster.
Godich: I don't buy that for a minute. He started to lose it when he missed the short putt at the sixth. And he backed off that before hitting it. He buckled under the pressure, just as a lot of guys would've done in that situation.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's your take on Na? Is the pre-shot routine annoying or endearing?
FOWLER NEARLY WINS AGAIN
Reiterman: Rickie Fowler didn't win, but he backed up his first win last week with a second-place finish at the Players. Are you getting the feeling, now that Rickie's got the first win under his belt, that there are really big things ahead for this young star?
Shipnuck: Yes, cue the footage of David Duval circa 1997.
Morfit: I'm bullish on Rickie. I like how he made that putt on 17, and was surprised he didn't make the easier one on 18. It'll be cool to see what he does at the remaining majors this year.
Lipsey: Looks promising, but he still has a long way to go. In golf, promising players like Fowler usually end up with fewer wins than you would have expected. Golf is just so hard.
Dusek: Momentum can be a powerful thing. Rickie's got to be feeling like he can win anywhere, anytime, against anyone. And he may not be wrong. He's showing a lot of poise, that's for sure. If he could just get that 'stache to fill in, he'd really be a force.
Hack: I love that Rickie has that fifth gear to make birdies in chunks. Reminds me more of a young Phil than Furyk. Tons of feel and talent and length. He can go cold, sure, but when he's hot, he can shoot 30 on any nine. I see big things ahead.
Godich: You have to be impressed with Rickie, but we were saying much the same about Kuchar when he broke through not long ago, and just last year Jhonattan Vegas backed up his victory at the Hope with a third at Torrey. Let's give Rickie some time. He does seem to be relaxed and having fun, though.
Herre: I'm feelin' it with Fowler. Love his aggressiveness, and he's showing the ability to hit the big shot when the heat is on, something we got a glimpse of at the 2010 Ryder Cup. I also like the way he's handled Rory McIlroy.
Dusek: You could have written the same thing about Anthony Kim a few years ago, so let's keep our fingers crossed that Rickie doesn't get injured or get the overwhelming desire to make it rain in Las Vegas.
Herre: Kim and Duval are such different personalities from Fowler. He seems like a happy kid who appreciates what he has. Plus he's a straight arrow. I don't see him going off the rails.
Reiterman: I'd really like to see Fowler win a major in the next year or two. I think he could send a bigger jolt through golf than Rory did last year at Congressional. And that was pretty big.
Van Sickle: Rickie's latest charge suddenly gave me a flashback to another flamboyant, popular player -- Arnold Palmer.
Gorant: Two words: Camilo Villegas. Attention-getting and talented, but that doesn't mean he'll be a world beater. Rickie's a better putter, so my guess (and we're all just guessing here) is more of a Jim Furyk trajectory. One-win-per-year, Ryder Cup, lots-of-top-10s type of guy.
Herre: Rickie has a much more dynamic game than Furyk. Fowler may already be one of the top birdie-makers on Tour.
Gorant: I'm just saying that I think he'll have a similar career to Furyk's in terms of accomplishments, not that he's a similar player.
Wei: I think really big things lie ahead for Rickie. He's always had the talent, but there's a learning curve out here. He's only 23, and he has the never-give-up attitude that will win him majors.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Fowler about to reach star status? Do you think he'll win a major this year?
STATE OF THE COMMISH
Reiterman: Tim Finchem has done a lot of great things for the PGA Tour during his reign as commissioner. But I'm continually dumbfounded that the PGA Tour has a rule in place that it doesn't hold or co-sanction events at a club with discriminatory policies, yet it refuses to take a stand against Augusta National and the Masters. Help me out here. Why is the rule even in place if the Tour breaks it every year?
Gorant: There is no satisfactory or believable explanation. It makes the First Tee commercials ("Do the right thing, even when no one's looking") ironic and sad.
Lipsey: Likely the most hypocritical thing in golf. There's no legitimate answer.
Herre: Finchem has no defense on this one. The joke will be on him if the Tour turns out to be Augusta National's Achilles heel.
Godich: They are slow-playing it, just like the slow-play rule. Finchem just had to know the question would come up. And his response is that the Masters is "too important"?
Hack: Finchem is usually pretty savvy. Not this time. I thought that "too important" line was terrible.
Dusek: What it showed me is that the PGA Tour is simply afraid to stand up to Augusta National or rock the boat. The players love the tournament, and so do most of us; it's the baggage that comes with the Masters that we've got a problem with. It's indefensible, but Finchem is simply not willing to get involved.
Godich: It's like they think that if they ignore the problem long enough, maybe it will go away.
Wei: Finchem's excuse is absurd, but the Tour gets away with it because the policy says a club can't "actively discriminate" on the basis of gender, race, religion, etc. But clearly it's OK to passively discriminate.
Shipnuck: Finchem has grown the game and made a lot of players rich, but the Augusta issue will be part of his legacy. Does he have the moral courage to take a stand? The threat of having the Masters stigmatized as an unofficial event is the only way that pressure can be applied to the club. Finchem was inspired to go into politics by JFK's Camelot idealism. It's sad that the Commish won't fight the good fight on Augusta's backward membership practices.
Hanger: Like Charles Blow said in The Times this week about Obama and gay marriage: "There is no wrong time to do the right thing." Women will be in at Augusta eventually. Does Finchem want to be remembered as the guy who had a chance to start the ball rolling but chose not to?
Shipnuck: Exactly. Obama has staked his second term on a principled stand. Is Finchem really that afraid of Billy Payne? Ridiculous.
Reiterman: Say Finchem came out this week and said the Tour would no longer recognize the Masters as an official event until it changed its policy. Would it make a difference? Could the Masters go on without the PGA Tour's blessing?
