They held a meeting Tuesday of the Georgia Tech chapter of the U.S. Amateur Champions Alumni Association. It took up but one table at the grill inside the East Lake clubhouse. Two were there in person, one in spirit.
Present was Andy Ogletree (2019 titlist, in the third day of his reign, arriving here directly from his Finite Math class earlier in the day).
And Matt Kuchar (1997, far removed from his last calculus class and back in Atlanta to play in this week’s FedEx Cup finale).
And, as with most anything held at East Lake, where it all began for Bobby Jones back in the hickory-shafted days of yore, there was the shadow of the great man. His U.S. Am victories came in bulk – 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1930.
Kuchar, summoning the name of the U.S. Am trophy, announced to the group, “They should rename Tech Havemeyer U. We got what, seven?” Yes, with 71 percent of the credit going to Jones.
At the prompting of the PGA Tour, Ogletree stopped by East Lake on Tuesday to sit a spell with Kuchar. He brought his Havemeyer Trophy. They broke out one of Jones’ from the collection of his memorabilia within the Tudor clubhouse here. It made for quite the table setting.
Joining them was Jones grandson, Bob Jones IV. And right on cue, on the wall-mounted TV screen, was the black-and-white image of the Bobby Jones, from a Golf Channel documentary, looking over their shoulders.
Kuchar sometimes isn’t the deepest of souls when talking about his game. He’s pretty breezy most of the time. But being back here at East Lake, speaking about the legacy that he and Ogletree share with Bobby Jones brought out something almost profound in him.
“I still to this day am amazed at how special that trophy is to Atlanta, how much it means to Georgia Tech and the city. And for Andy to bring it back again, it kind of allows me to relive it just a little bit. It’s an awesome, awesome thing that Andy’s done.”
As Tech golf coach Bruce Heppler put it, tweaking a rival conference a bit, borrowing from a pretentious SEC motto, “It just means more because of Mr. Jones.”
The young Ogletree, being young, acknowledges that he doesn’t know as much about the life and times of Bobby Jones as he probably should. He can be excused, for it has been 97 years since Jones graduated from Tech. But still Ogletree can’t help but recognize this link that he now has with the legend.
“To win the Am and go to Georgia Tech, yeah it’s there. Obviously, I didn’t get the opportunity to know him, but we heard some stories today. I definitely feel like there’s a tie,” he said.
Said Kuchar, “It’s an interesting bond. The alumni bond, just going to Georgia Tech and sharing that bond. I don’t know how to describe it, but there is such a thing.”
“You think anyone from Atlanta has a tie to Bobby Jones,” he added. “Anybody who has played East Lake. Anybody who has played Atlanta Athletic Club. Anybody who has played the Bobby Jones course. There is a tie just through the city. And the Masters (which Jones help found) is such a special place for me.”
Interestingly, Kuchar fought the temptation to leave Tech and go pro after winning the U.S. Amateur while entering his sophomore year. He even briefly considered following Jones’ example and remaining an amateur after leaving school. He made the right choice – his career earnings top $50 million, and he’s competing here this week for a $15 million top prize.
Ogletree said Thursday that he intends to play out his senior season at Tech. “Been there this long, I might as well finish,” he declared.
Oh, yes, the Masters. Like Kuchar, Ogletree won the privilege of teeing off with the defending Masters champion at the start of next year’s tournament. Like Kuchar in 1998, Ogletree will be in line to play the Masters alongside Tiger Woods in 2020. Which speaks volumes about Woods’ span of greatness.
On that long-ago Masters Thursday, Kuchar shot a very respectable 72. A wonder, really, considering the emotions that were roiling within him.
“I remember making that walk from the putting green to the (first) tee. Tiger had walked in before me, he made the entrance. ... It almost felt like you were entering a boxing ring with everybody from all angles on top of you.
“When they announced me to tee off – ‘Matt Kuchar, play away, please’ – I remember trying to tee the ball up and shaking so badly. I was so glad the ball stayed on the tee. I was just that nervous.
“I’m sure Andy will do a better job of easing the nerves teeing the ball up. But you never forget that moment.”
He didn’t share that story with Ogletree this day inside the East Lake grill, probably for the best. No need to plant the idea of nervousness here nine months before the Masters.
They spent 20 minutes around the table comparing their U.S. Am experiences. Ogletree gave him a detailed report of his 2-and-1 comeback victory over Vanderbilt’s John Augenstein. Kuchar told the story of how he watched the end of that match from Chicago, where he was playing in the BMW Championship. Done with his final round and performing a few phone interviews for the upcoming Presidents Cup, Kuchar said he had to occasionally mute his phone in order to jump up and celebrate some Ogletree shot down the stretch.
Just a couple of Tech-schooled U.S. Amateur champions exploring the ties that will bind them forever.
One just came back from being four-down at one point of the 36-hole final match to win the U.S. Amateur. The other is six down with 72 to play according to the new staggered scoring system introduced to this Tour Championship. Kuchar can take a lesson from the kid.
And the third member of the club was a presence in the room, a quite satisfied one.
It was left to Bobby Jones’ grandson to speak for the forebear of the Tech golfing line, telling Ogletree, “One day it will hit you that you’re a part of history.”
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