American world No 15, who is part of a star-studded line-up at the 2018 tournament, spoke exclusively to The National ahead of his first appearance.
Matt Kuchar interview: Golf's globetrotter excited to make Middle East debut at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
A persistent wanderlust is taking Matt Kuchar this month to Abu Dhabi.
The American golfer has long travelled the globe in more than 17 years as a professional golfer, contesting events in Europe, South America, the Far East and Australia.
The passion for seeing as much of the world as possible was evident once more during his recent winter break, where Kuchar spent two weeks around Christmas with his family in Patagonia, quite a way south of his home in Georgia.
Rested and recuperated, he has chosen to open his golfing year for the first time in the Middle East, making his debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, in little more than a week.
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Competing in the UAE ticks off another country on his professional bucket list. Even with almost two decades in the game, and with nine professional victories under his belt, the world No 15 arrives in the capital as a National course novice.
However, he’s not going into the tournament completely blind.
“I’ve seen it for years on TV,” Kuchar says by phone. “I’m typically out on the West Coast playing Bob Hope or one of the tournaments depending on the time of year when it falls. I’m always intrigued watching the telecast from Abu Dhabi and the guys that go play it, talking to them. It always looks like an amazing place.
“I still enjoy going to new places, particularly with the family. My wife travels a lot, my kids travel a lot. We’ve been to a lot of places but not to the Middle East. So my excitement level’s high, intrigued by seeing all the other guys that have gone over, made the trip and come back saying great things about the tournament and the experience.
“They say the course is great, the food’s amazing, the people are great. It’s kind of a long list of pluses that made the decision. So I said I had to make it happen this year.”
Kuchar, 39, comes into Abu Dhabi on the back of a pretty happening 2017. Although he failed to add another win through the calendar year, he registered his best season in the majors, posting two top fives, a top ten and a tied-16th, the lowest finish coming at the US Open in June.
For most, though, Kuchar’s year will be remembered for an incredibly memorable British Open the following month, when, attempting to land a first major championship, he went toe-to-toe with Jordan Spieth on Sunday at Royal Birkdale.
Kuchar entered the final round three off the lead, but by the turn had drawn level with his compatriot. Walking off the 13th green, after Spieth found himself betwixt Titleist equipment vans in scenes that will go down in major lore, Kuchar had moved one ahead.
Then Spieth did what only Spieth seems able to do. He played the final five holes in five-under par. Eventually losing by three, the cameras showed Kuchar immediately afterwards, sat alongside the young Texan in the scorers hut, anguish etched all over his face. It was painful viewing. Imagine what it was like for Kuchar.
“Certainly was heart-breaking and a difficult one to swallow,” he says. “But when I sit back and really analyse it, you can only control what you do. I feel like I played great golf, feel like I played the right golf in the right situations. But when somebody beats you, you have to tip your hat and say well done.
“Jordan Spieth’s a heck of a golfer, played an amazing final five holes, so you do tip your hat, say well done. The thing about the game of golf is you have more opportunities. You got to keep your head up and keep putting yourself in that situation and hopefully get a chance again to have the title.”
Kuchar hopes 2018 will throw up a few more opportunities. Aside from hiking and trekking in Patagonia, he sat down as he always does with instructor Chris O’Connell, discussing ways to improve the mechanics and the fundamentals of his golf swing. Basically, figure out ways to become a better player.
Beginning to test that in Abu Dhabi, and potentially kick-start a new year with victory in a new place, means he’s looking forward to making his bow.
“It will be exciting for me, being somewhere new, going to a completely new place,” he says. “It’s always a bit of a learning curve, not knowing the course, not knowing exactly where you can miss it, where to play it from.
“I’ll do my best in the practice rounds to scout the course as best I can. It certainly helps when you get off to a good start. But as golfers we understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You keep trudging along to try and play well, week-in, week-out.”
With more bids for majors to come, not to mention the Ryder Cup in France in September, Kuchar is set for another jam-packed 12 months.
“It’s just always busy, always busy,” he says, laughing. “You never say I have to play well this week or that week. I certainly have prided myself on being consistent on playing some good golf on a weekly basis.
“But I understand the game of golf is a fickle game. You’re out here for a long time. If you don’t play well you better be resilient to be able to bounce back.”