PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — The thinking in golf is to get out trouble before you take a chance on getting into more trouble. With a printed statement and a proper payment, Matt Kuchar was able to extricate himself from some self-created difficulties.
Kuchar and his fellow pros are in the soggy suburbs of Los Angeles for the Genesis Open this week — “it never rains in southern California, it pours” — but the Kuchar story took place last November at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
Kuchar’s regular Tour caddy wasn’t available down there, so Matt made an agreement with a local, David “El Tucan” Ortiz, to have him carry the bag for $5,000, which sounded good until Kuchar won. Normally a caddy receives 10 percent of a winner’s purse, which of the $1.29 million for first prize would be around $100,000.
There are no secrets in the age of social media. All Kuchar had to do was give Ortiz more money. He didn’t. Until Friday, after being shamed in newspapers, mocked by at least a couple other golfers and chided by fans — in a play on words of the drug czar El Chapo, a spectator called Kuchar “El Cheapo.”
So Kuchar, who is 40, and had enjoyed a fine reputation — and has those commercials with Skechers, among others — apologized. “This week I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive,” he said.
No less significantly, he not only is going to pay Ortiz what others thought he was owed, Kuchar is making a donation to Mayakoba event, to be distributed to “many philanthropic causes working to positively impact the communities of Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
The incident, although more than two months old, gained attention here at Riviera when on Day One, Thursday, not a single round was completed and news people were looking for something. They found it.
The way the Genesis stood when darkness arrived Friday after two more hours of rain, Justin Thomas (30 holes) and Adam Scott (29 holes) were 10 under par. J.B. Holmes (27 holes), who had a hole-in-one on the famed 6th, the par-3 with the bunker in the green, was 9-under 27. Jordan Spieth (18 holes) and Luke List (33 holes) were 7 under.
Tiger Woods, who had four straight birdies at one stretch, was one under through 12 holes, and Phil Mickelson, winner Monday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, was one over through 18.
Kuchar, on what must have been an emotionally trying day, was 2 under through 31 holes.
Kuchar said his comments on the caddy and the payment “made a bad situation worse. They made it seem like I was marginalizing David Ortiz and his financial situation, which was not my intention. When I read them, I cringed.”
In the New York Post, Mark Cannizzaro ripped Mark Steinberg, who is Kuchar’s agent — and Tiger Woods’ agent. In the New York Times, Karen Crouse wrote, “Kuchar has been accused of fleecing his caddie in Mexico, David Giral Ortiz, by paying him a tiny fraction of what the job usually yields when the boss wins $1.296 million, as Kuchar did at the Mayakoba Classic in Playa del Carmen.”
The PGA Tour takes great pride in its charity work, and in the cooperation of touring golfers with fans and media. Then everything fell apart. But apparently, it’s being put together again.
“Golf is a game where we call penalties on ourselves,” Kuchar said in his statement, which probably was put together by his public relations advisors. “I should have done that a long time ago and not let this situation escalate.”
Absolutely. But people make mistakes. Golfers miss two-foot putts. Fortunately, given the opportunity, Matt Kuchar drilled this one into the cup. Golf can take a deep breath.