Matt Kuchar arrived on the national golf scene in 1997, when he won the U.S. Amateur while a student at Georgia Tech. That victory earned him an exemption into the 1998 Masters and U.S. Open, where he finished as low amateur in both. It also forced him to make a decision: return to school and finish his eligibility or become a professional and become an instant millionaire. Kuchar opted to return to Tech. He turned professional in 2000 and has become one of the top players on the PGA Tour.
My decision to stay in school and play college golf at Georgia Tech basically came down to the realization that I was enjoying my college years.
It was Payne Stewart who pulled me aside and said, “Matt, stay in school. You’ve got four years to be a college kid. The PGA Tour is going to be there forever. It’s not going anywhere.”
You don’t want to get out on the Tour and be 12, 15 years down the Tour road and say, “Gosh, this is kind of mundane, and I really wish I could go back and have those two years back.”
I had such a good time in college. It was the college experience you aspire to have. I had a great time and wouldn’t trade it for anything. There are lot of great lessons I took from my time at Georgia Tech. Coach Bruce Heppler was a very influential man in my career and certainly helped me get to this point. He knows a lot about the personality of our games. I think sometimes paying the price and having to dig yourself out of things makes you a better person, a bigger person and hopefully more prepared to go out and do well.
Now as far as preparing to play golf on the PGA Tour, I don’t know, maybe the best way to get your game in the best shape is going out and getting as much competition against the best players in the world. But I do think there is some help in winning at different levels. I’d won in college. I won the U.S. Amateur. I’d done that.
But you continue to build more confidence by continuing to perform and win before you take that step to the next level. I got out here and I was lucky I won early. I won in 2002 for my first year on the PGA Tour. But I started getting beaten up, and it’s not a nice road when you’re getting beaten week-in and week-out by the entire field and missing a bunch of cuts. That’s not real helpful for your game.
I’m surprised at the amount of kids now turning pro early, in that there’s no guarantee that you’ll be on the PGA Tour. You’ve got to go through Q-school. You’ve got to go through the Web.com Tour. You’ve got to use your exemptions. There’s no path like a draft that gets you right to the PGA Tour. There’s none of that on the PGA Tour. So it surprises me that kids turn pro as regularly as they do.