Kuehne: No Regrets About Leaving Amateur Game On Top
By David Shefter, USGA
River Hills, Wis. – Trip Kuehne has exchanged tee times for family time.
At least when it comes to competitive amateur golf.
After enjoying one of his most successful seasons ever as a player, the 36-year-old Texan decided it was time to stop living out of a suitcase during the summer months. With a fledgling high-end hedge-fund company that he started last year and an active 8-year-old son (Will), Kuehne decided the time was right – at least temporarily – to discontinue championship-level golf.
Last October, Kuene culminated a dream summer by finally claiming that elusive USGA individual championship, defeating Dan Whitaker in the 36-hole final at Bandon Dunes in southwest Oregon for the U.S. Mid-Amateur title. The achievement came 13 years after a heartbreaking defeat to Tiger Woods in the U.S. Amateur final, and after younger siblings Kelli (1994 U.S. Girls’ Junior; 1995 and ’96 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Hank (1998 U.S. Amateur) had staked their claim to USGA championships. Trip’s victory made the Kuehne clan the first family to have three different USGA champions.
But the Mid-Amateur was only the exclamation point on an already successful season. He started the summer by qualifying for the U.S. Open at one of his favorite venues (Oakmont C.C.), then was named to his third USA Walker Cup team, where he would finally be on the victorious side at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. He followed that by helping Texas successfully defend its USGA Men’s State Team title at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas.
"I’ve always been a person that has dreamed big," said Kuehne during media day Aug. 21 for the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Milwaukee Country Club Sept. 6-11. "I’ve set goals that were somewhat realistic; to make Walker Cup teams, to play in U.S. Opens, to try and play in the Masters and to be a USGA champion as an individual. Never in my wildest imagination when I started playing golf again really in 2001 [did I think] I’d be able to achieve one of those goals, nonetheless all of them."
Kuehne accepted the spoils of his Mid-Amateur win by competing at the 2008 Masters, but after missing the 36-hole cut, the competitive juices went with it.
His title, however, will remain, permanently etched on the Bob Jones Memorial Trophy. That feeling sunk in on June 3 when he visited the USGA Museum at Golf House in Far Hills, N.J., for the grand opening of the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History. There he saw his name on a panel with all of the other USGA champions.
"I walked in and my name was on the wall," he said. "It’s going to forever be in there."
Other priorities now occupy his life, including his hedge-fund business, Double Eagle Capital. Instead of getting up early to practice on the weekends, he attends his son’s football practices.
"The first round of stroke play [at the Mid-Amateur] is actually going to be his first football game," said Kuehne, a gleam in his eye. "I’ve been so busy I have a hard time figuring out what day it is."
Kuehne admitted that he thought he would miss the championships a lot more. Mid-Amateur media day took place during the second round of match play at the U.S. Amateur, an event Kuehne annually circled on his calendar.
"Unless I was here, quite honestly I wouldn’t even know the U.S. Amateur is going on," said Kuehne. "I needed to step back. I achieved everything I wanted to achieve."
Dave Foley certainly could relate. The 42-year-old Pewaukee, Wis., resident has two teenaged kids of his own and because he was heavily involved in their activities, he needed to step away from competitive golf. As a junior, Foley was one of the better golfers in the state, often competing against the likes of current PGA Tour pros Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly, Skip Kendall and J.P. Hayes.
In fact, it’s been 25 years since Foley last competed in a USGA event, the 1983 U.S. Junior Amateur at Saucon Valley C.C. in Bethlehem, Pa. He earned a golf scholarship to the University of Mississippi, but chose a career in the insurance business upon graduation. He got married, started a family and put golf on the backburner.
But now that his kids are much older, he has a little more free time.
Foley, who facially bears some resemblance to former major-leaguer Tino Martinez, gave U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying a try this year. At Tuckaway Country Club in Franklin, Wis., he earned one of the five available spots with a 73. Last year, he joined the men’s club at Brown Deer Park, a municipal course that annually hosts the PGA Tour’s U.S. Bank Championship, which also happens to be the second stroke-play qualifying venue for the 2008 Mid-Amateur.
He hopes to use his local knowledge to his advantage, but he also realizes he is up against a lot stronger field than he normally sees on a typical Saturday morning.
"I started playing in the Wisconsin State Amateur five years ago," said Foley, who will be joined at the Mid-Amateur by fellow Travelers Insurance employee John Staehler of Caledonia, Wis. "My kids are getting a little older so I'm getting some more hall passes to get out and play and practice a little bit more. I feel good about my game. I’m excited to be playing this great event."
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.