2019 Sony Open in Hawaii champion Matt Kuchar speaks about his 2019 Season and previews the 2020 Sony Open In Hawaii. This year marks the 15th start at the event for the PGA Tour professional.
PGA Tour: 2019 Sony Open in Hawaii Winner Matt Kuchar Speaks about last season’s experiences
THE MODERATOR: Like to welcome Matt Kuchar, defending champion of the Sony Open in Hawaii, to the interview room. Matt, 15th start at the event. Just comments about your title defense and what it’s like to be back.
MATT KUCHAR: Love it here. So excited to be back here. I think as all the players do, you come through here and sit in the grill room area and there is the Wall of Champions, and it’s an amazing list and it’s one I’ve sat at and looked at for years and years and wanted to put my name on that list, my picture up on that wall. So thrilled.
Love the golf course, everything about coming here to Oahu playing the Sony Open. It’s just such a great event. To have won last year was a thrill, and now to be back, seeing my picture up on the wall, it’s a great feeling. I’m looking forward to the title defense.
THE MODERATOR: Awesome. With that, we’ll open up to questions.
Q. So you’re happy?
MATT KUCHAR: I’m happy. I’m happy, yeah. That was it. That was the extent of that question.
Q. You’ve won several times obviously last year. Whenever you go to a tournament that you’ve won the previous year, is there a different feeling? Do you like it more? Is there a little bit of extra pressure maybe?
MATT KUCHAR: Some of both. It’s a fair thought. There is certainly some great feelings, some great memories. I think those help spur on some more good play.
Defending a title is a hard thing to do. There is certainly some extra pressure there, yeah, but same every week. I think all of us show up intending to win the tournament. It’s a hard thing to do. There is only one guy that’s defending champion, and it doesn’t happen all that often that he defends the title.
The guys that do get a chance to defend, their games probably fit well to the course, so they may have a reasonable chance. Hard to beat a hundred plus of the best players in the world. It’s a hard thing to do, but you always hope to be in that situation, hope to be the guy that gets a chance to defend the title.
Q. We talked about it briefly this morning, but the anomaly that the last two winners at Mayakoba have won here. Can you just talk to the potential similarities, if any?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, it’s a really interesting thing. Funny, I didn’t really put two and two together until after I won Sony and realized Patton Kizzire had won both Mayakoba and Sony. And I said Patton, I was a little disappointed you didn’t win anything else. I was hoping to continue following in his shoes. I have yet to have Brendon Todd come up to me and be disappointed that I didn’t win any more than the Mayakoba and Sony.
The courses share similarities as far as they are demanding driving courses. If you don’t drive the ball well at either place you’re going to struggle. Brendon got on some great form last year. Amazing to see what he’s done, but clearly he’s a guy that’s kind of a straight hitter, you know, not a power player. Kind of bit similar to me.
However, Patton, he’s got all the power you need. Won both of these tournaments, which I think is a cool statement to the golf course, is that you don’t have to be one certain type of player. Something I’ve always loved about the tournament at Hilton Head is a similar one. You look back, and having Davis Love having won that tournament more than anybody, and he used to be as long a hitter as there was.
So I like the courses that provide the options. They can be played so many different ways. This course is a lot like Mayakoba. You can’t hit driver, you can’t hit 3-wood; you see guys hitting a lot of long irons off the tees, and it’s fun to just try to position your ball to determine is it more about getting in the fairway or more about trying to attack the hole?
So both courses have a lot of great options to them, but interesting to have myself and Patton win the same tournaments last year.
Q. You just got to think a bit more sometimes, right?
MATT KUCHAR: It is much more position oriented, and it’s not just grab driver and hit it. There are so many courses that we play you just know every nonpar-3 is grab the driver and smash it. The two we talked about are a lot of different options. May be driver, may be driving iron.
You see guys play it very differently, which I think is a fun sign. It’s not always a 240-yard shot. Some guys try to go 280, some guys try to got 240, and I think it’s fun where you have guys deciding and having options and playing it different ways.
Q. Two things for you. A, on the Player of the Year last year, did you vote?
MATT KUCHAR: I did.
Q. Okay. That was the only question.
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah.
Q. Other thing is of the accomplishments of other players on tour, the things that impress you about it, where do you rate someone who has gone 20 years without a ton of wins, but someone who has never lost their card? Specifically thinking about Charles Howell. He was talking about that today. We talk at times about guys like DJ. Do you take winning for granted? No. But keeping your card year after year after year and never having to go back to the Web or Q-School or something like that, does that impress you?
