HONOLULU – Matt Kuchar defends a PGA Tour title for a ninth time this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii. That’s nine trophies sitting at home. Add to that a U.S. Amateur title and a silver medallion from his runner-up finish in the 2017 Open Championship, and he owns a nice little cache of hardware.
Then there’s this hunk of rather ordinary metal he carries around with him in his backpack. More precisely, he keeps it in a sock in his backpack. Just your basic athletic sock.
“It was washed before. It’s a clean sock,” he said a bit defensively but still grinning that grin that always seems to adorn his face.
Inside the sock is his Olympic bronze medal from the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The re-animated Olympic golf movement is still in its nascence, but Kuchar counts his bronze medal as one of his more cherished prizes. Given that another Olympics approaches this summer, in Tokyo, the idea of going after a more precious metal (or medal) appeals to the 41-year-old Georgian.
At 24th in the world rankings, he’d be a long shot to make the team, having to pass at least a half-dozen fellow Americans to qualify. A country can have as many as four players competing in the Olympics if they are ranked among the top 15 in the world. He was a long shot four years ago in Rio before a series of players passed on the opportunity to represent the USA.
That probably won’t happen this time – the Zika virus had players concerned for their health in Rio – but Kuchar still is making it a goal. “I would be disappointed if I didn't make it, but I understand how challenging it is at the same time,” he said.
“Still hugely proud of it. I'm still amazed at the scale, the scope of just what the Olympics means to people, how big the Olympics is,” he added. “I'm hugely proud to have been part of an Olympics, hugely proud to be a medalist at an Olympics.”
Whether he returns or not, he’ll always have Rio.
Kuchar earned his bronze medal in memorable fashion. Well, memorable for him. He fired a 9-under 63, tying the course record, in the final round. At the time he said, “I wish I could bottle this and do it all the time.”
Not all 63s are alike, of course. He shot a pair of them last year here at Waialae Country Club in the opening two rounds to set up a four-stroke victory over Andrew Putnam.
The 63 in Rio had an all-or-nothing urgency to it.
“Yeah, that was an incredible run. It felt Olympian,” said Kuchar, who scored the winning point for USA in the recently completed Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia. “Looking back, it ranks high just to be able to finish so strong. As golfers, guys in the game, we realize the last round counts the same as the first round; the last shot counts the same as the first shot, right? They're all the same.
“However, you feel like you've done something extra special when you closed strong. You kind of made your bed up to that third round, and you have to play well or there is no medal, no podium. … It's either you medal or you don't. Medalling is winning in essence, and that was certainly one of my great final rounds.”
Kuchar occasionally gets stopped in the airport to have his bag checked by security curious what the big chunk of metal is. It garners quite a reaction when he slides it out of that sock.
“It's just been fun to show off. You know, it's easy to travel with,” he said. “I probably haven't brought it out other than in airport screenings. Even though I've put the sock out open in a bin, the screener always grabs a hold of it, pulls it out, and eyes kind of bug out. It's a similar reaction over and over again. Is this real? What's it for? They start showing it off to their friends. ‘Hey, I got to catch a flight now.’”
It’s real, and to Kuchar, it’s spectacular.