The burnout was amplified by the wild ride that followed the Amateur, when Kuehne crammed many of his lifelong golfing dreams into a four-month period in mid-1995. He played in the Masters (the finalists at the Amateur are invited), led Oklahoma State as a junior to the NCAA championship, won the Ben Hogan Award for athletic and academic excellence ("the Heisman of college golf," says Kuehne) and donned the Stars and Stripes in the Walker Cup, amateur golf's version of the Ryder Cup. Then he was expected to do it all over again his senior season. "I was a miserable individual last year," says Trip, which is short for Triple, which is short for Ernest William Kuehne III. "Before I decided [to remain an amateur], when I was playing all the time, golf was work. I had success, I played well, but I think I'll do better now that every time I go out there, golf is fun and I enjoy the privilege."
Kuehne began to see the light early in his college career, when he was part of the powerhouse Arizona State program. After earning second-team All-Pac-10 as a freshman, he blew out the rotator cuff in his left shoulder at the start of the following season and had to redshirt. "I realized then that you can't always bank on golf," he says. An A student, Trip had four B's during his first two semesters at Arizona State, which caused a bit of a to-do in the Kuehne household. He made 4.0 during his redshirt year and then transferred to Oklahoma State, where as a psychology major with a business minor, and as a grad student, he had one B in four years. "And I got screwed!" he says, launching into an elaborate explanation.
Kuehne was twice an Academic All-America as well as the first athlete ever to be named Oklahoma State's outstanding student. With his credentials Kuehne could surely have gone to work for a top firm on Wall Street, a prospect that had fascinated him since he was a kid. The Kuehnes used to make an annual visit to Manhattan, where Trip always insisted on a pilgrimage to the New York Stock Exchange so he could peer down on the trading floor and all its hustle and bustle. But fearing his golf game would go into hibernation in the chilly Northeast, Kuehne chose to begin his career with White Rock Capital. His soon-to-be employers are so tickled to have obtained his services as a market analyst that they will allow him to play a full slate of amateur tournaments this summer.
As he builds toward the biggest of the bunch, the U.S. Amateur in August, Kuehne will have a chance to tread in the world he left behind when he attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open. (Last year he made the cut at the Open on the strength of a second-round 69 and was just one over on the weekend, finishing 79th.)
"There are no regrets, no second-guessing," Kuehne says. "Amateur golf is so competitive, the courses we play on are so good, it's like being on Tour except the season lasts three months, not 12, and the golf is still fun. At least a five-footer won't be the difference between eating steak for dinner or eating beans. I could make it on Tour if I gave 110 percent—there's no doubt in my mind. I'd even go so far as to say I'd be one of the top 30 players in the world. But it takes a total commitment. It has to be all that you want to do, and it's not what I want to do."
"Tripper has the game to play out here," says Woods, citing Kuehne's punch off the tee, sharp iron play and grit. "I think he has other priorities."
Indeed. "I don't want to be away from her," says Kuehne, cocking his head toward Dusti, who's making lunch in the kitchen of their Stillwater town house. "Down the line I want to have a relationship with my kids like I did with my dad. I want to be at every sporting event supporting them. You miss out on so much when you live your life on the road."
Hank Kuehne wasn't drunk, not yet, but he was heading down that road, and fast.
It was the starless night of Feb. 3, 1995, and Kuehne, a freshman at Oklahoma State, was roaring down a dirt back road on the outskirts of Stillwater, heading for a bar called Tumbleweed and another date with a bottle. An alcoholic since he was 13, he had never been in worse shape. "At that point," he says, "I was drinking a case of beer and a fifth of whiskey every single day." Typical Kuehne. He had to be the best at whatever he did, even at getting drunk.
Kuehne had quaffed a couple of beers at home before he and two buddies lit out for the 'Weed, and he was going at least 65 mph on a road that shouldn't be driven at half that speed. He never saw the stop sign or the other car. The last thing Kuehne remembers is hearing the Pearl Jam lyric "Can't find a better man." When he came to, there was a bright light in his face. The presence of a celestial being? Actually, it was a camera crew from Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, there to document the damage. All three passengers in the other car were hospitalized, though the most severe injury was a broken leg. Kuehne's two companions escaped with cuts and bruises. He hadn't been so lucky, fracturing four ribs on his left side.