It’s been the biggest talking point of 2019 by far – in a year where we’ve had a whole new set of rules – and the Matt Kuchar caddie row refuses to go away.
Back in November, Kuchar won the Mayakoba Classic for what was at the time his eighth PGA Tour title and first in four and a half years.
The American was a late entry for the tournament at El Camaleon Golf Club, in Playa del Carmen, by which point his regular caddie, John Wood, was on holiday and could not make the trip to Mexico. So Kuchar hired a local caddie by the name of David Ortiz, better known as El Tucan.
The rest, they say, is history.
But fast forward a few weeks to the Sony Open and former PGA Tour pro Tom Gillis is on Twitter accusing an unnamed player of only paying a stand-in caddie $3,000, despite winning more than a million big ones with him by his side.
Social media detectives, as they so often do, quickly deduced that it was indeed Kuchar and Ortiz that Gillis was talking about.
During the Sony Open – a tournament Kuchar went on to win – Kuchar was asked why, when he’s worth north of $45 million, he only parted with $3,000.
That’s not a story. It wasn’t 10 per cent. It wasn’t $3,000.
What Ortiz had to say
Speaking to Golf.com‘s Michael Bamberger, Ortiz revealed that, following the win, Kuchar handed him an envelope stuffed with $100, $50, $20 and $5 notes to the total tune of $5,000.
Bamberger added that Ortiz, writing in Spanish and using Google Translate, emailed Kuchar’s agent, Mark Steinberg. It read:
I am a humble man, who takes care of his family, and works hard. I am reaching out to you to see if you can facilitate me receiving a fair amount for my help with Matt winning $1,296,000. I am not looking to disparage Matt or give him a bad name. Fair is fair, and I feel like I was taken advantage of by placing my trust in Matt.
The caddie received a reply offering him a further $15,000, for a total of $20,000. Asked if he accepted, Ortiz replied:
No thank you. They can keep their money.
Golf.com reached out to Kuchar and Steinberg for comment, but the latter replied saying:
The reports on what Matt’s caddie was offered are wildly inaccurate. However, it is inappropriate to discuss those amounts publicly.
Speaking through a translator, Ortiz added that he felt his contribution to what was Kuchar’s win was $50,000.
Matt is a good person and a great player. He treated me very well. I am only disappointed by how it all finished.
What Kuchar had to say
A couple of days after the Ortiz interview was revealed, Kuchar has had his take on the matter.
Kuchar told Golf Channel the pair met on the Tuesday of the week of the Mayakoba Classic and they agreed a bonus structure that would have allowed Ortiz to make up to $4,000 during the tournament.
I ended up paying him $5,000 and I thought that was more than what we agreed upon.
“I kind of think, if he had the chance to do it over again, same exact deal, that he’d say yes again.
Kuchar again reiterated his belief that it “is not a story”:
I kind of feel like unfortunately some other people have got it in his head that he’s deserving something different than what we agreed upon.
“And it’s just too bad that it’s turned into a story, because it doesn’t need to be. We had a great week.
It’s done. Listen, I feel like I was fair and good. You can’t make everybody happy. You’re not going to buy people’s ability to be OK with you, and this seems to be a social media issue more than anything.
“I think it shouldn’t be, knowing that there was a complete, agreed-upon deal that not only did I meet but exceeded.
“So I certainly don’t lose sleep over this. This is something that I’m quite happy with, and I was really happy for him to have a great week and make a good sum of money.
“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.
Not as good as $1.2 million though, eh?
In a separate interview with Golf.com, Kuchar goes into slightly more detail, saying the deal was he would pay him $1,000 if he missed the cut, $2,000 if he made the weekend, $3,000 for top 20 and $4,000 for top 10.
There is no suggestion of a win bonus, but Kuchar told Bamberger:
The extra $1,000 was, ‘Thank you — it was a great week.’ Those were the terms. He was in agreement with those terms. That’s where I struggle. I don’t know what happened. Someone must have said, ‘You need much more.’
He also revealed that the $15,000 offer that Ortiz spoke of was not discussed with the player. When asked who would have paid it had it been accepted, Bamberger says Kuchar smiled and added:
It’s not coming out of Steinberg’s pocket.
Bamberger also asked Kuchar where he lands on the spectrum of frugal tippers in the game. He replied:
If you ask locker room attendants, they’ll tell you that they’re happy to see me. I’m no Phil Mickelson, but these guys are like, ‘Matt’s coming our way.’
Read into that what you will – and then read the full fascinating interview with Bamberger here.
It’s still not over!
During the second round of the Genesis Open, Kuchar took his fair share of stick…
“Go low Kuch, go low. Just not on the gratuity! -6th tee fan @genesisopen after Matt Kuchar‘s tee shot
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) February 15, 2019
But it’s OK, his (regular) caddie was there to protect his feelings…
Matt Kuchar’s caddie right now pic.twitter.com/KAdAp6OguP
— Alex Perry (@AlexPerryNCG) February 15, 2019
Epic Simpsons banter aside, Kuchar has released a statement. It read:
Statement from Matt Kuchar pic.twitter.com/fZWsK8RjzE
— PGA TOUR Communications (@PGATOURComms) February 15, 2019
You weren’t the only one who cringed, Matt, and it all feels too little too late. The damage is done and your reputation is in the gutter. It will be a while before this one unsticks.
The fans are having fun with it, at least – the PGA Championship at Bethpage can’t come quick enough – and then there is always this to look forward to:
I’m already so excited for the Mayakoba Classic and the staged on-camera reunion of Kuchar and El Tucan.
Kuch will go for a fist bump, Ortiz will go for a hug, they’ll both laugh on the outside and die a little on the inside.
It’s going to be magic.
— Alex Perry (@AlexPerryNCG) February 15, 2019