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Matt Kuchar keeps a smile on his face despite tough loss

Matt Kuchar of the United States reacts to

Matt Kuchar of the United States reacts to his putt on the 13th hole during the second round of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club. July 28, 2017. Credit: Getty Images / Minas Panagiotakis

For the better part of a decade, he has enjoyed popularity on the PGA Tour mostly because people just like yelling “Kooooch.” They were doing that plenty last month at Royal Birkdale, when Matt Kuchar really made a name for himself.

He wishes he could say that name will be forever engraved on the claret jug, and he came really close to having that happen. So close that it was painful for him to stand there and watch Jordan Spieth recover from a mid-round meltdown, make a stunning comeback and win the British Open. It was how he handled the disappointment that got “Matt Kuchar” etched into many hearts.

There has been extra gusto in the cheers since then and there will be an additional helping of warmth in the “Kooooches” this week at the Northern Trust at Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury.

“It has certainly been a great run. The more time goes on, the more the name catches on, the more people like to holler it out,” he said last weekend at the PGA Championship, where he had another solid finish (tied for ninth). “It seems to have grown in the past 10 years. How much it has grown in the past two weeks, it’s hard to say. But for 10 years, it has been great, the support people have shown in hollering out for me.”

Kuchar has had a solid career, including seven wins. One of those was the tournament he will enter this week — back in 2010, when it was known as the Barclays and played at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. He never has won a major, which made the spectacle all the more tantalizing at Birkdale.

He had taken the lead from Spieth and looked to be in command when the latter hit a tee shot far to the right on No. 13. Kuchar waited, waited and waited for Spieth to get a ruling about where he could take a drop after a penalty stroke. He never complained about the near half-hour delay, not when it happened, or afterward, when Spieth was surging.

In his news conference that day, Kuchar said, “It’s not something to be upset about.” He had graciously accepted Spieth’s apology for having taken so long.

“I’m not surprised at all with the way he handled things,” Spieth said last week. “I thought he was a class act in everything. He was tremendous in the way he played and the way he was off the course, as he always is.”

Actually, Kuchar might have helped Spieth maintain his mental equilibrium during the tailspin that afternoon, calmly chatting and joking with him between shots when the opponent was agitated with his game. The British Open runnerup followed through on his commitment to play the Canadian Open days later, pain notwithstanding.

“I know the clock is ticking. I know you only get so many chances at it,” the 39-year-old said at that event, when the hurt was still fresh. “You’re only given X number of opportunities. One just went by. I hope there are more and I think there will be more chances.”

He has had many big moments in his career, starting with winning the 1997 U.S. Amateur and a strong run at Georgia Tech (where he became friends with the school’s baseball star, Mark Teixeira). He prizes his victories, including the Barclays although he is honest enough to admit that he won’t particularly feel like a former champion this week.

“I think it’s more the course than the event. Even though Barclays did a good job, I certainly felt a tie to Ridgewood,” he said. As for the FedEx Cup playoff series, he added, “The tour does a great job promoting it. I think it’s a nice way to finish the season. I just wish it finished the year. It seems like, two weeks later, there are more events.”

The schedule seemingly never lets up, but then again neither does the smile of a guy who has become a name player.

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