For former Georgia Tech All-American Matt Kuchar, the 2017-18 PGA Tour season was his least successful this decade, as he fell out of the top 20 in the FedExCup standings for the first time since 2009, sliding all the way to 76that the end of the season.
Kuchar followed with perhaps his best ever season in 2018-19, and will close out 2019 with his fifth consecutive appearance as a member of the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
Prior to his uncharacteristically undistinguished showing in 2017-18, Kuchar had qualified for the previous four Ryder Cup teams, and had participated in eight consecutive Ryder/Presidents Cup teams from 2010-17.
In addition to missing out on the 2018 Ryder Cup, Kuchar also was absent from the Tour Championship at East Lake for the first time since 2009 before returning to the event for the ninth time in the last 10 years in August.
“Last year was an abnormality,” Kuchar said after the first round of the 2019 Tour Championship. “This year I got it back on track.”
From 2010-17, Kuchar put together a remarkably consistent and successful record on the PGA Tour. During that span, he never finished outside the top 20 on the regular season FedExCup points list, with four seasons in the top 10. He was second on the points list in 2010, leading to his first Ryder Cup selection later that year, and won six tournaments from the end of the 2009 season through 2014.
Kuchar ended a winless stretch of about 7 ½ years when he won a Fall Series event in 2009, and added five victories over the next five seasons, beginning with a Playoffs event in the New York area in 2010. He followed with wins in the 2012 Players, the Match Play Championship and Memorial in 2013 and the Heritage Classic at Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island in 2014.
Even though he continued to play well year in and year out, Kuchar went 4 ½ years without adding to his victory total, ending his winless streak last Fall in the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
Two months later he added his ninth career title in the Hawaiian Open, and led the FedExCup standings for most of 2019 before winding up in third in the final regular season points list.
Kuchar, a St. Simons Island resident, does not have a ready answer for what happened during the 2017-18 season, or why he was able to turn things around in 2018-19.
“Just perseverance,” he offered. “I stayed the course, worked on things and kept at it. You just look to improve a little bit. Last year was frustrating. I thought I was close to playing the kind of golf I was capable of playing.”
Statistically, Kuchar had a better ball striking season in 2018-19 than the previous year, but his short game and putting stats were both better in 2017-18. But his results were considerably improved this past season, as he finished with eight top 10s, double his total from the prior season.
Kuchar averaged more than nine top 10s per season from 2010-17 before his anomalous showing in 2017-18. Among the things he missed out on due to his sub-par season was what had become an annual Tour Championship appearance at East Lake, and he was asked if that was a motivational factor that led to his return to form this past season.
“Every year there’s motivation to do something great,” he said. “I was frustrated to not make the final two Playoffs. I missed out on Ryder Cup. There were a lot of things I was bummed out about.
“I can’t tell you that I changed my attitude or my makeup or my thought process. I basically stuck to the course.”
While Kuchar’s wins in Mexico and Hawaii were the highlights of his 2018-19 season, they were not his only laudable achievements. He contended for wins in Phoenix and Hilton Head, finishing only a shot behind the winner in the Heritage Classic. He made it to the finals of the Match Play Championship before losing to Kevin Kisner. He played well in all three U.S. majors, tying for 12thin the Masters, 8thin the PGA Championship and 16thin the U.S. Open.
Kuchar was in position for another strong showing in the British Open after 54 holes, but he plummeted down the leader board after a poor final round, and did not play especially well after that, with several middle of the pack finishes in the high profile late season events.
After a 66 in the first round of the Tour Championship, Kuchar shot over par in each of his next three rounds, and took a two-month break from the PGA Tour after that.
Kuchar has a busy late 2019 schedule remaining, beginning with his title defense in the Mayakoba Classic this week. Kuchar’s victory, his first since Hilton Head in 2014, was not an entirely positive outcome, however.
When word surfaced that he had been less than generous in his payment to a local caddie who worked for him that week, Kuchar was roasted on social media and his image as one of the good guys on the PGA Tour was tarnished.
Kuchar will return to the RSM Classic next week after missing his hometown event last year. Kuchar skipped the tournament in 2018 in advance of a trip to Australia to compete as half of the American duo in the World Cup. He will also play in the Tiger Woods-hosted Hero Challenge in the Bahamas before returning to Australia for the Presidents Cup.
This will be the second time Kuchar has played in the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia. The U.S. won in 2011 by a score of 19-15, avenging the only U.S. loss in the history of the event in 1998 in Melbourne. The U.S. leads the biennial competition 10-1-1, with this year’s matches scheduled for Dec. 12-15.
Kuchar’s career record in the Presidents Cup is 6-8-2, almost identical to his Ryder Cup record of 6-7-2. He has been a solid performer in team matches, going 6-4-2 in the Presidents Cup and 5-4-2 in the Ryder Cup, but is just 1-7 in singles.
In the Presidents Cup, Kuchar is 3-1 in best ball matches and 3-3-2 in alternate shot, but is 0-4 in singles, a sharp contrast to his excellent record in the WGC Match Play Championship. He is 1-3 in Ryder Cup singles, going 2-2 in alternate shot and 3-2-2 in best ball.