Matt Kuchar may have been the beneficiary of two of the many withdrawals from golf’s return to the Olympics, but the American believes all those who opted out of competing in Rio will regret it.
With a maximum of four players allowed per country, Kuchar was set to miss out until US Open champion Dustin Johnson pulled out due to concerns over the zika virus and Jordan Spieth withdrew citing “health concerns”.
Spieth had previously mentioned ‘’other bacteria stuff’’ and ‘’security threats’’ in Brazil as factors, but Kuchar and team-mate Rickie Fowler have been at pains to make it clear to their absent compatriots that they are enjoying a safe and enjoyable Olympic experience.
“I think the event is going to go off great,” world number 20 Kuchar said. “(There are) certainly going to be guys regretting it, thanks a lot to Rickie’s help.
“I had fingers crossed secretly hoping players would pull out. I always had a hope I could make it and to be here now is quite amazing. I knew there were concerns - I figured, though, that a lot of things get blown out of proportion.
“Storylines and headlines tend to be attention-grabbers and I’d heard word from Gil Hanse (designer of the Olympic golf course) that he’d spent months and months here, never (had) an issue.
“The people that had actually spent time here said it’s a great city and you’ll love coming down here. We had a day Monday where my wife and I played tourist and we had a fantastic experience.”
Fowler is good friends with Spieth and has not been shy in using his Twitter account to let the two-time major winner - who is one of his 1.25million followers - know all about his experiences in Rio.
The world number eight posted a host of pictures of himself posing with other athletes during the opening ceremony, including Irish boxer Paddy Barnes and 19-time gold medallist swimmer Michael Phelps.
“As for making guys jealous back home, I feel like I am doing a pretty good job of it,” Fowler said. “There may be some personal messages that have been sent back and forth that I was definitely showing them that we are having a good time down here.
“I’ve been here the longest so had the most interaction being at the opening ceremony and people asking about the guys not being here. Probably asked the most about Jordan and Rory (McIlroy) and I told them I tried to get Jordan down here as much as possible and told them we all respect the decisions that were made, whether it was anything around schedule, health concerns or worried about security and that’s possibly one thing that I’ve relayed back since we’ve been down here.
“I haven’t had a problem and I definitely feel safe here, whether I’m in the village venues, getting transported back and forth.... I’ve seen a couple of mosquitoes but nothing crazy.”
Asked what reaction his messages had elicited, the 27-year-old added: “I wouldn’t say disappointment. They were probably wishing they would have been able to come or made that decision to come.
“I wouldn’t say they are upset but I have had a very warm welcome from fellow US athletes and other athletes around the village, almost thanking me for being here. It’s a really cool feeling to see them kind of reaching out. In a way they appreciate that we wanted to make the trip down, wanted to represent our country. It gives you a little bit more appreciation for what the Olympics is.”
Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed will also represent the United States in Rio, with Fowler pointing out that means they are the only nation capable of a clean sweep of the medals.
“To be able to call yourself an Olympian, it’s hard to explain,” Reed said. “I can’t wait for my little daughter to get old enough so I can tell her ‘your dad’s been an Olympian’.
“It’s so cool and hopefully golf stays in the Olympics for a very long time because all the guys need to experience this because it’s awesome.”
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