The Kuehne Triple Crown
For more than a quarter-century before his death in 2001,
Lemmon had desperately tried to qualify for the fourth and
final round of the Crosby Clambake (AT&T Pro-Am). Despite
all of his futile attempts - he once said he'd trade his
Oscar to make the cut - Lemmon never achieved his goal.
Family Now Has Three Individual
April 3, 2008
By David Shefter, USGA
Southlake, Texas- Among the plethora of sports memorabilia
Trip Kuehne has on display in his home is a small ceramic
souvenir plate from the 1999 AT&T National Pro-Am.
Inscribed under the caricature of the late Oscar-winner actor
Jack Lemmon are the words, "If I don't make it this
year, then next year."
Until this past October, those same words resonated with
Kuehne, who had been chasing a USGA championship trophy ever
since reaching the finals of the 1994 U.S. Amateur. That
quest was quantified by the fact that younger sister Kelli
owned three titles (1994 U.S. Girls' Junior and '95
and '96 Women's Amateur) and younger brother Hank won
the 1998 U.S. Amateur, ironically with Trip serving as his
So naturally there were extremely high expectations - fair or
unfair - placed upon Trip's shoulder. He felt he needed
to duplicate their feats. Never mind that he lost an intense
U.S. Amateur final to a player who has become one of the
greatest of all time in Tiger Woods; or that he has been
selected to three USA Walker Cup teams; or competed in one
World Amateur Team Championship (2006); or was the low
amateur at the 2003 U.S. Open.
|Kuehnes Meet Trophies: Hank (left),
Kelli (center) and Trip Kuehne gather around their
hardware in December in Texas. (John Mummert/USGA)|
To Kuehne, those accomplishments were enough to validate a
brilliant amateur career. But to his critics, he needed that
USGA championship the way a college basketball coach
can't just be satisfied with reaching the Final Four.
Kuehne craved the title.
Then came four weeks of pure golf bliss; a sequence of
surreal events that can change the public's perception
from promise to champion. In a one-month stretch, he helped
the USA retain the Walker Cup on enemy turf in Northern
Ireland, shot a final-round 68 to give Texas back-to-back
titles at the USGA State Team Championship in The Woodlands,
Texas, and then capped it off by finally getting that elusive
USGA individual trophy by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur at
Bandon Dunes on the southwest Oregon coast.
"It was a dream come true," said the 35-year-old
Kuehne. "It made all the hours of sacrifice of
practicing and being away from the family all worth it. It
was an incredible experience."
Kuehne paused while gathered with his siblings for a
special photo shoot in late December. The shoot was to honor
the only family in USGA history to have three different
"And to join my brother and sister as USGA champions - I
mean the odds for us to do it are astronomical - is
unreal," he added.
Said Hank: "It's an amazing achievement. It
basically says a lot about our family and a lot about our
"Now we [can] take a step back and look at [our
accomplishments] collectively. I really don't think you
can put it into words. It's never been done. I doubt ever
seriously it will be done again."
From AMajorLowTo A Major High
For Trip Kuehne, who in 2001 rededicated himself to playing
at the highest levels of amateur golf, 2007 was shaping up
like so many previous years. He qualified for the U.S. Open
at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, arguably one of his
favorite championship venues. Then he suffered major
disappointment by missing the cut. That was followed by the
high of being named to the Walker Cup team for a third time
(he also played in 1995 and '03). A second-round 83 on
The Olympic Club's Ocean Course to badly miss the
match-play cut at the U.S. Amateur left him baffled.
The ink of Kuehne's signature barely had time to dry on
his scorecard before he landed in Dallas the next morning
teeming with frustration. The Walker Cup was only two weeks
away and his confidence suddenly was fragile. Kuehne's
high-end hedge-fund business - he operates Double Eagle
Capital in Dallas - had kept him busy during the part of the
summer when he normally focuses a lot on golf.
Feeling a little perplexed, he reached out to some close
friends and business colleagues, including Oakmont C.C.
member Stan Drunkenmiller. They told him that he had a
lifetime ahead to focus on business and what's six weeks
in the grand scheme of things. Kuehne called instructors Hank
Haney and Steve Johnson and went to work. Johnson and Kuehne
hit the practice range. For a week, all Kuehne did was hit
balls. He never ventured onto the course to play a round.
"We worked on fundamental things," said Kuehne.
"I had lots of lessons with Steve and kind of went back
to basics. I changed putters and started making lots of
putts. I gained some confidence."
The test would come in . At the first Walker Cup practice at
Royal Dublin, Kuehne beat the rest of his nine teammates. The
next day, he did it again. The confidence was coming back.
And although he went 1-2 in the Walker Cup, Kuehne played
well, losing a tough Sunday singles match to 's Lloyd
Nine days later, Kuehne gave Texas a strong start at the USGA
State Team Championship at the Club at Carlton Woods'
Fazio Course, shooting a 67. He closed with the 68 as the
home-state team successfully defended its title. That gave
Kuehne his first USGA championship, albeit a team one. Now he
was headed to the U.S. Mid-Amateur on an upswing.
"You know the whole time [we were at the Walker Cup],
Colt [Knost] was telling me I was going to win the
Mid-Amateur," said Kuehne."You had this magical
summer with the people from Texas with Cory [Whitsett]
winning the Junior, Colt, Anna Schultz (USGA Senior
Women's Amateur) and a couple of [Texans] on the Walker
Cup team. We had won all these tournaments and everyone was
saying, 'Win it for Texas. Win another tournament for
Texas. You are playing great.' I kept hearing this."
