Amateur Kuchar handles success like an old pro He's basking in glow of second-round 69

U.S. Open notes

June 20, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- The aw-shucks smile is still attached to Matt Kuchar's face. The magic touch is still attached to his shots. And as happened at Augusta National for this year's Masters, Kuchar's name is still attached to the leader boards.

It went up there when Kuchar shot even-par 70 in Thursday's opening round of the 98th U.S. Open here at the Olympic Club. It moved up yesterday when Kuchar shot a 1-under-par 69 in the second round. Could he make it to the top by tomorrow night?

"I don't know if it's ever good to start thinking about winning," said Kuchar, the 19-year-old reigning U.S. Amateur champion who recently finished his sophomore year at Georgia Tech. "I remember in the junior tournaments I was thinking, 'What am I going to say in my acceptance speech?' "

He smiled.

"I never won a single junior event," he said.

Those days seem long in the past. Since winning the Amateur last summer, Kuchar's star has taken off. He finished tied for 21st at the Masters and seemed to enjoy every shot while playing with defending champion Tiger Woods the first two days and Justin Leonard on Sunday.

Playing the past two days with Leonard and Ernie Els, the Open's defending champion, Kuchar's performance has been even more memorable. After a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 14th put him at even-par, Kuchar chipped in from the rough behind the 15th green for birdie.

"It's been a long time since I got beat by an amateur," said Els, who shot an even-par 70 that included holing out from 156 yards for eagle-2 on the par-4 10th hole and is now at 5-over 145. "I said to him, 'You might as well turn pro.' "

That is perhaps the biggest decision facing Kuchar and his family. While he and his father, Peter, said at Augusta that he planned on returning to school in the fall, they seem to be hedging. Kuchar has been invited to play in the British Open next month at Royal Birkdale.

"It's the million dollar question," said Peter Kuchar, who owns an insurance company outside Orlando, Fla., and has caddied for his son at the Amateur, the Masters and now here. "It's very unlikely that he will turn pro this year. My gut feeling is that we'll know by the end of the summer."

Said Matt Kuchar: "Money looks really good. But turning pro, I don't know when it will happen. I haven't talked to anybody about it."

The joke among some of the pros is that they hope Kuchar turns pro so that he can afford a new caddie. Leonard was reportedly upset with Peter Kuchar's histrionics at Augusta. Leonard had his own caddie tell the elder Kuchar on Wednesday "to be more aware of your surroundings."

But Peter Kuchar is still more proud father than diligent caddie, and yesterday Leonard was obviously irritated by some of the fist-pumping. On the 18th green, Peter Kuchar got a little too close to Leonard when he was putting. Leonard stepped away, glared at Kuchar and then shook his head.

Asked after the round whether he was bothered by Peter Kuchar's behavior, Leonard gave the reporter a cold stare. "Next question," he said. Then after answering another question, Leonard softened his stance. "It does me no good to answer that," he said.

Kuchar said that he plays off his father's emotions and doesn't think his behavior is out of line.

"I think Dad does a good job, a very good job with golf etiquette," he said. "He gets excited after I make a putt or hit a shot. The other players have time to calm down themselves and let the crowd subside. So I definitely think it's not a distraction."

Reality check

First-round surprises Joe Durant and Mark Carnevale saw their scores go up yesterday, but each stayed in contention with rounds of 3-over par 73. Durant made three bogeys on the back nine; Carnevale started poorly with a double-bogey 6 on the second hole and a bogey-5 on the fourth before holding things together.

Asked about finishing the first two rounds at even par, the son of legendary Navy basketball coach Ben Carnevale said, "I would have taken it, believe me, without even teeing it up. I haven't really thought about it yet but I'm sure I'll look back on it this afternoon and say it was a pretty good job."

Turning point

If Ernie Els comes back to win his second straight Open and his third overall, he might trace the victory back to his second shot on the par-4 10th hole. Struggling at 3-over for the round and 8-over for the tournament, Els holed out from 156 yards with an 8-iron for eagle-2.

"It was the first two shots that have come together for me the whole tournament. I hit a good 2-iron down the fairway and I put it in the hole and that really got me going," said Els, who finished with an even-par 70 and is eight shots behind.

Els said that his back is still hurting and he will pull out of next week's Western Open to get ready for next month's British Open.

Change in plans

Ken Peyre-Ferry will be going to his son's wedding after all. The 49-year-old club pro from Marlton, N.J., missed the cut at his first Open after shooting 9-over 79 yesterday for a two-round score of 19-over 159. Had he made the cut, Peyre-Ferry would have missed son Kenny's wedding today.

"He probably won't even invite me now, and I really don't deserve it," the elder Peyre-Ferry joked about his son, who caddied for his father. "I'm disappointed a little bit -- not so much that I missed the cut but how I missed the cut."

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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