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Kuchar considers remaining an amateur

Matt Kuchar, one of the rising stars in golf, says he's enjoying his amateur status so much he may never join peers such as Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia in the professional ranks.

Kuchar was among the leaders after Monday's first round of the U.S. Amateur Championship, an event he won in 1997 and is excited to be playing again this year while Woods and Garcia battle for riches on the pro circuit.

The Georgia Tech student is one of 312 amateurs who began two rounds of stroke play Monday on the Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill courses. The top 64 players will advance to six rounds of match play that conclude Sunday.

Kuchar shot a 1-over 73 on Spyglass on Monday while playing with a lighting salesman from New York and a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.

"There's something special about amateur golf, these tournaments, the friendships you make," Kuchar said. "When you tee it up in the Open or the Masters as an amateur, there's a special feeling about it. There's a sense that this guy loves the game and he's not just another one of those money-hungry kids."

Justin Bolli, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, had Monday's low round with a 2-under 70 on Spyglass on a cool, calm day along the Pacific Ocean. He had six birdies in his round.

Jim Salinetti of Lee, Mass., Ben Curtis of Kent, Ohio, and Gene Elliott of West Des Moines, Iowa, were at 71, while five players had rounds of 72. Kuchar was among 19 players at 73.

Kuchar finished tied for 21st at the Masters last year and was in the hunt at the 1998 U.S. Open before fading late in the third round, but decided to remain amateur. He said last year it was only a matter of time before he turned pro.

But now he's not so sure. In fact, he drops the name of Bobby Jones while talking about the possibility of remaining an amateur for a couple more years -- or perhaps for good.

"It's something I thought would be special, pretty neat. I was thinking about how I could still play as much golf as possible and do business and take care of things financially," said Kuchar, who will be on the U.S. team for the amateur Walker Cup in Scotland next month.

"For the future, turning pro is the most likely thing. But staying amateur is still possible. If I turn pro and wish I'd stayed amateur, I can't go back."

On Monday, Kuchar was in his favorite element -- playing with guys who love the game and do it for fun. His playing partners were Al Falussy Jr., 34, of Dix Hills, N.Y., and Adam Dooley, 23, a scuba diving enthusiast from Albany, Minn.

Falussy shot a 90 and Dooley had an 81 Monday. And Kuchar had to overcome a triple bogey on the 15th hole.

"I was really nervous out there today, as nervous as I've been in a while," Kuchar said. "Knowing it's the national championship and trying to relive what I did in '97. Making the top 64 is tough, and you think about match play and how tough that is.

"When you get that nervousness, it's just a strange feeling, your stomach is churning. When you get that feeling you wonder, `Why do I play golf? I can't eat, I can't sleep.' But to have that feeling is exciting."