Just two weeks ago, Matt Kuchar grasped Euclidean geometry better than he did the Olympic golf format.
Asked about Rio in advance of the Travelers Championship earlier this month, Kuchar got a little lost in the fog for a moment, believing that there was some sort of combined team aspect to the Olympic scoring.
Well, no, it turns out if you get into the field only after higher performing countrymen stay behind curled up in their lead-lined safe rooms, begin Sunday trailing the leader and eventual champion by seven strokes and shoot 63 on the final round, they give you a bronze medal.
And you don’t have to share it with anyone, except maybe the whole rest of the US of A.
Bronze was the perfect prize for Kuchar, an almost precious metal in keeping with an almost precious career (seven PGA Tour titles – including a Players Championship – but nary a major victory). Gold and silver were reserved for those with a working knowledge on winning the big one (Great Britain’s Justin Rose and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson).
The former Georgia Tech star seemed almost as pleased with finishing third Sunday as he did with any of his firsts. Nobody does the golly-this-is-just-about-the-best-thing-since-chocolate-milk smile better than Kuchar, and that was at full wattage Sunday.
The alarmists – and I admit I may have sounded an air horn here and there – were proven wrong. Nobody was carried off by mosquitos, or wandered into the woods in a feverish delirium or were kidnapped by bandits (well, we still do have to get through the women’s competition). It was just a lovely day of golf on a compliant course Sunday, 100 percent debacle-free.
The golf elitists who insist that an Olympic gold never will approach a major title in importance – another side I found myself on – really missed the point. The Olympics are special in their own way, playing different heartstrings than those plucked by the Big Four events. Those who put themselves out there every four years, who embrace the spirit and decline to whine about how this really jumbles their schedule just might be in line for a unique week of golf.
On the broadcast, Johnny Miller seemed to make it his mission to make those who skipped Rio – and the list was weighty – feel like they had missed a life-altering experience. The heavy-handed sermonizing aside, he did have a point.
But, then, if everyone had lined up for golf’s return to the Olympics after a little 112-year hiatus, Kuchar wouldn’t have made the cut. “I secretly had my fingers crossed, hoping guys would pull out,” Kuchar told the press in Brazil last week. Both Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson had to bail for Kuchar to even make the Olympic team. And he’ll appreciate the bronze more than those fellows ever would – it is in his nature to be quite comfortable in the base camp of his sport.
“It's really hard to describe the feeling, the pride that I have, whether it's in myself, whether it's in my country,” Kuchar told the Olympic media afterward. “To come out to play an amazing round of golf and to know that it would take an amazing round of golf to medal, I couldn't be happier.”
Whether or not they ever will admit it, Spieth and Johnson in retrospect have to be suffering some misgivings for letting unformed fears control them. If they played that timidly, they'd still be trying to earn their PGA Tour card.
The Nos. 2 and 3 golfers at the Masters this year, tied for second, split up $1.76 million between them. The No. 3 player at Rio got a bronze medal, a really cool shirt and a golf bag on which the only logo advertised his sponsorship by 324 million citizens.
Kuchar and former Georgia golfer Bubba Watson became the great ambassadors for golf’s return to the Olympics. Watson’s Twitter account was like an Olympic travelogue. Watson’s regular caddie wouldn’t make the trip, but the player threw himself into the mix. He posted updates from such diverse events as badminton, table tennis, field hockey, synchronized diving and basketball. Watson may have witnessed more of the Olympics so far than Bob Costas.
“I’m a kid in a candy store,” Watson at one point said.
They’ll all come out of hiding in four years for Tokyo, don’t you think?