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Standing in the Hall of Fame

Featured Photo from Standing in the Hall of Fame

Two local sports icons – including PGA superstar Matt Kuchar – earn their spots in the Seminole County Sports Hall of Fame.

During his 18 years on the PGA Tour, Seminole County native Matt Kuchar has established himself as one of professional golf’s most consistent and likeable players. But it was on the tennis courts at Heathrow Country Club that Matt first displayed his athletic ability.

From the time he was two years old, Matt tagged along to watch his father, Peter, play tennis. Peter was an excellent player who was once part of Florida’s top-ranked 35-and-over mens’ doubles team, and little Matt seemed destined to follow in his   father’s footsteps.

Then, when Matt was around 12 years old, his mother Meg decided the family should upgrade their tennis membership at Heathrow to one that included use of the club’s golf course.

“Meg upgraded our membership because I was in the insurance business, and she wanted me to make more contacts by playing golf,” Peter says with a laugh. “So Matt and I took it up together, and he just had a God-given gift. I was better than him for about a week.”

Matt, now 40, went on to star at Orangewood Christian School (where he played on the varsity team as a seventh and eighth grader), Seminole High School, and Georgia Tech. On the PGA Tour, which he joined in 2000, Matt has won seven titles. He was also the bronze medalist at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and in 2010 he won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average and the Arnold Palmer Award for leading the PGA’s money list. He has more than $40 million in career earnings.

At Georgia Tech, where he received a degree in management in 2000, Matt was an All-America first-team selection in 1998 and 2000. He won the United States Amateur Championship in 1997, after losing to Tiger Woods the previous year. In 1998, Matt received the Haskins Award as the nation’s top college golfer.

This past May, Matt – who now lives in St. Simons Island, Georgia – was inducted into the Seminole County Sports Hall of Fame, along with former Seminole High School football coach Jim Pigott, at the Lake Mary Events Center.

“If I stuck with tennis, I’d probably be retired by now,” Matt says. “I think it would have been a lot of fun to have played tennis [professionally], but I’m sure at age 40 I would not still be competing.”

Matt still plays tennis when he has time, and according to his dad, he is the “number-one ping-pong player on the PGA tour.” Matt’s wife Sybi, whom he met at Georgia Tech and married in 2003, was a collegiate tennis player, and in 2009 the Kuchars won the consolation title at the USTA National Husband/Wife Doubles Championship at the ATP Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The Kuchars have two sons, Cameron (who turns 11 in October) and Carson (9), and they are already taking after their athletic parents.

“His kids are so good,” says proud grandpa Peter, who now lives with Meg in Ponte Vedra Beach. “The oldest son plays golf and the youngest loves tennis, and they both play in tournaments every weekend. It’s really fun to watch."

Peter and Meg also love watching Matt play, and they make about a half-dozen treks every year to PGA events around the country. Their favorite event, The Players Championship, is in their own backyard. Matt won the tournament in 2012 – the biggest victory so far in his career.

“The Players Championship is our favorite because Matt stays at the house with us,” Peter says. “The whole family comes, and we play tennis and golf together. It’s a lot of fun.”

Although Matt, with his busy PGA Tour schedule, was unable to attend the Seminole County Sports Hall of Fame ceremony, he appreciates the honor and is thankful for the environment in which he grew up.

“I feel very fortunate growing up where I did,” Matt says. “It was a special place; lots of great memories there. I think we’re all products of our environment. Being a product of Seminole County and Heathrow Country Club has given me the chance to be where I am today.”

In addition to being proud of Matt’s honor, his parents are equally proud of their son’s reputation as one of the nicest players on the PGA Tour. They also gush about how great a dad Matt is and how he gives back to his fans and his community.
“When Matt started playing golf, what Meg and I hoped would happen is that he would get a college scholarship,” Peter says. “Everything else has been above and beyond what we ever anticipated.”

The Driving Force

Jim Pigott won more football games than any other coach in Seminole County, compiling a 61-18-7 record during his years (1958-1964) at Seminole High School. His winning percentage is the best in Central Florida history. But he is also well remembered for a few other reasons.

“If you mention Coach Pigott’s name, people will either tell you, ‘I never heard a bad word about him,’ or they’ll say, ‘He taught me how to drive,’” says Ron Risner, a 1965 Seminole High graduate who was manager of the football team during Coach Pigott’s tenure in Sanford.

True, Coach Pigott (pronounced PIE-got) was a popular driver’s education teacher at Seminole, but he made his mark as the school’s football coach. His best year was in 1959, when the Seminoles won the Orange Belt Conference championship and he coached the North to a stunning 55-0 upset victory over the South in Florida’s annual All-Star Football Game.

Coach Pigott, who died at age 96 on March 11, 2017, was born in Ellenton, Florida, and was a four-sport letterman at Palmetto High School. He coached at five different Florida high schools and – in addition to football – coached five other sports. In 1971, Coach Pigott won a state championship as coach of the girls’ golf team at Palm Beach Gardens High School.

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