the Memorial Tournament interview: Kuchar, NicklausJune 02, 2013
MORE INTERVIEWS: the Memorial Tournament transcripts
CHRIS REIMER: We'd like to welcome Matt Kuchar, the 2013 champion of the Memorial tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance. A fantastic week all the way around for one of the most consistent players on the PGA TOUR over the last several years.
If you could, Matt, just start with some opening comments about what this victory means. You've won a number of large events. But as you mentioned on the green, this has a special place in your heart.
MATT KUCHAR: Man, this feels good. This tournament is truly special to me, anytime you get the invitation. I remember in my early years as a newcomer on the PGA TOUR, to get the invitation in The Memorial tournament was so exciting, such a thrill, such an honor, to come year after year, and get to learn this place and get to become more and more familiar with it. To see the champions that have won here, and now to put my name on that list of champions and to put my name anywhere in association with Mr. Nicklaus, it's his tournament, it is such a great honor.
When that putt went in I was excited to win, but I think it was even more excitement than just a regular tournament. That was not just a relief that I've two‑putted and sealed the deal; that was, yes, I have done it. Yes, I have won The Memorial. It felt so good.
Then to walk off the green and to greet Mr. Nicklaus, and have him congratulate me, that's something I'll certainly never forget.
CHRIS REIMER: Mr. Nicklaus, another great year. Another great week. Some comments recapping the week.
JACK NICKLAUS: I thought the golf course played extremely difficult this week with the weather conditions.
Matt shot 68, 70, 70, 68, four pretty special rounds. And then to have his closest competitor birdie the last two holes and he was right up to the challenge and topped him, I thought was a pretty special finish.
It was a good tournament. It was an exciting tournament. We're very happy to have Matt as a winner. Kuch has been a good player. You've played very well here for a lot of years. Never quite got there, but played well for a lot of years. We're delighted that he is our champion. I know that this will probably not be his last win here and I know elsewhere. Kuch, nice going.
MATT KUCHAR: Thank you.
Q. Are we going to see the beard the Merion?
MATT KUCHAR: It's not a lucky thing, it's gone unshaven. I can promise you guys and make a promise to my grandparents who are probably out there that I'll be shaving the minute I get home. It is itchy and scratchy and doesn't feel great. I'm not sure it even looks that great. My wife thought it looked good, so I left it.
Q. How does it set you up going into that major? Must have been the best you've played going into a major?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, absolutely. Great golf breeds more great golf. Winning tournaments breeds more winning tournaments. Anytime you can get comfortable playing in that final group, finishing off a tournament, winning a tournament is a huge amount of confidence.
I think last week was helpful playing in the last group at Colonial. I played some good, steady golf, not quite good enough. But having that opportunity again the very next week, I felt good out there. I knew my game was in good shape and was a lot more comfortable in the situation.
Heading into Merion, I'll have a lot of confidence. It's a course I've not seen before, so I'll have to do some learning. I think most guys will be in a similar boat in having to learn that golf course. But from what I understand you've got to drive it well, as you do in a U.S. Open, and I feel like I've been really driving the ball well. I'm looking forward to my chances there at Merion.
Q. Kevin said when you hit the green on 18, you figured it was over because you haven't three‑putted in about a year. But what did you think when he staked it to two feet?
MATT KUCHAR: Please don't go in. Please don't go in (laughter).
I knew it was looking good. And it came close. What a great finish he had with birdies at 15, 17 and 18. It was really a strong finish. I was happy to see him do so well.
I would like to have more of a comfort zone. That bogey there on 16 was actually something I wasn't at all disappointed with. I went up on 16 looking to just hit the right edge of the green or the right greenside bunker. I figured it would be a reachable up and down. I got in the first cut of rough that was the most difficult to chip out of. The main, deep rough you could kind of tell what it was going to do. That first cut you couldn't tell what it was going to do. I ended up making a 4, which I didn't think was that bad. And to have Kevin play great golf on the final two holes made my finish a little more exciting.
Q. When you had to go back to the Nationwide Tour that year, what did you learn about yourself as a player and how has that served you since?
MATT KUCHAR: I wasn't going to let it bother me. I think some guys look at it as an insult. Some guys it bothers. Some guys don't recover. I knew this is where I belonged. I was just going to say that I was going to do my job down there and get back out here. So I look back at it and a lot of things that came out of it.
