Headed into the Tour Championship this week, you are ranked first in almost all the stats that truly matter: scoring average (69.40), all-around ranking, FedEx Cup playoff points and the money list ($4.75 million). How do you like your chances for Player of the Year? You can probably edge out Dustin Johnson for the crown if you win this week.
I hear people throw that around, and it’s nice to be mentioned for something like that. But it’s just so many other things that are front and center. My goal right now is to just win the Tour Championship. If I play well there, everything will take care of itself.
A lot of golf eggheads talk about your golf swing, which is probably the flattest on tour, especially for a tall guy. How did it evolve into that?
It’s just the one-plane swing method that I’ve been working on with Chris O’Connell since 2006. But it hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years. My swing looks a lot flatter than it used to because my through-swing is now a lot rounder. My follow through was more vertical, and I used to chase it down the line more with a big high finish. Going to a one-plane swing method has made me a much more consistent player. Even when I’m not on, I never get very far off. Every year that I’ve worked with Chris, it’s gotten better.
After getting your first PGA Tour win at the Honda Classic in 2002 you struggled for a few years, finally losing your card in 2006. What happened to your game?
I can’t really explain it other than it’s just the game of golf. It wasn’t just one aspect of my game. Everything was just OK, and that’s not going to cut it on the PGA Tour.
You have a very slim lead over Dustin Johnson in the FedEx Cup standings. Do you feel any pressure going into this week at the Tour Championship? There are 10 million reasons to be a little nervous.
If the points had not been reset going into the playoffs, I would have a pretty reasonable lead. I had a win and 10 top tens in the regular season, but I’m still happy to have the No. 1 seed. I think it’s the best position to be in going into the Tour championship. But anybody in the Top five with a win at the Tour Championship can win the FedEx Cup. I wish the points had not reset, but overall I think it’s a good system.
How much have you played East Lake over the years? You must know it pretty well from your years at Georgia Tech and from living around Atlanta.
Over the last 10 years I have probably averaged about four rounds a year at East Lake. I know it pretty well. But most of the time when I’ve played there I wasn’t much of a note-taker. I didn’t have a yardage book. I would just go play like any other guy would go out there and have a good time. In the practice rounds this week I’m going to be taking more notes.
Obviously following the Tour Championship you’re going to be turning your attention to the Ryder Cup. Have you been in contact much with Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin?
I think we’re going to get together on Wednesday of this week to try to determine who is going to be playing together and start getting to know our partner and the things that they like.
You are seemingly a very easy-going guy. Does it matter to you who you play with?
No. All the guys on the team are good guys and good players. I really do get along with everybody.
In alternate-shot, are you going to be fine playing a different brand of ball than your own? That’s a challenge for some players.
My guess is that whomever plays with me will be happy to play the Bridgestone golf ball. It’s the best golf ball on the market.
John Daly complained about the new groove rule in an interview with me last week. Have you been bothered much by the new V-grooves?
I don’t think the rule has changed the game that much. I have a ball that goes a long way off the tee, but that is soft and spins around the greens.
You were a member of the 1999 Walker Cup team that received a pretty good thumping from Great Britain and Ireland. Do you think that will prepare you for the atmosphere in Wales in a few weeks?
I’m obviously a more mature player than I was back then. The atmosphere will be crazy in Wales, as it was then in Scotland. I’ve always been a guy that’s liked a crowd and having people around cheering for me. I’m not a guy that will keep his head down or respond negatively to boos or whatever.
Who are your friends on the European Team?
I’ve played a lot with Luke Donald going all the way back to college. There are a lot of guys that I don’t know that well — the Molinari brothers, for example. I think the matches are going to be very cordial. I don’t think the teams have anything but mutual respect.
Will you play any Fall Series events after your return from the Ryder Cup?
No. I’m not planning on playing any fall events. I’m going to use that time to settle into our new home on St. Simons Island.
After 10 years in Atlanta, you’re moving this week to St. Simons Island, Ga.
We’re moving to be closer to our parents to get some built-in support for our two children. I just joined the Frederica Golf Club. There are a number of tour players that play out of there: Davis Love, Zach Johnson and Jonathan Byrd. Hopefully if we can get one or two more guys we can get into that Tavistock Cup or create our own. We would be a worthy opponent for those guys.
Last year you played in the USTA National Husband and Wife Doubles Championship with your wife, Sybi. You were a promising tennis player before you turned to golf in your early teens. How would you describe your tennis game?
I’m John McEnroe-like. I’m coming forward every opportunity I get. My wingspan covers some ground at the net. My serve is OK. I can move it around enough. My groundstrokes are good enough to hang in a rally with a good player. But generally my goal is to put away a point quickly.
Your golf game seems to be nothing like your tennis. You don’t exactly look like you have a killer instinct on the golf course with the easy-going manner and grin.
I’m a pretty low-stress guy. I take what the golf course gives me. Some days when I’m in full control I’m able to fire at pins with 5-irons. Other days I’m looking more toward the middle of the green.
So you always play the high-percentage shot?
Yes. I try to make my practice rounds and my fun rounds real. I try not to do too many stupid things. There is a lot of golf to be played over a year and over time as far as tournament golf is concerned, and I don’t want to make it too stressful trying low-percentage shots.
At 32, you’re right in the middle of your prime. Do you have a new set of goals after this breakout year?
My goals the last couple of years have been to qualify for the Tour Championship. And I qualified for it in the No. 1 position, so it’s going to be tough going into next year to top that. My other main goal is to improve my game. There are a lot of areas that I need to improve in even if I do win the FedEx Cup and win in a lot of other statistical categories. I want to be a guy that plays well week in and week out.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you’re a big fan of sleep. Why so much sleep?
As a pro golfer, we’re not kind on our bodies. As many balls as I hit and many miles log walking around golf courses, all the twisting and turning in the golf swing, sleep is a great way of helping your body recover. I’m about an eight-hour-a-night guy. I go to bed early and get up early.
How is your health? You struggled through the BMW with the flu but toughed it out for a tie for third, your 11th top ten this year.
I’m definitely feeling better, but not quite right just yet. It’s been hard to just get a couple of days around here to just sit still.
Who do you want to play in the Ryder Cup in Sunday singles?
It doesn’t really even matter to me. This is my first experience going over. I’m just happy to be playing for my country.
Your dad, Pete Kuchar, must be thrilled about the Ryder Cup. He will forever be remembered for his enthusiasm at the ’98 Masters when he caddied for you.
He’s jacked up about it. The Ryder Cup is right up his alley, where he can scream and holler and do all the stuff that you can do in the stands at tennis matches.