Nearly four years removed from storming home to win a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, Matt Kuchar still carries the spoils around everywhere he goes. In a sock.
Kuchar, who is defending his Sony Open title in Hawaii (before heading to the SMBC Singapore Open), told pgatour.com that the bronze medal he won on the back of a final round 63 in Rio is with him, in his backpack, wherever he travels. To stop scratches he keeps it in an old sock.
But it comes out of its cocoon often, particularly through the many airport security screenings the nine-time PGA TOUR winner frequents.
“It hadn’t found a home anywhere other than my backpack. It’s easy to travel with … and just been fun to show off,” Kuchar said.
“In airport screenings I always take it out. They see this big metal blob and always take it out so I always bring it out and it’s in a sock and even though I’ve put the sock out open in a bin, the screener always grabs a hold of it, pulls it out, and (their) eyes kind of bug out.
“It’s a similar reaction over and over again. Just kind of bug out. Is this real? What’s it for? They start showing it off to their friends. (And I’m like) Hey, I got to catch a flight now,” he laughed.
With 2020 being an Olympic year Kuchar would love to return and represent the USA once more. But each nation gets just two slots for the golf competition, with the exception of players inside the top 15 in the world. A country can have up to four if all of those players are inside the top 15. The U.S. is the only nation who currently has four players inside the top 15.
Kuchar is currently 24th in the world with 12 other Americans ahead of him on the list. The qualification period for Japan ends on June 22. If things ended now the U.S. representatives would be Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay.
Next up ahead of Kuchar would be Tiger Woods, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau and Rickie Fowler. But the difficulty won’t stop Kuchar chasing a place in the team.
“I’m hugely proud to have been part of an Olympics, to be able to call myself an Olympian,” Kuchar said.
“And I’m hugely proud to be a medalist at an Olympics. It’s definitely a goal of mine to be part of the Olympics in 2020 in Japan. I’m still amazed at the scale, the scope of just what the Olympics means to people, how big the Olympics is.
“It’s a tough one to be a part of Team USA. You think of the chance of qualifying. It’s a hard team to be a part of. (But) It’s a big goal of mine. I would be disappointed if I didn’t make it, but I understand how challenging it is at the same time.”
In 2016, Kuchar started the final round four shots out of third place in Rio. While he was unable to reel in eventual gold medalist Justin Rose or silver medal winner Henrik Stenson, Kuchar still felt like a winner given his achievement.
“That was an incredible run. It felt Olympian. Looking back it ranks hugely high just to be able to finish so strong,” he added.
“To be able to go ahead and know exactly the situation and come through and have a great round was amazing. To think there is that big cut off between third and fourth. It’s either you medal or you don’t. Medaling is winning in essence, and that was certainly one of my great final rounds.”
Kuchar also spoke glowingly of the experience away from competition. While he didn’t stay in the athletes village due to the fact he brought his wife with him, they did get to other events as spectators. And did he connect with any other athletes?
“I did become friends with Jack Sock actually. He’s the tennis player. We saw their bronze medal match. He played with Steve Johnson, and Daniel Berger’s dad was the coach,” Kuchar said.
“We sat in the players box with Jay Berger and they won bronze. They came over just in huge celebratory fashion and Jack and I traded shirts. I got an Olympic tennis shirt for one of my Olympic golf shirts.”
Jack. Sock. Naturally.