This charming little dialogue at the end of Matt Kuchar’s winning interview session at the Memorial Tournament came up between the media, Jack Nicklaus and Kuchar. It’s about how to go about preparing properly for a major.
This had a lot of resonance for me personally. While I never got to a major in my Monday qualifying days on the Champions Tour, Mondays felt like a major to me. Because I lived on the West Coast and eventually Arizona, I would string together three or four tournaments and stay out there the entire time rather than coming home for just two days after the day-long travel time at each end was deducted.
I would fail to qualify on Monday and be on a plane to the next city Tuesday morning arriving in time to at least find the qualifying course — it was rarely the tournament course — hit some balls, find the hotel and go for my 5- or 6-mile nightly run.
The best cities were where the qualifying was on a public course and I could play it every day leading up to Monday. Some of the private courses were a little problematic playing every day — it was, after all, a horde of 144 guys descending on their course — but coming in early-week sometimes helped circumvent the occasional one-round-only rule.
But for me at that point, I was much more interested in playing the course to get comfortable with it than tearing up their range beating balls all day. I could almost always find a decent enough driving range for that.
So this conversation led by Jack brought back fond memories of trying to get a jump on Mondays.
Q. I was kind of asking Matt a minute ago, can you relate to learning to control emotions in Majors? Did you pick anything up from Cherry Hills that you could apply a few years later at Oakmont?
JACK NICKLAUS: If Matt would ask me what would you do coming up with Merion, I would only —
MATT KUCHAR: What would you do coming up with Merion (laughter)?
JACK NICKLAUS: What I would do is — first of all, when you go to a Major, you know that you’re going to be more nervous because you feel like you have more pressure on you. And that’s the biggest reason why I went a week ahead of time to a Major scene, Major venue. I would go there to get rid of my nervousness, worrying about the rough or about the narrowness of fairways, worrying about the speed of the greens, firmness of the greens, and just being the U.S. Open.
I’d go there and spend a few days until I was comfortable with the golf course and comfortable with what I was doing.
And then I would go home and get everything out of my mind, enjoy my weekend, and then I would go back and all I had to worry about then was my playing the event. The day or so before making sure that’s what I would do. To me, if I went to, let’s just say, I’m not going to use it here, because I think a little bit more of it, but if I would go to another tournament, let’s just say another tournament, if I would go early I’d get bored because there wasn’t enough there, enough meat in the tournament to prepare for.
So I would prepare at home, practice round or two was enough to play that golf tournament. But a U.S. Open or British or Masters, I always want to play three or four, five practice rounds beforehand to make sure everything else was out of the way and all I had to do was concentrate on golf.
Q. Was there ever a course that intimidated you?
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, yeah. Baltusrol in ’67, and I remember going back at ’80, and I got so nervous on my practice round. Man, I shot 276 here. This is really a difficult golf course. Or 275? 275. This is really a difficult golf course. I said this thing is a lot longer than I remember. This thing is a lot tougher than I remember. And I played three or four days. When I got done with it, I shot 63 the first round in ’80. So I got that all out of my way.
Everybody else is coming in on the week of the tournament, I had all those problems out of the way and all I had to do was go play golf. I don’t know what you’re doing next week (laughter).
MATT KUCHAR: I’ll be going to Merion (laughter).
JACK NICKLAUS: That’s my advice to anybody. I remember Gary Player, and Gary Player was a wonderful player, and I made the mistake of saying what are you going to play the week before The Open, let’s go to Bellerive and practice. He went to Bellerive, we played for a week, and he won the tournament. I shouldn’t have taken him, but that’s — but there’s a reason why you go early. Not just — not just to go play golf. It’s getting that out of your mind.
Q. Have you ever gone early, Matt, not just this week, I’m talking about in any Major?
MATT KUCHAR: Augusta is the only place I’ve gone early. I think the majors are unique in that sense, and most of them we’ve not played. Augusta is different. We play it year after year.
But I’d take this tournament, for example, it’s a course and a tournament I play year after year, and feel like I have a pretty good knowledge of the place and pretty good feel for the place. You go to Merion in two weeks and I have no feel for that.
JACK NICKLAUS: Have you ever played it?
MATT KUCHAR: I’ve never played Merion. I will be making a trip —
JACK NICKLAUS: Seriously, you go to Merion. Merion now they’ve changed it a little bit. But Merion has about from hole 7 through 13, you’ve got six or seven holes, whatever it is, really short golf holes. And you’re going to say how can I make myself be ready to abuse those holes, because you need to play them well.
And then you look at 1 is not too bad, but 2 through 6, and then you look at 14 through 18, you’ve got some tough golf holes. They’ve made them much tougher.
What am I going to do there? If you go, I think you’ll find that you get that other part out of the way.
Q. Now that you’ve heard the wisdom from the gentleman next to you, what day will you be going to Merion next week and how long will you stay?
MATT KUCHAR: I have an event at Baltusrol tomorrow for the Royal Bank of Canada, and will be driving down from Baltusrol Monday night and be there Tuesday until an unknown time, until I get used to it.
JACK NICKLAUS: When you’re playing well, that’s so important, when you’re playing well, because it really validates how you feel about yourself.
MATT KUCHAR: This is an interesting part of the golfing education. I feel like you have so much work to do on mechanics, but then course management is just a whole other realm of the golf education. And this is a treat for me to sit up here and have this discussion right now.
JACK NICKLAUS: You don’t need it. You’re doing pretty well. The last two weeks you’ve played very well. Here you played very well.