Lunchtime at the Spanish Open. Here in Valencia, on the east
coast of Spain, paella is a way of life, and today in the
players' lounge two varieties are offered. Hank Kuehne, a
25-year-old from Texas, warily eyes both versions from the front
of the buffet line. After passing on paella number one (yellow
rice with snails the size of a Pro V1), he takes a couple of
scoops of the alternative, a jet-black concoction featuring
squid cooked in its ink.
Moments earlier, having wrapped up a disappointing second round
at El Saler Golf Course, Kuehne had blown into the lounge and
lit up the room by slapping fives, bumming cigarettes and
bragging about the drive he had jacked onto the beach on the 8th
hole, a wayward attempt at driving the 359-yard par-4. Now
Kuehne settles into his chair and leans over his plate until his
nose is an inch from the exotic repast. From across the room
Raphael Jacquelin, one of Kuehne's newfound mates, shouts
encouragement. "Do not worry," Jacquelin says, "It is only
the...how do you say?...It was cooked in the...you know, like
This furious flow of French-inflected English is interrupted by a
Swedish lilt. Carl Peterson, a native of Goteborg who is Kuehne's
roommate on the road, has ambled over. "It won't bite," he says.
Finally, as the whole room eggs him on, Kuehne gingerly takes a
bite, then pushes away the plate, dooming himself to a lunch of
warm Coca-Cola. "It has been an interesting experience," Kuehne
says of this, his rookie year on the European tour. "A great
time, but a little different."
Over the past seven weeks Kuehne has played six tournaments on
four continents, in that portion of the Euro tour calendar known
as the Safari Schedule. Along the way he has lost almost 20
pounds but gained so much more. "It's been the fresh start I
needed," he says. "I feel like I'm finally standing on my own two
April 29, 2001
An alcoholic at 13, the U.S. Amateur champ at 22, Kuehne has had
an improbable career that last year looked as if it might be
over. In November he had his second major operation in 4 1/2
months on his left arm to try to reattach a biceps tendon that
had been torn from the bone. The injury occurred on the 22nd hole
of his second start as a pro, at the '99 Air Canada Championship,
when he hit a nine-iron from the rough. For nearly a year he
soldiered on, causing further harm to his broken wing and his
reputation. Few knew the extent of the injury, so he was labeled
either a bust or a malingerer and was all but forgotten.
When Kuehne's agents tried to line up sponsors' exemptions for
him on the PGA Tour this season, they found that a new crop of
wonder boys had stolen the spotlight, as well as all the free
passes. So Kuehne turned his attention to Europe. He had been
making full swings for only three weeks when, on a fateful Friday
in March, he got a call from his agency. "You're in at Qatar next
week," he was told. "You leave on Monday."
"Great," Kuehne said. "Where is Qatar?"
Five grand in airfare was all it took to find out. Admitting that
he was "extremely nervous," Kuehne three-putted five of the final
seven greens during the second round of the Qatar Masters to miss
the cut, but the adventure was just beginning. The European tour
has always smiled on free spirits like Kuehne, and the sponsors'
exemptions began to roll in. His situation is tenuous. Devoid of
any status, Kuehne is restricted to a maximum of seven sponsors'
exemptions unless he can make $176,493--equivalent to the earnings
of the final exempt player on last year's money list. Doing so
would allow him to accept an unlimited number of sponsors'
exemptions for the rest of this season, effectively giving him a
home away from home. If Kuehne doesn't come up with the required
earnings, the only viable place for him to play will be the U.S.
With his personal effects in storage in his hometown, Dallas,
Kuehne left for Qatar with his clubs and one suitcase. From there
he flew to Santo de Serra for the Madeira Island Open. He bought
a couple of turtlenecks in the pro shop, then opened the
tournament with a 67, hitting 16 greens, including three par-5s,
No one in golf can make a course cry uncle quite like Kuehne, who
is tall, strong, supple and a tremendous natural athlete. "He
hits it a lot farther than I do," Tiger Woods once said. "Henry
is longer than anyone I've ever played with." Kuehne, though,
doesn't have Tiger's attitude; he has Reggie Jackson's. It's
either a home run or a strikeout, with little in between. He was
sailing through the second round in Madeira when he went 6-5-10,
the last achieved on a short par-5. He came back to birdie the
next hole, then had three more birdies coming in to make the cut.
"I enjoy watching him play so much," says Paul Marchand, the
Houston-based coach with whom Kuehne has been working since
January, after breaking with the more rigid, technical Hank
Haney. "There's no telling what might happen offensively. Of
course, Henry can also slap it around with the best of them
Kuehne has also had more than his share of odd fortune. On the
second hole of the final round in Madeira, the head of his driver
flew off and, since he'd left the States in such a rush, he had
no backup. He played the final 16 holes without a wood in his bag
but still shot a 71 to finish 47th and earn $3,571.