I ended up hooking with my instructor Chris O'Connell. I was hanging out with Georgia Tech buddies, we were trying to help each other's golf games. And he suggested I see Chris O'Connell. Going down there led to great things for me. I think the mentality was the right mentality. I was going to take care of business and make my way back out on the PGA TOUR.
Q. It's said that your greatest strength is you have no weaknesses. Was that an evolution for you to be fine with that rather than trying to be the best driver of the ball, the best this, the best that? Was there a learning curve in accepting what you are?
MATT KUCHAR: There's definitely a learning curve accepting your strengths, weaknesses. I do like to pride myself that I don't feel like there's any real weaknesses in my game.
I love the fact that the game gives you so many avenues to improve on. I love the quest to try to get better. I love the quest to try to become a better driver of the ball, better wedge player, better putter. I love that about the game of golf. But I think there was a bit of a learning curve obviously when I came out on Tour playing with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods and they can hit these shots, these long irons, and stop them solve on greens. And I said I don't have that shot. And trying to figure out, all right, maybe I play more like Steve Stricker, and make my wedges a real asset. And just try not to hurt myself in any categories.
Fortunately my golf game has gotten to the point where I feel like I'm closer to those guys, the Tigers, the Ernies, that can do things with the golf ball that I never thought I'd be able to do. My golf game has evolved enough to a point where I feel I'm close to being able to do those things I thought I never could. I can hit long irons high in the air, I can hit wedges low and skip them. I feel like I have a great deal of control and enough distance to be competitive, as well.
Q. When Chris O'Connell changed your swing in 2006, did you embrace that immediately?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, I got better right away. I plugged into greens. There was no going backwards. I think so many guys start working with somebody and they have to get worse to get better. I got better right away and have continued to improve. I think if you plug the right ingredients in, you're going to get better.
Q. Having that consistency in your swing, did that help you this week because of the windy conditions?
MATT KUCHAR: Absolutely. In the wind you've got to hit the ball solid. If you don't hit it solid, you don't know how far it's going to go. And the wind is really going to play havoc with the golf ball. What we've done is made my swing much more repetitive, where I'm hitting it in the sweet spot time and time again. It's a huge advantage to know what I'm able to do with the golf ball and to be able to hit it solid and control it in the wind.
Q. Maybe the significance of being a multiple winner on TOUR this year. Tiger has won four times, no one else has won more than once, and now you have?
MATT KUCHAR: There are a couple of things I thought of missing from my pedigree, from my golf history now. A major championship is on the list and a multiple win season was on the list. That's something that at the beginning of the year when I set goals I wanted to have a multiple win year. And making Presidents Cup team was on the list. This is a place that I knew I had a great track record here. I knew I had played well around this course. I wanted to make another team event here in the United States, an event here at Muirfield Village. So that was on the list. To have kind of sealed the deal with winning this tournament feels really good, to make the team, team championships are so much fun.
The crowds here are spectacular. I can't wait to see what a Presidents Cup crowd will be like.
Having a multiple win season is nice to be able to check that one off the list.
Q. Sticking with that theme a little bit, your last three wins have been significant fields, strength of field, so to speak. With regard to the Major, how ready do you feel that it's time to make that step for yourself?
MATT KUCHAR: Golf's a fickle thing. You can only control what you do. I can't control what the other guys do. I certainly feel like I'm ready to show up and play some really good golf. I'd love it if I could show up and play good enough golf to win a major. It's something that is up there, No.1 on the list. I want to do it and feel like I'm ready to do it. But I can only control so much of that equation.
Q. When you were on the Nationwide Tour, did you dream of winning big named events like this? I'm wondering how you handled those kind of goals?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, absolutely. I think if‑‑ when you're playing junior golf, when you're playing college golf, when you're playing Nationwide golf, you absolutely still have the dreams of winning PGA TOUR events, winning major championships. You sit back and ‑‑ no matter where you are as a fan of the game, you sit back and watch the guys on TV and you want to be that guy. It feels awfully great to have these sort of dreams come true.
Q. Was it humbling or how would you describe that experience?
MATT KUCHAR: It's just part of the steps I took. I don't see it as humbling. I didn't see it as an insult. I love the fact that the game of golf is strictly performance based. I did not perform well enough to keep status on the PGA TOUR. I knew the road was set for me and I knew I had to go to the Nationwide Tour to make my way back up. It was all based on performance. All I had to do was play better and I was going to be back out here. I don't know if it was humbling. I understood the situation and was going to make the most of it.