MATT KUCHAR: More impressed with DJ.
Q. I know that. And throw Tiger in there and Phil and what have you. Is that something to be expected or something that is harder than it might look?
MATT KUCHAR: I imagine if you really get into it that percentage is probably fairly low.
Q. Didn’t you go back early when you first…
MATT KUCHAR: I played on the Web in ’06.
Q. Okay. After winning once before?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah. So I had past champion status, but I was kind of playing both tours and then realized my best avenue back on tour was playing out the Web.
I’ve not thought much about it. It’s funny. When you’re inside on the ropes that’s what your job is, right? You’re supposed to keep your job for the next year.
You never hugely celebrate. I guess those first few years there were reasons for celebrating, keeping your job, keeping your top 125 card, but at the same time it gets expected.
I think probably can’t be that many people who have gone 20 straight years; the percentage has got to be fairly low.
Q. Probably where you would falter, isn’t it, early day?
MATT KUCHAR: Struggling to keep your card early days?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, and then there seems to be that mid-40 lag as well. I don’t know if you start the TOUR at 22, you’ve probably not got to the mid-40s yet to do 20 years. Yeah, first few years are the tricky ones.
Q. What did you do wrong, for lack of a better word, after you won? I think Honda was your first one.
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, it was, ’02.
Q. Where did you go sideways and what have you been doing since?
MATT KUCHAR: I don’t know exactly, but I know in ’06 is when I hooked up with my current instructor, Chris O’Connell. So I don’t know that I have a — I was a streaky player up to then. I had some great success. I had a good run in a handful of TOUR events at a young age, but was streaky.
I could play well and I could not. I was probably just too streaky of a player in that early age after ’02 from — probably that ’04/’05 year is where the goods weren’t good enough and the too many of the not goods.
Q. Is that one of the weirdest questions you’ve ever been asked on a Wednesday?
MATT KUCHAR: Yes. I could probably think of weirder, but you caught me off guard for sure.
Q. I’ll try to make it weirder if you want. First of all, as a past Memorial winner, Jack Nicklaus turns 80 in a week or two. Wonder if you had a good Jack story or first time you met him or something fun.
MATT KUCHAR: I was hugely intimidated by Jack I think in my younger days. Took me a while to get comfortable around him. No great stories. Great memory is having won the tournament and watching the replay and watching my kids high fiving Mr. and Mrs. Nicklaus. Something I’ll have forever.
Q. There you go.
MATT KUCHAR: To look back and see my kids at just young ages jumping up and giving Jack and Barbara high fives.
But he was one that I was nervous around. I mean, to the point he was the greatest ever, and what can I say to this guy that he’s not already done, accomplished, done? If you caught a fish this big, felt like he caught bigger fish.
Q. Sounds like Jack.
MATT KUCHAR: I was nervous around him. Fortunately have spent enough time, and Barbara is so great, so easy to be around, that our relationship has become one that’s much more comfortable from my standpoint.
Q. He’s always pretty ready to tease guys, get out the needles and so forth. Of course we’ve heard rumors that you’re pretty good at that too. The question is: Having talked to JT earlier and he wouldn’t answer the question, who is the most fun to pick on in any team room that you been in or who is the one you got to the most?
MATT KUCHAR: I guess back to Jack, seemed a bit like Tiger in that area. Took me a while. Same with Tiger. Was very intimidated early with Tiger, kind of like around Mr. Nicklaus. Finally got comfy enough. Now, I’ve never given Mr. Nicklaus the needle like I have to Tiger.
But Phil is without a doubt the most — (laughter.) I mean, that’s an easy one. He’s so good at dishing that to be able to dish back and kind of stop him is the most fun.
Q. You have a specific example of that that you want to share or just going to leave it at that?
MATT KUCHAR: I think probably the first Cup team playing ping pong with him. He was the man. He was just handing out dishes on everybody that came his way.
Q. Challenging, yeah.
MATT KUCHAR: And then once I got on the ping pong table I felt comfy enough, like that was more my arena than his arena, and was able to shut him up pretty quickly.
I struggle with exact quotes there, but it was good fun shutting him up quickly. (Laughter.) He’s only the most fun because he dishes it out so well.
Q. Does take it well or no?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, absolutely.
Q. If you were keeping score in a match of needles, you to Phil, Phil to you, what’s the score right now? Are you up and by how much?
