Leonard carried no grudge—he later stopped by the Kuchars' table in the players' dining room and wished Peter luck for the rest of the weekend—but didn't change his views on Peter's deportment. Leonard and the other pros see the course as their office. The elder Kuchar had come in and gyrated on their desks.
The USGA, caught in the middle, tried to appease one and all. One official asked Peter on Saturday morning to be "aware and respectful" of the competitors but didn't reprimand him. USGA observer Win Padgett officiated Kuchar's group every round but Friday's and said, "I don't think there was anything untoward. We saw stuff you wouldn't see from Tour caddies, but it wasn't out of line. In a situation like that—a major championship, a young man and his dad—I would hope that most of the players and other caddies and officials would be willing to cut him a little slack."
The good-natured Els did. "Matt is very calm," he said after Friday's round. "His father is from the other side of the coin. Matt must get it from his mother."
Els is right. Meg has a soothing tone to her voice, which masks a delightfully droll sense of humor. Of her daughter, Becky, 18, she says, "We thought about naming her Megan, but that would have made me Big Meg. I didn't want to go there." She has made it her mission to keep her son grounded. "Even in the birthday card I gave him this morning," she said on Sunday, "I wrote that I want that little boy to stay with him forever. That's an important part of the equation."
When Matt and Peter arrived in the locker room that day, a birthday cake prepared by the club was there waiting for them. The gallery serenaded Matt with Happy Birthday on at least three holes. When he sent his birdie putt on the 72nd hole 18 feet past the cup, a fan broke the silence by yelling, "Pick it up, Matt! Happy birthday!" Instead, Kuchar drained the comebacker, which kept him in the top 15. Since the top 24 at the Masters also get a return invitation, Kuchar is one of only a handful of golfers who already have qualified for the first two majors of 1999.
He did get one present, a framed lithograph of the 6th hole at Augusta from Mom and Dad. "He had two birdies there," Peter said. The Masters traces its lineage to Jones, so the Augusta National members profess to have a special place in their hearts for amateurs. Yet in recent years the tournament has forgotten its roots. Once the entire Walker Cup team was invited to play, as well as the U.S. Amateur semifinalists. Now the list of amateurs invited is down to four: the two Amateur finalists as well as the U.S. Mid-Amateur and the British Amateur champs. The U.S. Open, on the other hand, remains open to anyone who can qualify. Over the last three decades the Open has been the scene of more impressive performances by amateurs than has the Masters.
Kuchar's finish is the best by an amateur in the Open since Jim Simons tied for fifth and Lanny Wadkins placed 13th in 1971 at Merion. Merely making the cut is a great accomplishment for an amateur. In the 1990s the list of those who have done so includes Leonard, David Duval, Phil Mickelson (twice) and Tiger Woods. Kuchar also remained in contention longer than some other amateurs who found themselves on the leader board. Bobby Clampett, for example, stood tied for fifth after 36 holes in the '78 Open at Cherry Hills in Denver, then shot 80 on Saturday. In 1976 Mike Reid opened with a 67 at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Jones's home course, and led by three. He followed with rounds of 81 and 80.
On Saturday, Kuchar had moved to second place, only four shots behind leader Payne Stewart, after eight holes. The tide turned with a three-putt bogey on 14. Kuchar made three more bogeys coming home and finished with a 76, which left him eight strokes behind Stewart. Kuchar followed with a respectable 74 on Sunday. "I don't know Matt, but I think I know what he's feeling," said Reid, who came in 49th at Olympic. "You don't really grasp it for years. When I finally got out on Tour and got a taste of pro golf on a week-in, week-out basis, I realized that at least for one day, what I had done was pretty special."
Kuchar would have made about $50,000 had he played the Open as a pro. He says he plans to discuss that option soon with his father. Peter, like any good caddie, says Matt will make the final decision, although he doesn't like the idea. "The theory is that you can get your education anytime," Peter says. "You can only get a college education and be 19 once."
There will come a time when Matt Kuchar loses his innocence, when the smile won't be automatic and he will fail to acknowledge the crowd's applause. But it was with no small pride last week that Meg Kuchar repeated something that she had read. During the Masters, Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist, suggested that his client, Davis Love III, comport himself more like Kuchar. Love won two of his next three starts.