AUGUSTA, Ga. An era ended quietly on Friday when Trip Kuehne missed the cut at the Masters, closing the competitive career of one of the last true amateur champions.
Kuehne, a 35-year-old hedge fund guru from Dallas, had earned his way to Augusta by winning the U.S. Mid-Am, joining his brother, Hank, and sister, Kelli, in the pantheon of USGA champions. (Trip had a famous near-miss when Tiger Woods dropped an epic comeback on him in the finals of the 1994 U.S. Amateur.) Kelli and Hank have chased glory as touring professionals, but Trip always wanted a different experience in life, choosing to balance big-time amateur golf with a wife and son and a high-stakes career in finance. The Kuehnes are a fascinating clan, and I told their long, tangled tale in last month's Golf Magazine. Friday was a perfect microcosm of the family's experience in golf, full of exhilaration and heartbreak.
Kuehne's shaky first-round 78 betrayed the rust of a full-time desk jockey, but he has always been a fighter. Two early bogeys on Friday seemed to put any dreams of making the cut out of reach, but then Trip birdied seven and nine to the raucous cheers of his personal army, including both of his siblings. Kuehne's wife, Dusti, estimated that 50 friends and family had turned up this week to be a part of this swan song, including a pair of Trip's Dallas golf buddies, Tony Romo and Terrence Newman of Cowboys fame. Even more inspiration came by way of Kuehne's 8-year-old son Will. "He believes in me 110 percent," Trip said. "I wish I had as much faith in myself as he does in me. And every time I got a little nervous, I would look over and Will had a big smile on his face and he was so proud of his dad."
On the par-5 13th Kuehne busted a drive and then hit the prettiest little 6-iron you've ever seen for a kick-in eagle. At four over par he was on the verge of earning a weekend tee time, and everyone in his gallery was living and dying with every shot.
Alas, there have been few happy endings for the Kuehnes. Hank has been sidelined for the last two years due to injury, and Kelli has spent the last five years fighting to retain her LPGA playing privileges. Trip's dreams ended on Augusta National's 16th hole when he made an ugly double bogey. The Kuehnes have always been brutally honest with each other, and Kelli described her brother's fatal tee shot as "a perfect shank."
Trip still finished like a champ, making an incredible par save on the 17th after doinking the Eisenhower tree with his drive. At 18 he blew his drive left of the fairway. Kelli and Hank stood directly behind the ball to get a clear look at one of their brother's final competitive swings.
Arriving at his ball, Trip smiled at them and said,"I'm getting tired of this pine straw."
Said Hank,"I'm gonna start standing in the fairway, where I'm safe."
Trip did well to get his shot in the front bunker. From there he saved another par with one last eight-footer, for a very commendable 72. The family patriarch, Ernie, greeted his eldest son in a spot only a few feet from where Tiger Woods and his father, Earl, shared their famous embrace in 1997. Ernie and Trip hugged for a good 15 seconds, tears flowing freely between them. "This is the end of a journey that started 27 years ago," said Ernie.
"All I wanted was an opportunity on the back nine here to make the cut, and I had it and just didn't quite get it done," Trip said. "But it was a hell of a ride."
Trip's has always been a golfing life, but suddenly there are new possibilities, especially with a summer calendar that is eerily empty. Dusti already has designs on the first vacation. Her family has long had a set of cabins on the western shore of the Great Lakes, in Ontario, and she has been going there since she was a girl, including annual summer trips with Will. Consumed with golf, Trip has never laid eyes on the place. "It will mean a lot to me to finally get him up there," Dusti says.
The Masters was a pretty sweet gig, but Trip is eager for some new experiences. "I don't know what's next," he told me not long ago,"but I know I'm ready for it."