MATT KUCHAR: (Laughter.)
Q. Never mind.
MATT KUCHAR: I have to think he probably has more volume of me, right? Just sheer like quantity and quality I think, and he’s one that throws out the quantity. Sometimes the quality is not quite there. (Laughter.)
So he may be up as far as sheer just by numbers.
Q. How do you feel about the conditions? Do you like to play in high wind conditions?
MATT KUCHAR: I do. I do like the windy conditions. I like the forecast. I know that a handful of these courses, they demand control of your golf ball. You have to really be hitting it well and playing well.
I feel good about my game. Winds are up. I feel like that bodes well for me. Conditions are surprisingly soft as far as the golf course is concerned. Typically with high wind it dries places out. Typically get windy, goes along with firm and fast.
This is not firm and fast this week, this year. Funny, I was just out there on the front nine and I had my book from last year. Had my notes from the 1st hole. No. 1 was whipping mostly downwind. I hit a good drive. I hit 170 yards to the front.
Last year in my book I didn’t have one number that was more than 140 front, and so wind was — there was light wind last year. Wasn’t strong wind like this. The course was just very fast last year.
Interesting just how different even strong downwind I know didn’t come close to where I was driving it last year. The wind is going to make it play challenging, but the softness eases the course up. Greens are very receptive. I think even with the high winds, still probably see some pretty reasonable scores just due to the softness of the greens in particular.
Q. As your family evolves and your kids get older and whatnot, are there things you’re going to hope to be around for more? Have to change the way to approach your TOUR schedule or just be business as usual?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, that’s an interesting thing I foresee happening an adjustment to the schedule based on what the family is doing. I’ve had a great run up to the point. We’ve homeschooled the kids for the last four years. Had them out pretty much every week with a teacher. It’s been awesome to be able to keep the family together.
We’re just now talking about putting the kids in school. They are actually enrolled back home in school. We’ve got a teacher that travels with us part time, but looking forward to seeing their interest in sports, their interest in friends at home. Understanding that that’s a big deal and they’re going to probably want to be home more than they wanted to be on the road in the past.
I think they’ve enjoyed being out on the road up to this point. I don’t know how much longer it’s going to sway in that direction. I foresee the other direction where they’ll want to be home playing sport, hanging with their friends. It’s something we know is coming, and kind of got to adapt to it. I don’t have any definite plans of what’s going to happen to change. We foresee change coming.
Q. Going to see star golfers or star tennis players?
MATT KUCHAR: Right now we’ve got — the boys played both — they play a lot of golf, tennis, and baseball, so we travel with just heaps of equipment.
But they do some of everything. It’s been good fun. I hope to see them continue their love for is it because they really do enjoy playing all three of those at the moment.
Q. Would they be good needlers as well?
MATT KUCHAR: (Laughter.) Right now they’re proper brothers. They go at each other pretty hard both physically and mentally I’m afraid.
Q. Bronze medal four years ago. Wonder how special that still remains, and would you, I don’t know, in some way be pretty disappointed to not be on the Olympic team if you can’t move up into that…
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, exactly. Still hugely proud of it. I’m still amazed at the scale, the scope of just what the Olympics means to people, how big the Olympics is.
I’m hugely proud to have been part of an Olympics, to be able to call myself an Olympian. Hugely proud to be a medalist at an Olympics. It’s definitely a goal of mine to be part of the Olympics in 2020 in Japan.
It’s a tough one to be a part of Team USA. You think of the chance of qualifying. It’s a hard team to be a part of. It’s a big goal of mine. I would be disappointed if I didn’t make it, but I understand how challenging it is at the same time.
Q. You’ve won some TOUR events. Where does that final round in the Olympics rank with winning and so forth?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, that was an incredible run. It felt Olympian. Looking back it ranks hugely high just to be able to finish so strong. As golfers, guys in the game, we realize the last round counts the same as the first round; the last shot counts the same as the first shot, right? They’re all the same.
However, you feel like you’ve done something extra special when you closed strong, when you’ve had a great final round. They all do count the same, but to be in a situation where you know exactly what you need to do and come through and execute, you kind of made your bed up to that third round and you’ve got to figure out, you have to play well or there is no medal, no podium.
To be able to go ahead and know exactly the situation and come through and have a great round was amazing. I mean, it would go down as funny to think to finish third. I’ve probably had some other great Sunday rounds to finish Top 5, probably Top 3 even. But to think there is that big cut off between third and fourth. It’s either you medal or you don’t. Medalling is winning in essence, and that was certainly one of my great final rounds.