Things were interesting off the course, too. Kuehne has been
sober for seven years, but the same cannot be said of most of the
other guys on the Euro tour, which is how Kuehne wound up with a
soiled mattress one night in Madeira. "I was out playing
Ping-Pong," he says, "and apparently one of the guys had way too
much to drink and mistook my bed for the toilet, or so I've been
told. I came back to the room, and there was this mysterious wet
spot on my bed. Honestly, I thought it was funny. I just flipped
over the bed, opened the windows and went to sleep."
When he awoke, he was in Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Open. The
only person in his group there who spoke English was his caddie.
(Kuehne has been picking up caddies as he goes.) Kuehne opened
67-69 despite fighting an unfamiliar driver (the model he prefers
couldn't be found in South America). On the 13th hole of the
final round Kuehne blasted a drive 70 yards off-line into a
previously unexplored part of the course. He went on to make an 8
and was so fed up with his unfaithful driver that, on the spot,
he gave it to a kid in the gallery. He finished with a 73 to
place 31st, worth $8,188. "There is a war that goes on inside
Henry," says Fran Pirozzolo, the sports psychologist who has been
working with Kuehne since the golfer was 14. "That war is usually
fought on the battlefields of the par-5s: Should I play
conservatively or be myself and let it rip?"
It was Pirozzolo who pushed Kuehne to try the Euro tour. "I
thought it would be good for him if life was a little tough, if
the conditions were different from what he was used to, on and
off the course," Pirozzolo says. Theirs is an unusual
doctor-patient relationship. In January, Kuehne moved into
Pirozzolo's house in Houston and settled into a routine. Every
day Kuehne would hit hundreds of balls, talk with Pirozzolo about
the mental aspects of the game, rehab his arm and drown himself
in protein shakes. (He bulked up to a rock-solid 212 pounds,
pre-paella.) Kuehne even started going to church. "He's acting
like a mature pro athlete," Pirozzolo says, "with the kind of
lifestyle commitment it takes to succeed."
If only he had a putting stroke. The week after the Brazilian
Open, Kuehne was at the Argentina Open. He avoided any big
numbers but, in his words, "putted like a pig," finishing 55th.
With the Euro tour breaking for the U.S. Masters, Kuehne got a
week off. He flew to Miami, ostensibly to hang out with his
girlfriend, but he hardly saw her. Instead, he put in 12-hour
days at the Jim McLean School of Golf, at Doral, overhauling his
putting stroke. Kuehne used to hunch over and stand too close to
the ball, and he would take the putter back inside and then hook
his ball toward the hole. After all the man-hours in Miami he
stands farther away, his eyes directly over the ball, his
alignment helped by a new Scotty Cameron putter.
As satisfied as he was with the work in Miami, Kuehne was struck
by a funny feeling while he was there. He was homesick. "I missed
the guys," he says of his Euro tour colleagues. "I missed the
long dinners together, the camaraderie."
In only a few weeks Kuehne had become entrenched in the cozy
culture of the tour, not surprising given that he's gregarious,
curious and grounded. "He is friends with the whole world," says
Jacquelin, who has invited Kuehne to stay at his home in Lyon
during next month's French Open. "Everybody loves Hank."
After the respite in Miami, Kuehne was back at work the next
week, at the Moroccan Open. He was stood up by his caddie for a
Tuesday practice round, so he lugged his own bag around on a pull
cart. Once the tournament began--on the exacting, par-73 Robert
Trent Jones-designed Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course--Kuehne shot
three 71s to surge into the top 10. If he could stay there he
would gain entry to the following week's tournament in Spain and
wouldn't have to burn a precious sponsor's exemption. On Sunday
he came to the 18th hole knowing he needed a birdie. He bombed a
drive and then, from 40 yards out, facing a tucked pin, played a
delicate pitch to "like this," he says, spreading his palms 18
inches apart. He tapped in for another 71 and a tie for eighth
place, worth $19,779. "One of the best shots of my career," he
Kuehne couldn't maintain the momentum at the Spanish Open. He
looked tired throughout the tournament, a condition no doubt
exacerbated by the fact that he hardly ate all week. ("It's been
difficult for him to get good food," says Jacquelin. "No, not
good food. His food.") Last Thursday, playing in the final group
of the day, Kuehne was four under through 13 holes but staggered
in with two double bogeys in the twilight to shoot a 74. The next
day he shot a listless 77 to miss the cut. He will tee it up
again this week in the Portuguese Open, using one of his two
remaining sponsors' exemptions. It looks as if he'll burn the
last of them the following week, at the French Open. Kuehne needs
two big tournaments, but he's not worried. Over the past seven
weeks he has picked up plenty of perspective. "If you play well
enough, everything else takes care of itself, no matter where you
are," he says.
After leaving the players' lounge at El Saler, Kuehne pounded
balls for three hours, then worked on the putting green until
nearly dark. That night, around midnight, he could be found at a
cafe in Valencia sharing a table full of pizzas with nearly a
dozen players. Kuehne was a long way from Texas, but he couldn't
have been more at home.