Lipsey: If the Tour pulled the plug, the Masters would have no choice but to admit a woman, and fast. It would be a firestorm that would be as big as Shoal Creek.
Dusek: Without a doubt the Masters would go on. Augusta National would still hold the tournament, and I think most players would still compete.
Godich: I believe they ALL would compete.
Gorant: I don't think it would change anything. The players would still show up, as would the crowds and the TV watchers, but it would still be an important statement on the part of the Tour. Of course it does raise another squirm-inducing question: Should the media stop covering the event, or at least stop lionizing it?
Herre: It would be a blow to Augusta National if the Tour disassociated itself from the Masters, but the tournament would go on. ANGC already acts like a governing body. The club could have its event and say to heck with the existing golf establishment. Whether that would be sustainable is another question.
Dusek: For a lot of fans, Martha Burk's attempt to bring down Augusta National was a coup because it meant commercial-free TV coverage. A statement from the PGA Tour would be much more powerful, but Augusta isn't in it for the money. That makes it unique in the world of sports and means the club can do whatever it likes as long as it can stand the heat.
Shipnuck: Martha Burk's biggest mistake was not picketing Tour headquarters. Finchem et al are paranoid about bad publicity. Spotlighting the Tour's hypocrisy would be the most effective advocacy, because only the Tour can exert pressure on the lords of Augusta. For all his wealth, Warren Buffett is not a club insider, and thus has no juice there.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is the Tour being hypocritical by staging an event at Augusta National each year? Should Finchem change to use his position to pressure Augusta to change its membership policy?
PRESIDENTS CUP FOR SAWGRASS?
Reiterman: Pete Dye's TPC Sawgrass has been the source of great debate for years. I've always loved the course, and it's always made for great TV. We all know the Players will never be a major. But what about hosting one of the team competitions there? Jack's Muirfield Village will be pulling double duty next year with the Memorial and the Presidents Cup. What do you think? A Presidents Cup for Sawgrass?
Godich: No thanks. There are enough great courses around that nobody should double up.
Lipsey: Sawgrass is awesome. Anything it gets will be fun to watch.
Morfit: I'm not a big fan of Sawgrass. It says something about the course, although I'm not sure it says anything good, that in 15 starts here Tiger has contended three times.
Lipsey: Woods also won a U.S. Amateur there.
Herre: I could see a Presidents Cup at Sawgrass, although the Stadium course is such a moneymaker the Tour might not want to close it down for a couple of weeks. I've only played it once but thought it was a lot of fun.
Godich: I played it as well and was surprised at how big the 17th green was. What's the big deal?
Dusek: I want to like Sawgrass, and there's no denying that it creates a lot of drama down the stretch, but I have trouble getting over how contrived the whole place is. It's great for spectators because the mounds offer good viewing spots, but the whole experience seems forced, artificial.
Lipsey: Same thing with Disney World, one of the world's most popular attractions.
Hack: I think Sawgrass is good fun. I enjoyed my lone spin around the course several years back. Of course it's contrived. It was a swamp. Earth had to be moved. I think No. 4 is one of the best par 4s in the world. The view from that tee is one of my favorites in golf. How good is No. 9? Holes 16, 17 and 18 need no introduction. I think a Presidents Cup would be darn cool.
Godich: The one thing missing from Sawgrass is a drivable par-4.
Shipnuck: Sawgrass would be awesome in match play because guys could be more aggressive. In stroke play, it's so penal that most of the golf is defensive.
Van Sickle: Great point. I've said, half in jest, that it would be a great Ryder Cup course because it's such a risk-reward track. Can you picture a match going to those last two holes all square? It'd be crazy. But a Ryder Cup would be impossible. A Presidents Cup is a brilliant idea.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Would you like to see a Presidents Cup at TPC Sawgrass?
Reiterman: Before we go, let's talk a little Tiger. Two things stuck out this week, and they had nothing to do with Tiger's T40 finish at the Players. Our colleague, Michael Bamberger, wrote a fantastic column about how the Tiger critics should let the man have some breathing room to work on his new swing. Brandel Chamblee was on the other end of the spectrum, saying Tiger needs to fire Sean Foley and head back to Butch Harmon. Where are you on the scale of "Let the man work on his game" and "Fire Foley"?
Godich: Considering the state of his game, the less Tiger talk the better.
Shipnuck: Let's give Tiger the rest of this season. In his mind, it's only one-quarter over. If he stinks it up at the next three majors, then maybe it's time for some new motor patterns, but we're not there yet.
Dusek: Agreed. No one would be shocked if Tiger won another tournament this season, with the possibility that it could be a major. Personally, I'm long past worrying about his character, his off-course activities and so on. From a golf perspective, he's a few months short of two years working with Sean Foley and has sustained some injuries during that time. I don't expect him to return to 2000 vintage, but I think he deserves a chance to work into whatever he might become.
Van Sickle: Tiger Woods is ranked No. 7 in the world. Tell me again how inept he's been this year?
Godich: And yet the first shot we saw on the NBC Sunday telecast was of Tiger at the 12th, four over for the day and grinding over a wedge shot.
Lipsey: Well, Woods is closer to reaching the "millions of golf balls" needed to own the Foley swing, so he's got that going for him.
Herre: First of all, Tiger is not going back to Butch. That bridge has been torched. But I don't see Woods staying with Foley, either. The results simply aren't there. I don't claim to know the many nuances of the golf swing, but to my naked eye Woods has never looked more erratic than he does today. Really, has he ever had a worse meltdown than the one he had at the Masters?
Wei: The problem is in between his ears.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is it time to give Tiger some space to work on his game, or have you seen enough of the "Foley swing" to know that it's time for Tiger to move on?