Q. Where is the medal now?
MATT KUCHAR: I have it. I have it. Stays in my backpack.
Q. Does it?
MATT KUCHAR: Yeah, yeah.
Q. Goes everywhere?
MATT KUCHAR: Wherever my backpack goes it goes, yeah. It’s just been fun to show off. Hadn’t found a home anywhere other than my backpack. You know, it’s easy to travel with. Fun to show off. I probably haven’t brought it out other than in airport screenings I always take it out. They see this big medal blob and always take it out. I always bring it out and it’s in a sock, and the screener always — you know even though I’ve put the sock out open in a bin, the screener always grabs a hold of it, pulls it out, and eyes kind of bug out.
So it comes out at every airport. Aside from that…
Q. In a sock? Is the sock made for it?
MATT KUCHAR: No, a typical sock.
Q. A regular sock?
MATT KUCHAR: A regular sock, yeah.
Q. Do you wash the sock? Good Lord.
MATT KUCHAR: It was washed before — it was a clean sock before. (Laughter.)
Q. What’s the funniest thing the screeners have said when they looked at it?
MATT KUCHAR: I don’t know funny, but it’s a similar reaction over and over again. Just kind of bug out. Is this real? What’s it for? They start showing it off to their friends. Hey, I got to catch a flight now. (Laughter.)
Q. What is it you gave to Wood that day?
MATT KUCHAR: Oh, they had a — I don’t know how to describe it. Wasn’t a replica medal, but assistance medal. I don’t know what it was made out of now. Different material. Wasn’t a bronze, silver, or gold. I think it had some significance. It was a medallion and it was — I’m not sure if it was just the U.S. Olympic Committee that started doing these for — that you got one to offer up to support staff.
Q. Coach or…
MATT KUCHAR: Exactly.
Q. Does he keep it in a sock?
MATT KUCHAR: I haven’t asked where he keeps his. His probably has a unique spot. I think his house is a bit like a museum to begin with.
Q. Is there any one particular athlete at the Olympics that wasn’t a golfer that you took a shine to?
MATT KUCHAR: It was an interesting week in that it was my first visit to an Olympics. I had been a huge fan and always wanted to go whether it was as a fan or athlete. I certainly wanted to compete. As a kid the sport I chose I thought wasn’t in the cards for me to be a competitor, but I had never been in any capacity.
To go as a is competitor was a tricky balancing act. You go to win gold. You go with the idea that you’re focused on your sport and play the best you can. At the same time, you want to take in as much as you can and enjoy the experience as much as you can.
I think there was a nice balance in that golf was typically played — our tee times were 10:00 to 11:00-ish and had then a good chunk in the afternoon free. So my wife was with me. I didn’t stay — you can’t stay in the Olympic Village with a significant other, so we stayed in the condos by the course. I think we got maybe nine, eight, nine events in just as — there is my wife now — just as sheer fans. I don’t know that there was another athlete that I really was able to connect with.
I did become friends with Jack Sock actually. He’s the tennis player. We saw their bronze medal match. He played with Steve Johnson, and Daniel Berger’s dad was the coach. Jay Berger was kind of heading up the men’s tennis team.
So we sat in the players box with Jay Berger and they won bronze. They came over just in huge celebratory fashion and Jack and I traded shirts. I got an Olympic tennis shirt for one of my Olympic golf shirts. So we became friendly that week mainly due to Daniel Berger’s dad.
Q. You think you’ve make a good U.S. Cup captain? And if so, why?
MATT KUCHAR: I’m not good at answering that stuff. I would love to be. I hope other people would give better answers as to why I might be a good captain or not. I would love to have that honor. I think it’s an awesome honor. It was so cool to play for a playing captain this year. That was amazing.
I think most of us in this area, we continue to believe we’re going to be playing for a lot longer. But, you know, I’ve played for a lot of different captains, and you look up to every one of them and hope that one day you get that chance. It’s such a feather in a cap, such an honor I think for those guys to be selected a as captain. I would definitely love the opportunity.
Q. Do you know how to apply?
MATT KUCHAR: I don’t. I don’t know. I’m hoping it’s by playing well and continuing to play well. You know, being a good teammate I hope is a good application.
THE MODERATOR: With that, thanks for your time. Good luck this week.
MATT KUCHAR: All right. Thank you.
January 8, 2020
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports