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‘That was certainly a difficult time’: After controversial 2019, Matt Kuchar is looking forward

January 2, 2020

The Sentry Tournament of Champions on the beautiful island of Maui seems as good as any place to hit the reset button. The rolling hills and ocean views of Kapalua’s picturesque Plantation course have a knack for easing PGA Tour players into a year-long playing schedule.

For Matt Kuchar, 2019 was a great year in terms of results. He won the Sony Open in Hawaii. He finished runner-up twice and had six other top-10s for more than $6 million in prize money — but personally, and uncharacteristically, he weathered several public relations storms. First, there was the El Tucan saga that began during his Sony Open victory. The fallout from short-changing his local resort caddie during his 2018 Mayakoba Classic victory lasted from mid-January to the Genesis Open in mid-February. It culminated with LA fans verbally abusing Kuchar at Riviera for comments he made about the reasoning for his payment to El Tucan: “For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week,” Kuchar said at the time. He later issued an apology.

There was backlash again in March when he and Sergio Garcia faced off in the WGC-Match Play, spurred by Garcia swiping away a yet-to-be conceded putt that led to an awkward discussion. Then, in May, there was Kuchar’s attempt to get relief from a pitch mark following a tee shot during the Memorial; he called in two rules officials and they even used instant reply.

I got wind of (the criticism) and it was not fun. I try to do my best to be a guy who treats people the way they want to be treated.

The abuse was worse online than it was at Riviera. It was a foreign concept given Kuchar had always been regarded as a popular player among fellow pros, fans and media.

“I don’t do any of the reading, thankfully,” Kuchar told GOLF.com at Kapalua. “I got wind of (the criticism) and it was not fun. I try to do my best to be a guy who treats people the way they want to be treated. Hearing negative stuff … I’ve been fortunate in my career that I have not had to deal with any issues, so that (2019) was certainly a difficult time. I’m glad I’m not a social media guy.”

The 41-year-old Kuchar likes to bring his wife, Sybi, and children, Cameron and Carson, out to PGA Tour events. But the nine-time Tour winner says he never worried about them hearing some of the abuse.

“Not with the kids, we weren’t concerned,” he said. “We had pretty open discussion with how the situation played out and they understood the deal. They don’t do any social media, so they didn’t (read) anything. And they’re not out too much, so I’m not sure they would have heard anything … thankfully.”

But at this week’s 34-player Tournament of Champions – a $6.7 million event for PGA Tour winners from the previous year – Kuchar plans to look ahead, not behind. He wants to continue the resurgence he has enjoyed since winning the 2018 Mayakoba – his first PGA Tour title in four years. Along with his solid individual form last year, Kuchar signed off on 2019 by holing the putt which clinched a Presidents Cup victory for Tiger Woods’ U.S. squad at Royal Melbourne.

“You’d like to win every year; you’d like to win multiple times,” Kuchar said. “I’m pleased with what I’ve done to develop my golf game. I wanted to be a guy who has a chance week in, week out. I didn’t want to be a guy who can play well five times a year but miss 10 cuts a year. But there is so much room to get better. It’s funny to talk about; we had a short window this offseason and there are still plenty of things to improve.”

Kuchar says he is not one to set goals, not even the obvious one of lifting his first major trophy after so many chances at the big four.

“Things are so fluid out here,” he said. “You’re always adapting, always changing. I’ve been pretty open to adapting and not getting stuck playing one way.”