For professional tour golfers, winning can't be the only thing

By Greg Hardwig
Published on
For professional tour golfers, winning can't be the only thing

Matt Kuchar was asked to characterize his season earlier this week at the QBE Shootout in Naples. He had a bit of a philosophical answer. He felt like he improved, and that was important to him.

But he had to feel like that because Kuchar didn't win. He played in 26 tournaments in the 2016-17 wraparound season, had one second -- memorably in the Open Championship after dueling with Jordan Spieth -- was in the top 10 nine times and top 25 a total of 17 times.

He won over $4 million. But he didn't win.

"As a golfer you look back at a season and you try to improve and kind of the bottom line is always trying to get better," said Kuchar, who has seven tour victories. "I feel like I've improved as a player. I feel like I'm a better player. So I'm certainly pleased with that as a main goal of mine. ... Winning, you kind of never know when you'll get hot, when things will kind of really click and go your way. Sometimes they go your way and you get beaten."

Most tour events have 156-player fields and there's only one winner every week -- well, at this week at Tibur�n Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort there will be two since it's a team event. But half of the NFL and college football games each week have a winner. Even the bad NBA teams win more than 10 times in a year.

In individual sports like golf and tennis, winning can't be everything -- or the only thing.

"Unfortunately, we get good at losing because we lose the majority of the time," said Steve Stricker, who has 12 tour victories, tying him with Zach Johnson for the most in this year's QBE Shootout field and for 82nd on the tour's career wins list. "We have to be good sports about it. We have to learn from it, so that can help us in the times that maybe we get into contention and try to win.

"You have to pick some positives out of the years that you don't win. Did you improve in one aspect of the game that you're trying to improve in, or something like that. You have to try to find the positives in this game all of the time. Otherwise, it just beats you down."

Jason Dufner has five career victories, including a major (the 2013 PGA Championship), and a win this year at the Memorial. But he doesn't measure himself at all by that. He can't.

"I don't really gauge my season on wins, losses, how much money I made, where I was on the money list," Dufner said. "... You start banking how you're playing and what your career's about on wins and losses out here, you're going to see a lot more frustration than happiness."

Henrik Stenson is eighth in the current world rankings, and he had a win this year at the Wyndham Championship. But he's also had seasons like 2013 when he won both the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour and the Race to Dubai on the European Tour (he's a member of each). And in 2016, Stenson won the British Open and the silver medal in the Olympics.

So even a year with one win -- for him -- doesn't measure up in some people's eyes.

"Any year you can come away from a season having won on the world's biggest tour it has to qualify as a pretty decent year," said Stenson, while in Naples for an appearance at the PGA Tour Superstore for Mutual of Omaha on Thursday. "My level of play over the past four or five years, I had hoped for a tad more, but I'm not disappointed by any means.

"I think it's about 20 players in the world of golf that have accumulated more world rankings points than I have this year. People will consider it a little anonymous season and you're still the 21st-best player in the world in a pretty big sport like golf, you don't have to be disappointed."

Stenson pointed out that if Kuchar had held off Spieth and won the British Open, then many would look at his season differently.

"I had a very much similar year in '15," Stenson said. "I won the FedEx (Cup) in '13. I didn't win until the tour final in Dubai in '14 and defended that title.

"In '15, I think I had seven seconds that year. I came close so many times in many different places. A couple of them I didn't finish off the job the way that I needed and wanted. On a couple of occasions, someone came flying by with a 65, someone made a 40-foot bomb on the second-to-last hole. So many things that can happen. I left the 2015 season winless and I felt probably the same that Kuchar felt. If he had won the British against Jordan, it would've been the best year ever. Now it feels like that something's missing."

Stenson has six PGA Tour wins and 11 more on the European Tour. Interestingly, he feels like people think that 2016 Open win raises the significance of those others.

"When you do it at a major and you win that major, it almost felt like everything I'd done before in golf almost got elevated," he said. "Your stock goes up like 50 percent. You can add 'major champion' to everything else you've done. Winning the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai and The Players Championship (he won that in 2009) kind of gets better.

"You can sometimes feel like that's almost a little unfair on the other achievements, but that's kind of the way it goes in professional sports. If you're winning a Super Bowl and you've been to the championship game another couple of times, then all of a sudden it's great. If you've been in the championship game and not won one, then you're not going to stand out as much."

Brendan Steele is paired with Keegan Bradley in the QBE Shootout this week. Counting LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson, nearly half of the 24-player field -- 11 -- have won last year or early this PGA Tour season. Steele, Thompson, and Pat Perez all have won twice.

"You don't always win when you're playing well," Steele said. "We're probably measured a little too much on that. That's what everybody wants to see. You have to find a way to beat everybody every now and then."

And find a way to stay positive when you don't. 


This article is written by Greg Hardwig from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to