Inside Matt Kuchar’s success
When swinging a golf club, Matt Kuchar looks like he’s in a basement with a low ceiling. Yet the lanky professional stands out for reasons other than that flat swing. He not only finished first Sunday at The Barclays, but he’s first on the PGA Tour in scoring average, earnings, FedEx Cup points, top-10 finishes and the all-around statistical category.
Kuchar has ascended largely because he really excels using the three clubs that matter most in golf: driver, wedge, putter. He’s sixth on Tour in greens in regulation, 13th in putting average and 28th in driving accuracy. That’s a recipe for achieving wealth.
Kuchar had just 10 top 10s in his first 149 professional starts. Now he has 10 this year. The reason for the drastic before-after pictures is that he has found a swing that works well for him.
His swing wasn’t quite as flat as now when, on the advice of friend Matt Weibring, he visited instructor Chris O’Connell in Dallas in 2006. Kuchar’s left arm at the top probably is a little lower now, but his shoulders are clearly steeper, making the action look even flatter. Mainly he has changed his downswing, going from swinging inside out and hitting hooks and blocks to swinging his arms around his rotating body while maintaining his spine angle.
The result is a tighter shot pattern and a career in full bloom.
At lunch before their first session four years ago, O’Connell, protégé of renowned instructor Jim Hardy, told Kuchar, “If I do my job right, you’ll be hitting the ball better after five balls.”
A skeptical Kuchar laughed. But that wasn’t far off; the 1997 U.S. Amateur champion finished second in his next Nationwide Tour start.
If you think Kuchar’s angle of attack is shallow now, consider that it was more shallow when he sought out O’Connell in ’06. Hence the changing of the shoulders to a steeper plane.
Hardy’s Plane Truth DVD series and instructional schools break down swings into one-plane and two-plane varieties and help golfers find the one that is right for them. Those who swing like Kuchar are one-planers, meaning their arms and shoulders move along the same path. The terminology has nothing to do with the club or shaft.
Colin Montgomerie, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart have been classic two-planers, meaning their arms and shoulders move on different planes. One-planers would include Ben Hogan, Rory McIlroy, Anthony Kim, Sergio Garcia and Hunter Mahan. A one-planer swings his left arm across his chest and squares the club by rotating his body instead of by rolling the forearms.
“We teach both ways, and you can play well both ways, but I prefer one plane, swinging the arms around the body,” O’Connell said. “Swinging the arms left helps stabilize the clubface. From the top of the swing, you turn your body, hips and chest. Tall people are better served by one plane. A tall person has enough up and under already.”
Kuchar is 6-4. And, in golf circles, getting bigger all the time.
• Better late than never.
That should have applied to Jim Furyk last week. Now it applies to the PGA Tour’s reaction to the Furyk situation.
In a smart but late move, the Tour on Tuesday has suspended the regulation that led to Furyk’s disqualification from The Barclays last week. Furyk overslept and was a few minutes late for his 7:30 a.m. pro-am time.
As is too often the case in golf, the punishment didn’t fit the crime. The Tour recognized it and acted swiftly. Suspending the rule now rather than never or next year is wise in case it happens again in 2010 and the black eye gets blacker.
The Tour’s next task, which shouldn’t be too difficult, is rewriting the rule, at once making the penalty fair and ensuring pro-am participation. The new rule for the rest of this year is sensible: A player tardy for the pro-am would be required to play the remainder of the round and may be required to perform additional sponsor activity. Anyone missing the pro-am completely will be ineligible for the tournament.
• The proud caretaker of the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings is quick to point out that European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie took the three highest-ranked available players from the Sagarins: Edoardo Molinari, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington.
Three fine picks, indeed. Monty couldn’t have gone too wrong. That said, his leaving off Justin Rose and Paul Casey did surprise.
A two-time winner on the 2010 PGA Tour, Rose is third on Tour in scoring average, fourth in FedEx Cup points, fifth in earnings and 13th in birdie average. Casey, who has an excellent record in match play, ranks 18th in birdie average.
Their omission on the 12-man team speaks more about the possible need to tweak the selection system than about Monty’s decision-making.
• If Corey Pavin follows suit and takes the top four available off the Sags, he’d fill out his roster with Tiger Woods (4), Ben Crane (12), Zach Johnson (19) and Nick Watney (20).
One man’s guess is he’ll take two of those, Woods and Johnson. This week’s Deutsche Bank Championship will help decide the others.
Watney most likely killed his chances when faltering in the PGA Championship final round, but I do like the fact he ranks seventh on Tour in birdies, with an average of 3.96 per round. The Ryder, after all, is match play.
Crane, Bo Van Pelt, J.B. Holmes and Lucas Glover are among other eligibles in the top 25 in birdie average.
• A new book from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! called “Enter If You Dare!’’ weaves some amazing golf yarns. Some that struck me:
A golf course stretching along 848 miles of desert highway opened in Australia in 2009. The Nullarbor Links spans two time zones, measures more than the entire length of Britain and has holes at 18 towns and service stations. After finishing a hole, golfers have to drive up to 62 miles to the next tee. It takes up to four days to complete a round.
• Comment: Walking not suggested.
• Tom Bucci of New York played 1,801 holes of golf in a week at Albany Country Club in June 2009. Bucci played 15 rounds every day.
• Comment: Walking still not suggested.
• Billy Foster, caddie for Lee Westwood, walked 88 miles from the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond to the British Open at Turnberry, where his man faltered down the stretch and finished a shot out of a playoff.
• Comment: See above.
• I’m not sure who the best player in golf is anymore, but I do know the most dominant player. Bernhard Langer, with five victories, is marching through the Champions Tour as if he’s 40.
Come to think of it, his fit body looks more like 30.
• Qualifier: Most dominant tour player. Langer doesn’t handle the old guys the way Mike Small schools the Illinois PGA year after year.
If he holds on Wednesday, the 44-year-old Small will hoist his eighth straight Illinois PGA trophy.
I’m thinking 50 can’t come fast enough for the University of Illinois golf coach.