An update on what is arguably the most famous caddie-pay dispute in PGA Tour history: David “El Tucan” Ortiz has now been paid twice for his one-week stint as Matt Kuchar’s winning caddie in a 2018 Tour event. The first payment was for $5,000. Months later came a second one – for $45,000.
Ortiz, if you have not followed this protracted payment saga, is the diminutive Mexican who caddied for Kuchar when the lanky Sea Island resident won the Mayakoba Golf Classic and its nearly $1.3 million first-place money in November.
Not only has he been paid, Ortiz and Kuchar met in a clubhouse dining room in late February, when the Tour went to Mexico City for a World Golf Championship event. Over a 40-minute glass of morning orange juice on Feb. 23, the Saturday of the tournament, each apologized to the other, Ortiz said in a recent phone interview and through an interpreter.
“Matt said, ‘Hey, David, how are you?’” Ortiz said. “I apologized for the [difficulty] the situation created. I told him it was never my intention to embarrass him, but I felt eventually I had to tell the truth. Matt also offered an apology. He said it was all a misunderstanding. He asked me how my family was. He showed me a picture of his family and a video of a hole-in-one made by one of his sons.”
Ortiz said there were four people at the breakfast table, including a sports psychologist “who is very close to Matt.” The fourth person was Roberto Molina, the manager of corporate partnerships for the Mayakoba tournament. Molina served as an interpreter, when needed. Ortiz said that all through the meeting he was excited to be in close proximity to other star golfers, including Rory McIlroy.
Kuchar did not respond to an interview request. He has long had a reputation for being accommodating to fans and reporters, and at tournaments since the Riviera stop there was no apparent change in those relationships. At the Players Championship, which he won in 2012, Kuchar talked about the crowd support he had received there.
Ortiz was originally paid $5,000 for his work at the Mayakoba event last year. In an interview three months after the tournament, Ortiz said he felt taken advantage of by Kuchar and ignored by his agent. Several days later Kuchar wired an additional $45,000 to the caddie. That brought Ortiz’s total pay to $50,000, the amount Ortiz had said he felt was fair for his work as a fill-in caddie.
By custom, full-time PGA Tour caddies often receive 10 percent of a winning paycheck. Ortiz’s final sum represents less than a 4 percent payment.
Ortiz, in the recent phone interview, was asked what it was like for him, to see the payment in his bank account, which converted to approximately 855,000 Mexican pesos. “He is speechless,” the interview’s translator said.
As a club caddie at a resort that attracts many American guests, Ortiz is accustomed to making $100 to $200 a day.
Kuchar’s regular caddie, John Wood, could not make it to the November tournament, which Kuchar decided to play on short notice. Ortiz did not read greens for Kuchar or advise him on club selection. Still, as an unlikely player-caddie team, the twosome added a joyous spirit to the tournament and gave Kuchar’s victory, his first in more than four years, a warm afterglow. Kuchar, a preppy and smiley 40-year-old prone to sunburns, is about a foot taller than Ortiz, who is dark and muscular, with a confident on-course demeanor. Praising Ortiz, also 40 at the time of the win, the former Georgia Tech star said, “He was definitely my lucky charm.” While caddying, Ortiz wore a Bridgestone cap, one of Kuchar’s main sponsors.
Based on a limited sample data, it would seem that once Kuchar makes a decision to pay, he pays fast. Shortly after winning the event on Nov. 11, Kuchar handed an envelope to Ortiz with exactly $5,000 in cash in it. The envelope contained $100s, $50s, $20s and $5s in U.S. currency. In a February interview, Ortiz said Kuchar handed him the envelope and said, “Here you go. Thank you. Bye.” Ortiz counted the money after Kuchar left and concluded it must be a down payment toward his bonus for being a winning caddie. In an interview shortly after the win, Ortiz said he had not yet received his bonus payment.
In late January, Ortiz sent three emails to Kuchar’s agent, Mark Steinberg, seeking further payment. Steinberg wrote to Ortiz, “What Matt has offered is fair.” That was an offer for an additional $15,000, which would have increased the caddie’s pay to $20,000.
In his first public comments on the dispute, published last month, Ortiz said he was not interested in that sum. “They can keep their money,” he said.
That story appeared on Feb. 12, the Tuesday of the Genesis Open, held at Riviera in Los Angeles. The following day, after his Wednesday pro-am round, in separate interviews with GOLF.com and Golf Channel, Kuchar defended his pay, saying he had paid Ortiz more than the amount they had agreed upon. Those comments received a quick electronic, social-media backlash, as many ordinary golf fans regarded Kuchar’s payment as offensively cheap. Two days later, on the Friday of the tournament at Riviera, Kuchar delivered a lengthy statement of apology that included a pledge to make amends with Ortiz. On that same day, the additional $45,000 appeared in Ortiz’s account, Ortiz said.
The Mexico City tournament followed the Riviera tournament. Ortiz said he spent $200 to fly to Mexico City to meet Kuchar on Saturday, and that Kuchar had left a pass for him to get into the tournament. Ortiz said he told Kuchar that, when he returns to Mayakoba to defend his title in November, “I will be there if you need me.” But Kuchar has said in an interview he plans to have Wood caddie for him at the tournament this year.
Ortiz said he has taken most of the money and put it in a special account that will make it available to his two children for education expenses and other uses.
Ortiz said the most meaningful moment of that day in Mexico City came after the clubhouse meeting, when Kuchar and Wood were on a practice putting green and Ortiz was watching from a distance.
“[Wood] saw me and took off his hat and glasses and put them on his chest, as a sign of respect, and as a way of saying, ‘Thank you for what you did for Matt, for helping him to win,’” Ortiz said. “Then I did the same.”
Ortiz was asked for whom he would be rooting, if Kuchar and Abraham Ancer, a Mexican golfer and a rising star, were both contending in a major tournament.
“It’s obvious,” Ortiz said, playfully and without hesitation. “Ancer, of course!”
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]