After a month of missteps that left his good guy image in tatters, Matt Kuchar has issued a statement apologizing for stiffing his local caddie at the Mayakoba Classic and for his comments on the matter this week. The statement reads fine but it comes comically late and with the damage already done.
Unless you’ve been completely off the grid and are unaware of the controversy, read a more complete timeline of the mess here. The short story is Kuchar used a local looper at the Mayakoba named David Ortiz (aka El Tucan) and gave him just .38% of his $1.3 million winner’s check at the end. It’s an obscenely low sum that became public and shame rained down on Kuchar over the last month, increasing this week with confirmation from El Tucan and a response from Kuchar.
Reports on the ground at the Genesis Open on Friday revealed that Kuchar was hearing it from the fans throughout his opening round alongside Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau. There was the shout from the fan at Riviera’s 6th green that everyone tweeted about instantly.
“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
And then there was the guy with the homemade jersey, memorializing the percentage of the winner’s prize El Tucan received.
Lots of Kuchar fans out here this week! #eltucan @the_fried_egg @NoLayingUp @RiggsBarstool @BrendanPorath pic.twitter.com/z5vfc07Mfh— Patrick Crow (@p_crow) February 15, 2019
Those were just two of the high-profile heckles on Friday but it sounds like the jabs were fairly consistent throughout the round.
The entire saga had already become a PR disaster for Kuchar and his agent, Mark Steinberg, who also represents Tiger Woods and handled that 14-time major winner’s scandal 10 years ago. There really was no coming back from the perception change of Kuchar, but nonetheless, after a month of wrong turns, he issued a statement apologizing and indicating he would be giving El Tucan $50,000. It was released while Kuchar finished his first round at Riviera and then turned around to start his second round at the weather-delayed Los Angeles event.
Statement from Matt Kuchar pic.twitter.com/fZWsK8RjzE— PGA TOUR Communications (@PGATOURComms) February 15, 2019
A few interesting notes from the statement. First, it came via the PGA Tour’s communications department. The Tour undoubtedly got involved with this mess, which made one of their marquee players and a top-10 all-time earner look horrible. It made the Tour look bad and his sponsors look bad. The sponsors were also no doubt a driving force behind the scenes with Kuchar’s agent and the Tour.
Second, he says he will make sure El Tucan receives the full total he has “requested.” That’s an interesting word choice, but it’s good to see that after a month, El Tucan is getting what was deserved. It’s not the customary 10% of a winner’s purse that regular caddies get after a win, but the 3.8% is a marked improvement from the stiff job originally doled out in November. There’s an argument that a local caddie, as opposed to the Tour caddies that go with their player from stop to stop, should not get the usual 10%.
Third, this statement comes just a few days before the PGA Tour and Kuchar go back to Mexico for the first World Golf Championship of the year. In addition to the pressure from fans, sponsors, and the Tour, this likely played a role in the statement and payment. Kuchar and his team almost certainly did not want to go back down to the WGC Mexico Championship with this still being the hottest topic on the Tour.
It’s a fine apology and comes crafted with plenty of PR help — a stark contrast to Kuchar’s own words on Wednesday to reporters that made him look even worse. It does not do much to repair the destruction of Kuchar’s image. It was not just shouting on social media, but Kuchar’s colleagues on Tour said it was embarrassing and the caddies that make up a critical part the Tour were outraged. This became a national story beyond just the little golf corner of the world and it’s what will be associated with Kuchar’s name for a long time. It never should have gone this far, but El Tucan has some cash, and it may slightly mitigate the heat on Kuchar for the time being.