CHAMPIONS
U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion Memories: Trip Kuehne October 16, 2015 | Far Hills, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Trip Kuehne capped off his 2007 season by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur. (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

Thirteen years after a heartbreaking defeat to Tiger Woods in the U.S. Amateur final at TPC Sawgrass, Trip Kuehne finally claimed a USGA championship with a dominating 9-and-7 victory over Dan Whitaker in the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur final, conducted at Bandon Dunes. Kuehne became the third member of his family to win a USGA championship, joining his sister, Kelli, (1994 U.S. Girls’ Junior; 1995 and 1996 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and brother, Hank, (1998 U.S. Amateur). Kuehne, a three-time USA Walker Cup Team competitor, retired from competitive golf after the 2008 Masters to focus on his investment broker business (Double Eagle Capital), which he started in 2005, and his family (wife, Dusti, and son, Will.

What was your mindset going into that week, especially coming off your 6-under-par effort in the USGA Men’s State Team Championship nine days earlier?

Kuehne: I loved Bandon Dunes. The course fit my eye. Luckily, all [three] Walker Cups that I played were overseas, so it was golf that I was accustomed to. The weather was pretty bad. I played both of my practice rounds with [1999 champion] Danny Green. And we were playing one of the par 3s on the front nine and I made about a 30-footer. He goes, “Trip, I’ve never seen you play like this.” I told him it was probably the best I had ever played except maybe for 2003. I felt really good with my putter, and the rest is history.

How difficult was your bracket?

Kuehne: Everybody that I played leading up to the final [except for the Round of 64] was somebody who I played before or had a very good relationship with. I didn’t know [first-round foe Ken Kellaney]. I don’t remember anything about that match. [Second-round opponent] Michael Cooper (2-and-1 win) was a former high school teammate. He was a senior when I was a freshman. He was one of the reasons why I wanted to play golf. He’s a really good player and a guy I held in high esteem. Then I played [James] Lehman in the third round (1-up win). At the time, he was [my former swing instructor] Hank Haney’s agent. So it was just a weird kind of week.

Was your 20-hole win over Stephen Sear in the quarters your toughest match?

Kuehne: That was probably one of the toughest matches I had ever played. Other than me, that guy was probably playing some of the best mid-amateur golf in the world. He had just shot 61 at a course in Nevada to break a longstanding course record held by Ben Hogan. He was an incredible mini-tour player. And he was the kind of guy I always drew who would be a tough out.

And then you needed extra holes later that day to beat St. Mary’s men’s golf coach Scott Hardy, a semifinalist from a year earlier? How draining was that?

Kuehne: I was behind most of the match. It took me awhile to get into it. I was 1 down going to 18 and hit a really bad drive into a bunker. It was an easy [par-5] hole for me to reach in two, but I had to wedge out. I ended up hitting [my third] to gimme [range]. He had about a 4-footer for birdie to knock me out. I hit my caddie on the leg and said he’s going to miss it. Look where he is aimed. And he missed it. It was a new lease on life. Then I made a 15-footer for birdie on the 19th hole to win.

Unlike 1994 when you lost a big lead to Tiger, the 2007 Mid-Amateur final was a one-sided affair. Were you better equipped to handle the situation?

Kuehne: The final was really easy and I don’t know why. I slept really well the night before. I knew my golf game was really good. I survived two hard matches [the previous day]. I felt like it was my time. I made five birdies and no bogeys [over the 29 holes].

Was it a little reminiscent of 1994 with a better outcome?

Kuehne: It was just my dad and I who were there except he wasn’t caddieing [this time]. We stayed in an incredible hotel right on the water. Thirteen years later, it was a father and son going on the same journey, but this one just turned out a little bit different.

Now that you joined Kelli and Hank as a USGA champion, was a burden lifted?

Kuehne: It’s one of the reasons I told my dad it’s over because I had chased something for so long. I thought it would be really cool if all three of us could win a USGA title. I think the burden for me was more lifted at the Walker Cup and then at the State Team. Even though it wasn’t an individual win, we won the USGA State Team. So I could always say I had a USGA title.

Did it make the decision to retire from competitive golf easier?

Kuehne: I thought it was a pretty good way to end my amateur career. As I look back on it, I couldn’t have played any better for 18 months. I couldn’t have done anything else in amateur golf. I made the quarterfinals of the 2006 U.S. Amateur. I made the Eisenhower Team. I qualified for the [2007] U.S. Open. We won the Walker Cup. We won the State Team. I won the Mid-Amateur and I got to play in the [2008] Masters. That’s when I whispered to my dad that I can’t do anything else in amateur golf. It was a great time to step to the sidelines and watch Will grow up.

Was your second Masters trip in 2008 a little different from 1995?

Kuehne: Obviously, every Masters is special. I had a family [in 2008]. In 1995, I was so excited about being there. I stayed at the Crow’s Nest. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I played my tournament Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. By the time Thursday rolled around, I was overwhelmed. In 2008, it was a family affair and people who were very close to me were there. I stayed one night in the Crow’s Nest, but we had a house off property. I really didn’t practice a whole lot going into it. I hurt my back moving a table, so I had four weeks to prepare. The second round I was playing as well as I can play. I was a couple under heading to the 15th tee and had a chance to make the cut. Made a par and then shanked a ball off 16. The only shot I wasn’t nervous on the back nine and I hit it next to the Nicklaus Monument. We were two holes ahead of the group behind us and by the time I finally finished that hole, I got a standing ovation and there were three groups waiting for us on the tee. It took me 45 minutes to play the hole. I made two incredible pars to finish even par. That was a pretty good way to finish [my career] off. I was able to walk to the clubhouse with my dad on one side and my son on the other. I looked at my dad and said, “What a way for the cowboy to ride away.”

How much do you miss competitive golf?

Kuehne: I miss the camaraderie and the competition. But the thing I miss most is the preparation of trying to get your game in shape to be in peak performance. You are able to feel good at the championship because you know you are prepared to play.

Will Trip Kuehne ever be seen competing at a USGA championship again?

Kuehne: The difficult thing is [senior golf] is far away. I would never have thought my golf game would disappear the way it has. People like to say I was a good golfer because I was a great athlete. Seven years later, I can honestly look at them square in the eye and say I wasn’t good because I was a better athlete than most people, I was good because I worked hard. I practiced more because that’s what I needed to be good. But who knows. I always had a goal that I wanted to play every single USGA event that was available to me. To this point, I have. I would now love to play in a [U.S. Amateur] Four-Ball. I would love to play in a Senior Amateur and Senior Open. If I could do that, it would be pretty neat to say I played in every single USGA event.