CHRIS REIMER: This is the one market I'll let you keep calling it the Nationwide Tour, just to let you know (laughter).
Q. On 17, Kevin birdied and then you had kind of a tricky putt back for par. When you made that putt, is that when you pretty much knew you were going to win or was it sometime earlier you were pretty confident?
MATT KUCHAR: That could have been a big turning point. That was a big putt. I had a 35‑footer up the hill. I thought was slow. It was one I wanted to make sure I at least got to the hole. I figured Kevin had a good chance of making it. It was on a very similar line as mine. I ran about four feet by. And after Kevin made his, it made that 4‑footer a lot more nerve‑wracking. Had I missed, it was a one‑shot difference. That was a crucial putt. That's one I'll certainly remember as not quite sealing the deal. Two‑shot lead with one hole to go. When he has a chance to stick it in there and make birdie, he still‑‑ you can still lose a two‑shot deficit. Off the tee you could make worse if you get unlucky and hit it in the water or hit it in a bad spot in the bunker. It can be a hole that you'd like to have more than a two‑shot cushion playing.
Q. You never look stressed when you're playing, did you feel any stress out there? And if so, at what point or points?
MATT KUCHAR: The putt on 17. I'd say that one I knew I had to make that. That was the one point where I felt like if I don't, I could lose this.
The rest of the day I felt very much in control. I felt like I was right where I wanted to be, playing good golf and really in control of the tournament. I really had a nice little cushion most of the day and felt awfully comfortable.
Q. Kind of along those lines, I was curious how much you took out of your first real final hour of contention in a major at the Masters a couple of years ago in terms of dealing with emotions as you're trying to finish?
MATT KUCHAR: For me the majors certainly are more special and mean more. I try to treat it as another golf tournament, another golf shot. I know it's difficult. I know that when you look at it, playing really well at Augusta is special. It is different. However, it's still a golf shot. You're still hitting it‑‑ a shot, just like we do anywhere else. So I do my best to take each situation and try to treat it the same. I feel like that will allow me to perform my best. I feel like putting extra pressure on something doesn't help you perform any better.
So I try to make it as simple as possible. But playing good on that late Sunday at the Masters certainly helped give me some more confidence that I can do this. I've told you guys before that I feel that the more comfortable you are the better you do. I think the more often you're in a situation, the more comfortable you get with that situation. Playing late at a major championship only helps you become more comfortable when that situation comes up again.
Q. A number of guys have had that line that you had on 18 to two putt to win here. Did you play the shot where you wanted it or would you have preferred maybe to be a little bit more left?
MATT KUCHAR: My approach shot was just where I wanted to hit it. That was, I felt, the safest part. I certainly wasn't going to fly on in with a two‑shot lead. I was going to give myself a margin of error. I was very happy. I stood over that putt and wished I had watched more or taken better notes on what guys have done in the past with that putt. It took me a little while to just make sure I had the read right, and thankfully I did. I got the read right. But I was actually thinking to myself, this is one I wished I had better notes in my head about what guys in the past had done.
Q. Do you think your one‑plane swing is for everybody?
MATT KUCHAR: No. No, it's absolutely not.
Q. Who is it for? Tall guys?
MATT KUCHAR: I think it goes with what you bring to the table. I don't think you just put in tall guys. I think you look at a guy like Tom Watson who was a great two‑planer. Mr. Nicklaus, the same. And then you throw in Ben Hogan I see as a one‑planer. He was a short guy. So I don't think it fits into a mold of tall guys should do this and short guys should do that.
Q. What's the most interesting thing people have said about your swing? To the layman, it looks flat. But to you it probably doesn't feel all that flat. What's the most interesting stuff you've heard from people?
MATT KUCHAR: It feels natural. It feels like what I do. But most people say it's the flattest swing they see. I see other guys on TOUR, and I would argue their swing is flatter than mine. But the important thing is impact. The important thing is getting a solid repetitive impact, and that's what my swing has allowed me to do.
Q. I was kind of asking Matt a minute ago, can you relate to learning to control emotions in majors? Did you pick anything up from Cherry Hills that you could apply a few years later at Oakmont?
