Matt Kuchar had a change of heart on Friday, after being raked over the coals over the last five weeks.
Kuchar has been the subject of overwhelming public scrutiny for how he compensated local caddie David Ortiz following his win at the Mayakoba Golf Classic back in November 2018. For nearly a month, Kuchar had remained steadfast he had honored his handshake agreement with the Mexican caddie known as El Tucan, saying he didn't feel the need to pay the looper more than the $5,000 he had already paid.
However, after El Tucan spoke with Golf Magazine and after Kuchar made some out-of-touch comments to several reporters ahead of the Genesis Open, the issue became a national topic. Facing potential long-term backlash and already hearing it from hecklers outside the ropes at Riviera Country Club, Kuchar changed his mind.
In a 234-word statement, Kuchar said he would pay $50,000 to Ortiz -- the figure he told Golf Magazine he thought was fair for his services that week -- and make an additional donation toward the Mayakoba Golf Classic's charitable efforts.
Statement from Matt Kuchar pic.twitter.com/fZWsK8RjzE
— PGA TOUR Communications (@PGATOURComms) February 15, 2019
Kuchar needed a local caddie that week because his normal caddie, John Wood, had a prior commitment and couldn't change plans when Kuchar was a relatively late entrant to the event. Kuchar and Ortiz had initially struck a deal in which Kuchar would pay Ortiz $1,000 if he missed the cut, $2,000 for making the cut, $3,000 for a top-20 finish and $4,000 for a top-10. According to Kuchar, there was no agreement for a cut of winnings in the event he won the tournament.
Ortiz said Kuchar agreed to pay him $3,000 upfront and then paid $2,000 extra after the win as the start of a bonus that could be larger later. In an interview shortly after the November event, Ortiz said he expected to earn further bonus money.
Ortiz normally makes $100-$200 per day caddying on the host course, El Camaelon Golf Club. With the PGA Tour in town, Ortiz could either take Kuchar's deal or make no money that week. Kuchar's deal was in line with how touring caddies are paid up, at least through the top-20 finish figure. Touring caddies are typically paid $1,000-$2,000 per week no matter what, with a 5 percent clip of earnings if their player makes the cut, bumping up to 7 percent for a top-10 finish and 10 percent for a win. Kuchar won $1,296,000 for taking his first PGA Tour title in some four years, so Wood would have been paid $129,600.
Whether Kuchar knew he was negotiating from a position of strength, or he had low expectations for the week, or something else, is unknown.
This situation may have never come to light were it not for touring pro Tom Gillis, who made public his accusation Kuchar paid Ortiz $3,000 as Kuchar was en route to a second win of the season at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. Kuchar responded later that day to Gillis' tweet by saying he didn't pay Ortiz $3,000 or the full 10 percent a touring caddie would expect (in part as a pay off for the travel expenses and low money that comes from poorer weeks). He insisted he was true to his word in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, Ortiz reached out to Kuchar's agent, Mark Steinberg, in the wake of the Sony Open to ask about potential additional compensation. It's unclear what or who prompted the outreach. Ortiz did not have Kuchar's contact information, even from the Mayakoba event, and they had not spoken after the tournament win. Ortiz asked Steinberg for more fair compensation, and he told Golf.com he believed $50,000 was fair. Steinberg apparently suggested to Kuchar he offer an additional $15,000 to Ortiz, which he turned down. Steinberg reiterated via email that Kuchar's offer was "fair," though Kuchar didn't want to make the offer in the first place.
Early in the week, Kuchar was adamant he had been generous in his extra $1,000 paid to Tucan on top of the agreed-to $4,000. On Wednesday before the Genesis Open, he told Golf.com, "For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week."
Things had changed by Friday. Word filtered out while Kuchar was competing that he would be paying to Ortiz what he said would be fair. Kuchar continued on Saturday morning, looking to make as right as he can a situation that had gotten away from him.
"Listen, I was stubborn, hard-headed," Kuchar said. "In my mind, I had it as a deal is a deal, but after I won the tournament, a deal wasn't a deal. Not a good deal. Any transaction, all parties should come out feeling like they've won, and certainly in David's case, he did not feel like he won in that situation, and I needed to make that right. It's as simple as that."
For his part, Gillis was happy to see Ortiz compensated.
“Happy that it all worked out for El Tucan,” Gillis wrote on Twitter. “His life will change for the better and he received what he deserved.”
No one should be judged entirely by their worst moment or their finest hour. And if one comes because of another, they may come close to netting out with some of the fans and observers who have been waiting for Kuchar to do the perceived right thing. Kuchar may have lost some fans. He may have lost other opportunities way more lucrative than a $50,000 check.
However, in the end, Kuchar did the reasonable thing -- perhaps the only thing he could have done to put this to rest.
"I missed the boat with this one," he said. "I did not put the shoe on the other foot. I did not do a good job there, and I think in any situation, if you can just understand where somebody else is coming from, it makes the world a lot better of a place. I missed that one."