News & Opinion

Kuchar misses gimme on doing right thing

Contrary to popular belief, that grin on Matt Kuchar’s face is not permanent, nor was it computer generated or digitally enhanced. If you’re among those who become suspicious of people who always appear to be happy, please take a number and read the fine print.

Nineteen years, nine victories, $46.6 million.

You’d be smiling, too.

Matt Kuchar
Matt Kuchar tries to stand on principle regarding his payment to a Mexican caddie, but now he must grin and bear the criticism.

It was the eighth of those victories that has Kuchar in a spot of bother. His one-stroke triumph three months ago at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico occurred with a local caddie on his bag, a guy named David Giral Ortiz, who was filling in for veteran PGA Tour looper John Wood. Kuchar agreed to pay Ortiz $3,000 for his services that week, plus an unspecified bonus for a victory.

The fact that Kuchar hadn’t won a Tour event in 4½ years probably had a lot to do with that lack of clarity. This hardly justifies his decision to give Ortiz a total of $5,000 – about $125,000 short of the 10 percent cut that Tour caddies usually receive after a victory. When a man makes $1,296,000 for four days of work with the help of someone whom he didn’t meet until Tuesday afternoon, he would do well to err on the side of generosity.

Instead, we’re left with the case of Kooch and his Pooch.

“I am not looking to disparage Matt or give him a bad name,” Ortiz reportedly wrote in an email to Mark Steinberg, Kuchar’s agent. “Fair is fair, and I feel like I was taken advantage of by placing my trust in Matt.”

That passage was first reported by longtime golf writer Michael Bamberger on Golf.com earlier this week, but the story has been floating around in cyberspace for a couple of months. It gained little traction because nothing could be substantiated, and because Kuchar had little to say about the matter when asked about it a month ago in Hawaii.

“It wasn’t 10 percent; it wasn’t $3,000,” were his precise words.

The golfer also donned his journalism cap in telling reporters, “That’s not a story,” but the New York Times and Washington Post clearly don’t agree, and now Kuchar’s reputation is getting slapped around quite heartily on social media. Steinberg, an expert at playing the heavy after 20 years of managing Tiger Woods, hasn’t exactly stilled the waters of tumult.

“What Matt offered is fair,” he reportedly replied to Ortiz.

At some point, Kuchar offered another $15,000, a conscience-clearing move that had damage control written all over the check. Ortiz turned it down, however, and so we’re left with a complicated situation that produces solid arguments on both sides and proves that written agreements – however tedious, uncomfortable or seemingly unnecessary – are the ultimate resolution when it comes to matters involving money.

Why would Ortiz turn down 15 grand? Price and pride are two very similar words separated by just one letter in the alphabet, but they’re often miles apart when it comes to rationale. The Mexican caddie is trying to play hardball with people who throw 98 miles per hour. Given the ambiguity of the original conversation regarding compensation, Ortiz should have taken the $15,000 and bought himself a case of champagne.

Kuchar, however, is the obvious villain here. He nickel-and-dimed a working man who was wildly successful when presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. He failed to recognize the potential ramifications of lowballing a guy as it relates to what should have been one of the fondest memories of his career.

His first victory in forever? Why get so cheap at that point, regardless of what was first agreed upon?

If John Wood gets $129,600 after Kuchar wins at Mayakoba, Ortiz deserves half that. For a Tour pro closing in on $50 million in career earnings, that’s a trip to the department store. It’s not worth the aggravation when you’re filthy rich. And when you’re a public figure who can wipe his mouth with $100 bills at the dinner table, you get people posting tweets about how lousy you treated them 13 years ago.

Matt Kuchar basically had a spotless image before this incident. Wealth isn’t a drug, but it can impair vision and lead to stomach pains among those who thought you were a cool dude.

“It’s too bad it has turned into a story,” Kuchar told Golf Channel earlier this week. “I’ve done enough tournaments and had enough weekly caddies, and I’m very clear about what the payment will be. We had an arrangement that David was OK with, and I thought Sunday he was very much OK with it.”

It’s interesting that Kuchar seems more concerned with this becoming a story than the act which made it one. He mentioned it three times to Golf Channel, and one might infer that his preoccupation over word getting out is more important than the concept of wrong or right.

That’s really what this is about. Forget what you usually pay temporary caddies. How many were on the bag when you won a tournament? Never mind that Ortiz has been pesky in his pursuit of more money. You don’t think people in his homeland told him that he got ripped off? At the end of the day, it’s all about doing the right thing.

Matt Kuchar didn’t, and he still doesn’t realize it.

“You can’t make everybody happy,” he said. “There was a complete, agreed-upon deal that I not only met, but exceeded, so I certainly don’t lose any sleep over this.”

Of course he’s not. The guy is sleeping on a $500 pillow.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com