There is a sock inside the backpack Matt Kuchar carries with him everywhere he goes.
Just a normal sock, nothing special about it.
Except what’s inside.
That’s where Kuchar keeps the bronze medal he won in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
It’s not on display in a trophy case back home in Sea Island, Ga. It’s not hanging on a wall with an accent light aimed its way. It’s just in a sock in a backpack.
“It’s easy to travel with. Fun to show off,” Kuchar said recently, flashing his familiar grin.
“I probably haven’t brought it out other than in airport screenings I always take it out. They see this big medal blob and always take it out. 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 eyes kind of bug out.”
The whole idea of keeping his Olympic medal in his backpack is, well, so Kuchar.
For a guy who has won more than $50 million in his PGA Tour career, Kuchar has an easy way about him. He lives the good life for sure – he and his family left December’s Presidents Cup in Australia and spent a month in Hawaii, combining vacation time with starts in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Sony Open in Hawaii. The payoff came when Kuchar left Hawaii, flew west and won the Singapore Open two Sundays ago.
This is his 18th full season on the PGA Tour, he has won nine times, was the tour’s leading money winner in 2010 and has been a fixture on national teams for more than a decade (aside from the 2018 Ryder Cup, where he was a vice captain). Too streaky early in his career, Kuchar began working with swing coach Chris O’Connell in 2006 and his one-plane swing has become as reliable as a metronome.
In a two-decade career playing against Hall of Famers including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Davis Love III and other standouts, Kuchar has cut his own path and, in the process, become “Koooooooch” to fans encircling almost every green at tournaments.
Kuchar is old enough, accomplished enough and wealthy enough to leave the working part of professional golf to others but he hasn’t. The day is coming when he trims his schedule to accommodate his family life but not yet.
“He loves golf. It’s a big part of it,” said his caddie, John Wood. “At this point in a career, a lot of guys get burned out, even younger guys get burned out. The fact he still likes to go out every day and play and practice and work on getting better, that’s a big part of it honestly.”
It’s the underappreciated but essential element to succeeding at the professional level – joy.
“I couldn’t tell you my world ranking. I couldn’t tell you my FedEx Cup (points). I’ve never thought to concern myself with it.” – Matt Kuchar
At 41, Kuchar still has it. That’s a big reason he continues to play.
“I don’t ever look at anything. I couldn’t tell you my world ranking (No. 21). I couldn’t tell you my FedEx Cup (points). I’ve never thought to concern myself with it. I don’t know how that helps you perform any better.
“You basically know the deal. You go out and play and you play well and you get a reward. I’ve never played the game figuring out the points. It’s not part of my deal. If it’s a tournament I want to play, I go play it. The goal is to show up and play good golf and let that stuff take care of itself.”
Along the way, Kuchar has become Mickelson’s foil in American team rooms at Ryder Cups and Presidents Cup. Kuchar lopes around golf courses with his long legs, smiling more than frowning. He talks slowly but when he speaks, particularly around his buddies, Kuchar knows how to punch just the right buttons.
“He’ll just always say something like … out of nowhere that you’re like, it’s only Kooch,” Justin Thomas said.
Asked for a specific story, Thomas laughs and says, essentially, that what happens in team rooms stays in team rooms.
For all of his ping-pong prowess, Kuchar may take more pride in going jab to jab with Mickelson, who loves to show off his sense of humor. It began at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Kuchar and his ping-pong paddle put Mickelson in his place.
“He was the man. He was just handing out dishes on everybody that came his way,” Kuchar said. “And then once I got on the ping-pong table I felt comfy enough, like that was more my arena than his arena, and was able to shut him up pretty quickly.”
Who’s the best needler between the two of them?
“I have to think he probably has more volume than me, right? Just sheer like quantity and quality I think, and he’s one that throws out the quantity. Sometimes the quality is not quite there,” Kuchar said.
There was nothing funny about the caddie imbroglio Kuchar found himself last year. After word surfaced that he had vastly underpaid a local caddie after winning the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, Kuchar was initially reluctant to make amends. As public and private pressure mounted, Kuchar sent the caddie a proper payment but the damage was done.
For the first time, Kuchar found himself at the center of a storm and he looked like the bad guy, a millionaire 50 times over, shorting his caddie after winning another million. Though Kuchar eventually did the right thing, getting there left a stain that lingered.
“Whenever I hear anything, somebody brings something up, I use it as a reminder to be better. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice,” Kuchar said.
“I’ve not felt like the older guy. … Now guys are asking me and going, holy cow, you’ve been out here 20 years now.” – Matt Kuchar
Kuchar said he has talked to his two young sons about life lessons along his path. They’re into sports already and eventually their schedules will dictate their father’s. After he lost the Open Championship to Jordan Spieth at Royal Birkdale in 2017 after leading by one stroke with five holes to play, Kuchar – who made two birdies coming in and still lost by two – told his family disappointment could beat him up or make him better.
The loss at Birkdale still stings but Kuchar marched on. It was his best chance to win a major championship (he has 12 top-10 finishes in majors) but he expects more chances ahead.
“I’m fully aware of where my career is and what it’s lacking,” Kuchar said.
Still, Kuchar has a bronze medal, scored the clinching point at the Presidents Cup in December and a career he wouldn’t trade for many others. He played 22 tournaments last year and will play about the same number this year.
He admires the way Steve Stricker scaled back his schedule a few years ago while remaining competitive with half the number of starts he previously made. Kuchar hopes to follow that model when the time comes.
“I’ve not felt like the older guy,” Kuchar said. “I can remember playing with some older guys and asking how many years now and going, oh my gosh, 18 years now, oh my gosh, 22 years now. Now guys are asking me and going, holy cow, you’ve been out here 20 years now.
“It’s a good run but I don’t necessarily feel like that guy. I love playing the game, love being out here. It’s a unique lifestyle. We live out of suitcases but every week we have the chance to do something great. That opportunity, not many people have that.”
Kuchar carries proof in a sock in his backpack.
Matt Kuchar displays the bronze medal he won in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Harry How, Getty Images
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