Golf

Making the Rounds: Caddie John Wood gets an Olympic medal of his own

Matt Kuchar, right, and his caddie John Wood, follow the flight of a shot during Olympic golf competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Matt Kuchar, right, and his caddie John Wood, follow the flight of a shot during Olympic golf competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Courtesy

Twenty minutes after Matt Kuchar scaled the podium Sunday in Rio de Janeiro in front of thousands of cheering fans and had an Olympic bronze medal draped around his neck after one of his best rounds of golf, John Wood was tending to caddie business when he was summoned to the 18th green.

Christine Bolger of the United States Olympic Committee, Kuchar and his wife, Sybi, presented Wood, Kuchar’s caddie, with an Order of Ikkos medal. The Order of Ikkos is an American symbol of excellence in coaching as represented by an athlete’s achievement as a medalist.

“I cried,” Wood said. “Again.”

No one was left in the grandstand to see the tears, not that Wood cared. He’s upfront about his passion for team events and representing the United States.

“When they recognized my contribution, it overwhelmed me,” he said.

After years of competing at Ryder and Presidents cups alongside Mark Calcavecchia, Chris Riley and Hunter Mahan, and now at the Olympics for Kuchar, Wood has essentially become America’s caddie.

“I love these things,” Wood, 47, said after returning to Sacramento. “I feel so passionate about them. I’ve been very lucky to work for guys who make these teams.

“I don’t know if my passion for (team events) helps them. Maybe it helps. I don’t know. I’ve never really asked one of them. I know I don’t make any secret about how much these things mean to me. Maybe it’s contagious. Hopefully, it is.”

Kuchar, who started the final round tied for seventh and four shots out of a medal position, closed with an 8-under-par 63. He said he had never been so happy to finish third. He also beautifully articulated the difference between winning a PGA Tour event (sense of accomplishment) and an Olympic medal (sense of pride).

If a few more makeable birdie putts had dropped, Kuchar could have been wearing Justin Rose’s gold or Henrik Stenson’s silver. But would that have been any better?

“Tough to say,” Wood said. “From where we came from on Sunday, any medal was phenomenal.”

One thing is certain. Wood plans to tell his fellow caddies that if their man gets the Olympic call, make sure he accepts. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson declined spots on the U.S. team, giving Kuchar, sixth in the U.S. standings, a shot.

Kuchar and Wood stayed in condominiums near the course. They visited the Olympic Village. Wood said he had no safety concerns, had no problem with the water and, amid all the talk of the Zika virus, saw one mosquito in a week. He also said the criticism ahead of the Olympics that golf’s return after a 112-year hiatus would feel like just another PGA Tour event was wrong.

“Other than the format, it was nothing like the PGA Tour,” Wood said. “I sensed right away it was bigger. In the grand scheme of the world, this felt like something completely different.

“On the PGA Tour, wherever you finish, you’re right back at it two days later. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most guys.

“It was one of the best experiences of my career. So, so, so humbling.”

U.S. AmateurBryan Baumgarten (Granite Bay) qualified for match play starting Wednesday at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Corey Pereria (Cameron Park) and Kyle Davies (Sacramento) did not advance.

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak

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