Greg Cote

PGA Tour star was wrong to stiff caddie, but vilification of Matt Kuchar is wrong, too

At a Miami Heat game in 2015, while in town for a golf tournament, Matt Kuchar took a half-court shot during a halftime charity event. If he made it, $25,000 would be donated to the United Way. He missed. Later, without fanfare, he wrote a personal check for that amount and gave it to the organization.

In 2018, Kuchar’s financial support of Camp Twin Lakes in Georgia allowed 90 children with disabilities, serious illnesses and other life challenges to enjoy a week of therapeutic camping experiences.

None of that matters now, apparently. The tsunami of derision has taken over. Anger and ridicule have flipped the narrative on Kuchar. Social media has delighted in shaming him, because that’s what social media does — and with especially sharp vigor when the target is rich or famous. So, now and perhaps forever more, Kuchar is:

The Cheapskate Champion.

He made an error in judgment that now stains him and shouts louder and bigger than anything good he has done.

He stiffed his caddie, OK? Paid him grossly less than PGA Tour standards after he had won the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico this past November. It has been gossip fodder on tour but became what passes for “news” this week when interviewed the underpaid caddie, David Giral Ortiz, who is not Kuchar’s regular bag man but was filling in that week, and now says, “I feel like I was taken advantage of.”

Kuchar still has a chance to make it right but has doubled down instead. He made it worse in his response, saying, “I certainly don’t lose any sleep over this.”

Kuchar had earned $1,296,000 — almost $1.3 million — for winning that tournament. His caddie got $5,000. That’s 0.0038 percent, or less than one half of 1 percent. The equivalent would be you spending $200 in a fine restaurant and tipping the waiter about 85 cents.

On tour full-time caddies have their basic expenses including travel paid for by their golfers, with an agreed-upon percentile commission based on that week’s finish and earnings. Then there are bonuses for top-10 finishes and typically a 10 percent bonus for a championship.

Based on that, Ortiz, the caddie, might have expected to be paid $130,000. As a fill-in, he said he hoped for $50,000. That seems reasonable and fair. Kuchar should have offered that. Still should.

The reaction to this, though, the social media vilification, has been more interesting than what caused it.

Corporate CEOs in America are paid 300 times what their workers get, and all of a sudden Kuchar is the fat cat stiffing the guy on the assembly line.

The caddie lives in Mexico and is of modest means. Kuchar is a nine-time Tour winner (his first title the Honda Classic in 2002) whose $46 million in career earnings are the most of any active golfer who has yet to win a major. His 11 top-10 major finishes put him close to stardom.

He certainly can afford to have done better financially by the caddie in this case. And yet there are extenuating circumstances here that get lost in the social media vilification.

Kuchar and the caddie had agreed on a $3,000 base payment for the week, with a bonus that could bring the total to $4,000. That neither side imagined winning the championship was understandable. Kuchar hadn’t won on tour in 4 years, 7 months. At 40, he seemed a fading golfer who might not even make the cut,

Even in unexpectedly winning, Kuchar owed his caddie only $4,000 by their agreement, rounded it up to 5K, then volunteered an additional $15,000. The caddie declined the added money, later saying he had been insulted it wasn’t more.

This is the feel-good story that ended up not feeling good.

Ortiz, nicknamed El Tucan (The Toucan), was a popular local caddie hired that week in Mexico. Kuchar was headed for the win that would reinvigorate his career.

Now one man feels betrayed and the other will hear catcalls of cheapskate at tournaments wherever golf fans and alcohol mix.

Kuchar should express regrets for how he handled this, fly to Mexico and present Ortiz with an apology and a giant cardboard check for $130,000. It would be a gesture of goodwill and also medicine for his own battered reputation. He should.

But if he doesn’t?

It was a regrettable lapse. It happened once. It shouldn’t scar his name for life.

There are a lot of families of kids with disabilities in Georgia who still think Kuchar is a pretty good guy.

Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.