To further the theory that Matt Kuchar is just a kid at heart, we offer the latest proof: The seven-time PGA Tour winner was out early Sunday morning to catch a look at the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
“I look at this as our Little League World Series,” Kuchar said. “I love seeing the joy on the kids’ faces. That’s the best part.”
Almost on cue, Kuchar was casually practice-putting at Augusta National’s Tournament Practice Area when not 25 yards away Andy Scholz of Fairway, Kan., a competitor in the Boys 14-15 division, holed a deft chip shot.
Was 8:03 a.m. thus qualified as the first “Augusta Roar” of Masters week? Kuchar laughed and was willing to record it that way. But more than that, the man who made his Masters debut in 1998 when he was low amateur felt privileged just to be part of what has quickly become a Masters tradition.
In that, Kuchar was in large company because the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals once again had the passionate support of an impressive list of Masters champions. Beyond shaking hands with last year’s winner, Danny Willett, and getting words of advice from someone not much older than them, Jordan Spieth, participants gathered beneath the oak tree near the first tee of Augusta National and accepted trophies from former winners who wore their Green Jackets.
“Can you imagine how cool this is?” said three-time winner Nick Faldo, who presented trophies to the Boys 14-15 division. “More people’s goal is to get a ticket to the Masters; these kids get to compete here.”
Since this competition was introduced in 2014, Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters champ, has asked to be a part of it, and he was Sunday.
“I think it’s a genius decision on the part of the club, to help in growing the game,” O’Meara said. “No matter what happens (in Sunday’s competition), it’s something these boys and girls will have with them for the rest of their life.”
Faldo and O’Meara were joined in the presentations by fellow Masters champions Watson, Willett, Fred Couples, Trevor Immelman, Ben Crenshaw and Zach Johnson. Others, like Spieth and Adam Scott, stopped what they were doing in their practice routines and watched the boys and girls compete.
“It’s a thrill for us, too,” O’Meara said. “The club certainly encourages us (past champions), but they’ve never held us to it. It’s the players themselves who realize what it’s like to be a Masters champion – the responsibilities that come with it. We’re happy to be able to be a small part of it to make it even more special for the kids.”
“More people’s goal is to get a ticket to the Masters; these kids get to compete here.” - Nick Faldo
Some players who hadn’t been at the Masters for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals made it a point to wander around to see what it was all about. Rod Pampling, for instance, was interested to find Jacob Castro, the son of one of his friends from the Dallas area.
Kuchar, meanwhile, was left to dream about what might have been or even what might still be. That’s because his sons, Cameron, 9, and Carson, 7, were entrants into the national competition.
“They just started playing golf, but they were in the local qualifier during the Travelers Championship (in Connecticut) last summer,” Kuchar said. “They had it right there at The First Tee (at TPC River Highlands). They were excited to at least have a try.”
As Kuchar told the story, he wore his patented warm smile and laughed. He remembered being “awe-struck” by his favorite childhood memory, a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and was willing to bet that the participants in this Drive, Putt and Chip National Finals will feel similarly.
“I know I would be,” Kuchar said.