It certainly was not new rhetoric. Kuehne had been hearing
those words for more than a decade. He watched closely as
brother Hank won the '98 Amateur at Oak Hill. The two
even kissed the trophy together.
In 2003, Kuehne was playing some of his best golf and it was
validated at the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, where he shot a
second-round 67 that led to low-amateur honors. He geared up
hard to win the Amateur that August at Oakmont, only to lose
a heartbreaker in the second round to David Oh.
"If he's playing anyone else in that field, he
wins," says Hank Kuehne, now a member of the PGA Tour.
"He has always run into that type of tough thing."
But a different Kuehne arrived at Bandon Dunes at the end of
September. During practice rounds with longtime friend Danny
Green, the 1999 Mid-Amateur champion noticed how well Kuehne
was putting. Before he left Texas, Johnson told Kuehne,
"I think you are going to make your dad cry this
Said Kuehne: "My whole deal was make him cry. I never
thought I was going to lose. Nobody is going to beat me this
week unless I beat myself and I had never said anything like
that in my life."
Playing with resolve and confidence, Kuehne found himself in
one of those heated battles that he had customarily lost in
the past. Steve Sear didn't miss a green for 19 holes and
the two were all square going to the par-3 20th hole. Sear
blinked and Kuehne grabbed the opening. A winning par sent
him to the semifinals.
Against 2006 semifinalist Scott Hardy, the men's golf
coach at St. Mary's, Kuehne was in a major hole. With
five holes to play, Kuehne was 3 down and facing almost
certain elimination. This is where his experience paid off. A
calm came over Kuehne to the point where he won the next
three holes. Hardy won No. 17, but Kuehne birdied 18 and 19
to post a remarkable extra-hole decision.
In the 36-hole final the next day, Dan Whitaker almost never
had a chance. In the 29 holes that were played, Kuehne
registered five birdies against no bogeys - with usual
match-play concessions - for a whopping 9-and-7 victory. Some
might have called it golf perfection.
"It's like I have said, I am not as bad as the 83 I
shot at Olympic . and I'm probably not as good as the
five under par and no bogeys in the final of the U.S.
Mid-Amateur," said Kuehne. "I'm somewhere in
And sure enough, the finals performance brought Kuehne's
father to tears. He had been there in '94 and now he
could shed some emotions of joy instead of heartache.
"Now I can die in peace," said Ernie Kuehne, who
now had an unprecedented triumvirate of USGA champions among
Thousands of miles away in Florida and Texas, two siblings
anxiously stared at their computer screens as they followed
the finals on the Internet.
"I remember staring at that computer screen and I am
screaming at it," said Kelli Kuehne, five years
Trip's junior. "And I'm calling Dusti, his wife,
and saying, 'Dusti, we're doing good.' I'm
sending her text because we didn't want to jinx it. She
didn't want to watch because she was a nervous wreck. And
I'm watching, we're 1 up, 2 up, 3 up, and it's
like, 'Go baby! Go baby go! Just keep going.' And we
get to 7 or 8 up and I'm texting [Hank] and I'm
talking to my mom and I couldn't do anything. I was
basically paralyzed because I am staring at this computer
screen and I'm begging for it to change because I want it
to be over, I want it to be in the books and I want it to be
"When it was over, I am on the phone screaming, leaving
him a message. And I was really gratified not for myself, but
for Trip because it's his blood that has been on the
trophy before. He's put his heart and soul into it. And
not that Henry and I haven't. We were just rewarded a lot
timelier than he was."
Added Hank: "I'm just happy that he finally had the
opportunity and won. And to be honest with you, I would have
loved to give him mine, just because of all the things and
his commitment to amateur golf and his commitment obviously
to the USGA and just golf in general, I don't think you
could have found a better ambassador for amateur golf than
Trip Kuehne. It would have been a shame had he gone
throughout his whole career and not achieved a
For most people, the number 13 can generally be used in the
same sentence with Rasputin. Many hotels don't have a
13th floor for fear of jinxing its inhabitants.
But Kuehne will take 13 anytime, anywhere.
For some reason, 13 is perfect symmetry. It had been 13 years
between appearances in a USGA final. His best round at the
U.S. Open had also come on Friday the 13th in 2003.
It will also be 13 years in between Masters appearances, as
the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion receives an invitation to the
tournament. Kuehne is planning for this event to be his swan
song in competitive golf. Well, at least for now. Some have
compared him to a modern-day Bob Jones because he's one
of the few elite players who turned down the temptation to
play professionally to focus on a business career and raising
a family. Jones gave up competitive golf after completing the
"Grand Slam" in 1930.
Ironically, the U.S. Mid-Amateur trophy is named the Robert
T. Jones Memorial Trophy as it was donated by the Atlanta
Athletic Club, Jones' home club.
And if the Masters is truly his last hurrah, it will come at
a tournament and on a course Jones created.
Kuehne hopes to play better at Augusta National than he did
13 years ago when he missed the cut.
But keep this in mind, the tournament concludes on Sunday,
Wouldn't that be perfect symmetry?
And the ideal artifact for his collection.
DavidShefteris a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or