PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Matt Kuchar finally did what pitchfork-toting mobs of golf fans had been clamoring for: On Friday he pledged that he would pay his substitute caddie, David Giral Ortiz, a more generous bonus for their November win at the Mayakoba Classic.
After posting a four-birdie 68 in the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, Kuchar issued a statement that said his comments from earlier in the week — Kuchar told GOLF.com that his $5,000 payment to Ortiz was adequate for “a guy who makes $200 a week” — were “out of touch” and “insensitive.” He apologized to his fans and said he plans to resolve the issue with Ortiz immediately.
There is no expiration date on doing the right thing, but the optics and timing of Kuchar’s about-face have already led some observers to question its genuineness. Unfairly or not, Kuchar will struggle to fully repair the damage to his once choirboy-like image. The nine-time Tour winner with more than $45 million in career earnings will forever be labeled the penny-pinching pro.
The galleries at Riviera were not kind to Kuchar on Friday. On the 6th hole in Kuchar’s first round a spectator cracked, “Go low, Kuch, go low! Just not on the gratuity!” Adam Hayes, the caddie for Jon Rahm, couldn’t suppress a chuckle. When Kuchar missed putts, fans cheered. Some spectators chanted, “cheapppppp.” One barked, “Pay your man!” Another cried, “Go Kuch! I always root for the villain.”
How did we arrive here? A quick refresher. What started as a feel-good story — lovable “Kooch,” winless for more than four years, triumphs with a local fill-in caddie nicknamed El Tucan — began to turn ugly in January when PGA Tour Champions pro Tom Gillis leaked word of Kuchar’s perceived wrongdoing on Twitter. During the week of the Sony Open in Hawaii, Gillis alleged that Kuchar had paid Ortiz only $3,000 of his nearly $1.3 million Mayakoba winner’s check. If Kuchar was distracted by the social-media uproar, it didn’t show. He went on to win the Sony with his regular caddie, John Wood. When asked about his payment to Ortiz, Kuchar said, “this is not a story.”
Turned out it was. In a piece that ran on GOLF.com earlier this week, Ortiz explained that he felt he deserved $50,000 for his week on Kuchar’s bag and that he had taken that request to Kuchar’s management company. The agency offered Ortiz another $15,000, but Ortiz declined it. Fifty or nothing. The court of public opinion came rushing to Ortiz’s defense. A couple of days later Kuchar dug himself an even deeper hole when he told GOLF.com and Golf Channel that he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
Kuchar’s agent, Mark Steinberg, whose clients include Tiger Woods and Justin Rose, showed with Tiger’s sex scandal nearly a decade ago that crisis management is not his forte, and L’Affair Kuch was another public-relations fiasco. The story, in particular Kuchar’s tone deafness, became a hot topic on sports-talk shows and even made it to Fox News’s headline ticker.
There was only one way to fix the problem, or to begin to fix it: Kuchar needed to cut a check. On Friday he promised to pay El Tucan $50,000 and also to make a contribution to the Mayakoba Classic. “Happy that it all worked out for El Tucan,” Gillis wrote on Twitter. “His life will change for the better and he received what he deserved.”
As for Kuchar, what more might he need to do to repair his tarnished image? A donation to the Tour’s Caddie Healthcare Fund, perhaps? Play host to a caddie cookout in Mayakoba this fall? Invite El Tucan to caddie for him at the Masters Par-3 Tournament?
Kuchar didn’t stop to speak to reporters when play was suspended due to darkness in the second round at Riviera. As he was whisked away in a courtesy car, he had his phone to his ear. If it wasn’t El Tucan on the other end of the line, that call was coming. Kuchar said in his statement that on Friday evening he was intending to call his one-time caddie to apologize.
“I let myself, my family, my partners and those close to me down,” Kuchar’s mea culpa reads, “but I also let David down.”