News & Opinion

Kuchar returns to Mayakoba defending more than his title

The reputation of one of the PGA Tour’s ‘nicest guys’ has been pilloried in the past year, and it all began with a victory in Mexico

On the one hand, you can believe that Matt Kuchar is a kind, generous person, simply a victim of when bad things happen to good people.

On the other hand, you can believe that Kuchar is a selfish, self-centered PGA Tour pro who guards every nickel as if it were his last and looks for every edge over his competitors – savory, ethical or not.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere precariously in the middle.

By all accounts, Kuchar has had 12 months he’d like to forget since this time last year. He returned to Mexico for today’s first round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic (tee times), the site of the first of his two Tour victories in the 2018-19 season and the ignominious beginning of the shredding of his reputation.

It started with Kuchar stiffing his local caddie at Mayakoba, continued with an ugly failure to concede a putt at the WGC Dell Match Play, put him in the middle of TV coverage with an extended argument with two Tour officials over a drop that he didn’t deserve and ended with European TV commentators blistering him for what they thought was removing too many “loose impediments” under his ball in a waste area.

All of which served to cast Kuchar in a much darker light in the eyes of many associated with the game.

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open 2019
Matt Kuchar (right) will have regular caddie John Wood on the bag this week in Mexico.

Golf Digest recently published its unscientific poll of the 30 nicest guys on Tour, voted on by players, caddies, media, locker-room attendants, tournament officials and others. Kuchar was No. 25, which still seems high, given the events of the past year.

But you have to wonder whether people had been asked more than a year ago, would Kuchar have been in the top five or even the top two?

If he wasn’t completely knocked off the pedestal at Mayakoba, he was only hanging on at the end by a couple of toes. He hired local caddie David Giral “El Tucan” Ortiz when his regular caddie, John Wood, took the week off.

The agreement was $1,000 for the practice round, $1,000 for the pro-am and $3,000 for the tournament proper, regardless of making the cut. When Kuchar won, Ortiz rightly expected something, you know, for the effort. Kuchar gave Ortiz an envelope that contained $5,000.

Tour caddies get 10 percent of a player’s winnings for a victory, so if Wood had been on the bag that week, he’d have made $129,600. Fellow Tour player Tom Gillis took to social media to excoriate Kuchar, and it went viral. Kuchar casually brushed it off.

“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week,” he said. “I certainly don’t lose any sleep over this.”

But after a great deal of pressure – especially from the Mayakoba resort, where Ortiz is a caddie at El Camaleon, the site of the Tour event – Kuchar paid Ortiz an extra $45,000. It was a far cry from the 10 percent that many thought Ortiz deserved, but it calmed the furor.

What it didn’t do was save Kuchar’s reputation. That was damage enough, but the best advice you can get when you’re in a hole is to stop digging. Kuchar ignored that when he failed to give Sergio Garcia a 6-inch putt in the quarterfinals of the WGC Dell Match Play.

To be fair, Garcia missed a putt and knocked the 6-incher away before Kuchar had a chance to concede it. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut, go to the next tee and everything would have been fine. But Kuchar called in a rules official and told him that he didn’t give Garcia the putt.

Kuchar was hammered by fellow players. “Did Kuchar seriously not give a 6 inch putt to Sergio just now?” James Hahn asked on Twitter. “And called a rules official to confirm he did not give him the putt. Seriously? And the announcers are siding with Kuchar? Shame on you guys. Sergio deserves better than that.”

At the Memorial in May, Kuchar spent 10 minutes trying to argue with two rules officials that his ball that came to rest in an old pitch mark actually was – almost impossibly – a new pitch mark created by the bounce of his ball.

And in September at the Porsche European Open in Germany, Sky Sports commentators ripped Kuchar for moving so many loose impediments in a waste area that his ball was practically teed up.

A whole lot of people were busy kicking Kuchar’s keister, but the one person from whom he didn’t want to hear the flak was his grandmother.

"I don't do the social media, so I think that helped to not see much," Kuchar said at the Scottish Open in July. "However, hearing from my grandmother, you know, the things that she was hearing and talking to me about was really tough.

“You really want to make your parents proud, your grandparents proud. I've kind of always been that kid that had made my parents and grandparents proud. To see them hear some of the things said about me, was never something that I wanted to put them in that position, and that was very, very difficult."

Kuchar faced the media at Mayakoba on Tuesday in an effort to be contrite.

“I know what happened post tournament with David is something I’m not proud of, made some headlines that certainly I’m definitely not proud of, but I’ve done my best to make amends, to make things right with David, to do things right by the community,” Kuchar said. “…I’ve tried to use this opportunity to learn from mistakes, to grow, to try to learn and be better.”

That’s a start. But the hardest work Kuchar will do over the next 12 months won’t be on his golf game. It will be the unenviable and seemingly unending task of rehabbing his reputation.

Americans are the best in the world at forgiving. But will they forget?