SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Matt Kuchar is losing his hair, hidden beneath the cap he wears with a corporate logo on the front. His father will be in the gallery, not on the bag.
About the only thing that hasn't changed since 1998 is that smile.
Kuchar was the golden boy the last time the U.S. Open came to The Olympic Club. He earned a spot in the field as the U.S. Amateur champion, and after a solid performance at the Masters in the spring, continued to play better than most of the pros. He was two shots off the lead going into the weekend, but a 76-74 finish put him in a tie for 14th. He was low amateur and exempt for another U.S. Open.
``I feel like it was only a year or two ago,'' Kuchar said Tuesday. ``I have such vivid, such great memories of being here in `98, particularly with playing some great golf, being in contention, finishing tied for 14th, having championship Sunday fall on my 20th birthday, which also happened to be Father's Day.
``It was a fantastic way to kick off my introduction to U.S. Open golf.''
A slow starter on tour, Kuchar is on the cusp of joining the elite. He won The Players Championship last month and comes into the U.S. Open at No. 6 in the world, and a legitimate threat to win his first major.
As an amateur or a seasoned pro, he realizes it won't be easy.
``I remember finishing rounds of golf and just being flat-out exhausted,'' he said. ``I remember just such a different test of golf here, where it just tested everything. And then I came back last week and played practice rounds for the first time ... and I remember that same feeling of being exhausted.''
The line on Olympic is that the opening six holes are as tough of a stretch of anywhere in golf, but the last five holes allows for birdies, particularly with a pair of par 5s and a closing hole that is only 344 yards on the card.
Kuchar didn't see it that way.
``The first 18 holes are extremely difficult,'' he said.
THE LONGEST WEEK: No one played more holes to win a U.S. Open than Billy Burke in 1931 at Inverness. He tied with George Von Elm, leading to a 36-hole playoff. They tied again, and had to play another 36 holes the next day before Burke beat him by one shot.
That's 144 holes to win one major.
Jack Fleck had an even longer week when he won in 1955 at The Olympic Club, though most of those holes didn't count. Players from this era, who don't play full practice rounds every day so they can preserve their energy, could not relate to Fleck.
When the club pro from Iowa arrived on Saturday and fell in love with the golf course built on the side of a hill leading to Lake Merced. The fairways were so narrow and the rough was so deep, that his colleagues warned him not to overdo it.
He played 17 holes that day.
``Everybody said, `Don't play any more than one round. You'll never be able to get it in the fairway,''' Fleck said.
Clearly, he didn't listen.
Fleck played 45 holes on Sunday. He played 45 holes on Monday. He played 45 holes on Tuesday.
``And I only played 36 holes on Wednesday,'' he said. ``That lets you know that I really liked the golf course. It was right up my alley, because you had to hit it straight and control the ball. I putted very good for me, far better putting than I had ever done before or since.''
The final tally for Fleck? He played 188 holes in practice, and 90 holes in competition.
NO PLAYOFF CHANGE: The U.S. Open remains the only major with an 18-hole playoff. Don't expect that to change any time soon after comments Tuesday by USGA executive director Mike Davis and players who pulled off two of the greatest U.S. Open victories at The Olympic Club.
``No, I think that you should have at least an 18-hole playoff,'' said Jack Fleck, a former municipal course pro who stunned Ben Hogan in a 1955 playoff at Olympic.
Billy Casper agreed, saying all the majors should be that way.
Casper made up seven shots on Arnold Palmer over the final nine in 1966 and then won in a Monday playoff to finish one of golf's most stunning comebacks.
``I think a major championship should be decided by an 18-hole playoff,'' Casper said. ``Mainly because a sudden-death playoff, something strange can happen, like a ball that is going out-of-bounds hits a tree and bounces back in and that person wins the tournament. I just believe that you're going to get the best champion that week, the player that's playing the best in an 18-hole playoff and you might have one lucky shot determine a sudden-death playoff. And I've always felt that way.''
Davis said the USGA has looked at this issue repeatedly.
``We conclude exactly what Billy just said, that we think that it's a National Open Championship and it deserves an 18-hole playoff,'' Davis said. ``We do believe that with 18 holes, you really do determine the better champion.''
The British Open has a four-hole playoff. The PGA Championship has a three-hole playoff. The Masters remains sudden death.
Davis realizes that a Monday playoff isn't convenient for spectators, vendors, rules officials and might not be ideal for television. But he's not changing.
``I do think when it's all said and done that we believe that this week is more than just entertainment,'' he said. ``This is about determining a national champion, it's making history, and 18 holes is still the best way to do it.''
GOLD PAIRING: Chris Gold has never been so close to his dream job as he is this week.
Even if that means carrying a 14-year-old's bag.
Gold is the caddie and manager for Andy Zhang, believed to be the youngest player in U.S. Open history. The 25-year-old Gold has made it to the second stage of the PGA Tour's qualifying school the past two years, never even earning enough points for a spot in a second-tier tournament.
He met Zhang at the driving range at Reunion just outside Orlando, Fla., where Zhang moved to in 2008 from China. He struck up a conversation with Zhang and his father and never thought anything of it.
``I was hoping to get a job to help fund my golf game,'' Gold said.
He got way more than that.
Zhang's father hired Gold to be his son's caddie and manager, helping him adjust to professional tournaments and life as an American teenager. The two often watch basketball together - Zhang is a big fan of the NBA's Miami Heat - and there's hardly a place Gold doesn't drive Zhang.
``I think, to be honest, hanging around me probably made him a little more mature,'' Gold said. ``Maybe that will help this week.''
DIVOTS: There's a bobble-head doll of Rory McIlroy, the defending champion at the U.S. Open. So what does the No. 1 player in the world have to do to get one of his own? ``Probably win a U.S. Open by eight shots,'' Luke Donald said. ``Or at least by one.'' ... David Duval is making his TV debut this week for ESPN. He will be the analyst for the feature group on ESPN3. ``I don't want it to be seen as a transition because I don't believe my playing career is over,'' Duval said. ``I know I've had a rough year but I've also been dealing with other small injuries that I haven't talked about. But it is definitely something I'd like to do in the future.'' ... Johnny Miller says he never got nervous playing golf, and that included the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic, when he was a 19-year-old amateur from San Francisco. His mother woke him at 9 a.m. for an 11 a.m. tee time - with Lee Trevino. Miller was low amateur that year, tying for eighth. ... The USGA said Tuesday the U.S. Open was a sellout for the 26th straight year, a streak that began at Olympic Club in 1987.
AP Sports Writers Lynn DeBruin and Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this report.