JACK NICKLAUS: If Matt would ask me what would you do coming up with Merion, I would only‑‑
MATT KUCHAR: What would you do coming up with Merion (laughter)?
JACK NICKLAUS: What I would do is‑‑ first of all, when you go to a major, you know that you're going to be more nervous because you feel like you have more pressure on you. And that's the biggest reason why I went a week ahead of time to a major scene, major venue. I would go there to get rid of my nervousness, worrying about the rough or about the narrowness of fairways, worrying about the speed of the greens, firmness of the greens, and just being the U.S. Open.
I'd go there and spend a few days until I was comfortable with the golf course and comfortable with what I was doing.
And then I would go home and get everything out of my mind, enjoy my weekend, and then I would go back and all I had to worry about then was my playing the event. The day or so before making sure that's what I would do. To me, if I went to, let's just say, I'm not going to use it here, because I think a little bit more of it, but if I would go to another tournament, let's just say another tournament, if I would go early I'd get bored because there wasn't enough there, enough meat in the tournament to prepare for.
So I would prepare at home, practice round or two was enough to play that golf tournament. But a U.S. Open or British or Masters, I always want to play three or four, five practice rounds beforehand to make sure everything else was out of the way and all I had to do was concentrate on golf.
Q. Was there ever a course that intimidated you?
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, yeah. Baltusrol in '67, and I remember going back at '80, and I got so nervous on my practice round. Man, I shot 276 here. This is really a difficult golf course. Or 275? 275. This is really a difficult golf course. I said this thing is a lot longer than I remember. This thing is a lot tougher than I remember. And I played three or four days. When I got done with it, I shot 63 the first round in '80. So I got that all out of my way.
Everybody else is coming in on the week of the tournament, I had all those problems out of the way and all I had to do was go play golf. I don't know what you're doing next week (laughter).
MATT KUCHAR: I'll be going to Merion (laughter).
JACK NICKLAUS: That's my advice to anybody. I remember Gary Player, and Gary Player was a wonderful player, and I made the mistake of saying what are you going to play the week before The Open, let's go to Bellerive and practice. He went to Bellerive, we played for a week, and he won the tournament. I shouldn't have taken him, but that's‑‑ but there's a reason why you go early. Not just‑‑ not just to go play golf. It's getting that out of your mind.
Q. Have you ever gone early, Matt, not just this week, I'm talking about in any major?
MATT KUCHAR: Augusta is the only place I've gone early. I think the majors are unique in that sense, and most of them we've not played. Augusta is different. We play it career after year.
But I'd take this tournament, for example, it's a course and a tournament I play year after year, and feel like I have a pretty good knowledge of the place and pretty good feel for the place. You go to Merion in two weeks and I have no feel for that.
JACK NICKLAUS: Have you ever played it?
MATT KUCHAR: I've never played Merion. I will be making a trip ‑‑
JACK NICKLAUS: Seriously, you go to Merion. Merion now they've changed it a little bit. But Merion has about from hole 7 through 13, you've got six or seven holes, whatever it is, really short golf holes. And you're going to say how can I make myself be ready to abuse those holes, because you need to play them well.
And then you look at 1 is not too bad, but 2 through 6, and then you look at 14 through 18, you've got some tough golf holes. They've made them much tougher.
What am I going to do there? If you go, I think you'll find that you get that other part out of the way.
Q. Now that you've heard the wisdom from the gentleman next to you, what day will you be going to Merion next week and how long will you stay?
MATT KUCHAR: I have an event at Baltusrol tomorrow for the Royal Bank of Canada, and will be driving down from Baltusrol Monday night and be there Tuesday until an unknown time, until I get used to it.
JACK NICKLAUS: When you're playing well, that's so important, when you're playing well, because it really validates how you feel about yourself.
MATT KUCHAR: This is an interesting part of the golfing education. I feel like you have so much work to do on mechanics, but then course management is just a whole other realm of the golf education. And this is a treat for me to sit up here and have this discussion right now.
JACK NICKLAUS: You don't need it. You're doing pretty well. The last two weeks you've played very well. Here you played very well.
CHRIS REIMER: Great week. Both of you, congratulations. Look forward to seeing both of you here for The Presidents Cup. Congratulations, Matt, good week, and to you, Mr. Nicklaus, as well.