Even with a touch more than $46 million in career earnings, Matt Kuchar has had a few bogeys. Hey, happens to the best of ’em.
But the best of ’em — Kuchar being one — typically are expert in escaping from a mess. A hacker sees the ball sitting in the impossible bunker and immediately pictures carding an 8. The pros figure it’s up in one, down in two. Or with just the right pace and backspin . . . it’s in the hole!
All of which makes Kuchar’s self-inflicted wounds and social media bumblings in recent days just mind-boggling. He misread the court and course of public opinion, badly, and in so doing, has bought himself maybe 20 years of being shamed for the paltry $5,000 he handed his caddie after his PGA Tour win of some $1.3 million last November in Mexico.
Finally, after being pilloried on social media all week, Kuchar on Friday afternoon attempted damage control, issuing a string of mea culpas and pledging to pay the aggrieved caddie $50,000. Will it be enough to recover his tattered public image? Right or wrong, not likely. Like short putts, words matter. Cash cures many ills, but it can’t erase words, especially in a digital media age that captures every vowel and nuance and stores them in perpetuity.
“This week, I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive, making a bad situation worse,” Kuchar said in a statement released Friday afternoon, noting his words unintentionally seemed to marginalize the caddie. “I read them again and cringed. That is not who I am and not what I want to represent.”
It wasn’t just that Kuchar, 40, stiffed his caddie with a pittance. Worse, as the story caught fire like a match to an Iowa hay barn, Kuchar doubled down on his hubris, standing by his right to stiff the guy and then blaming social media for making it a runaway story.
Now, some three months after making Mayakoba his first Tour win in nearly five years with caddie David Giral Ortiz on his bag, it’s doubtful Kuchar could buy himself totally out of the jackpot if he coughed up the full $1.3 million and handed it all to Ortiz with keys to a new Bentley.
It all made his $50,000 fix look too light, too late.
“It’s just too bad that it’s turned into a story,” bemoaned Kuchar prior to his mea culpa, the story dogging him all this past week at Riviera, “because it doesn’t need to be.”
True that. Kuchar could have avoided the entire kerfuffle, perhaps even bought himself a spot in the Good Guy Hall of Fame, had he done right by Ortiz from the start.
First, he could have/should have paid him fair value that afternoon. Now, what’s fair value? That’s open to discussion, but any debate would end at no more than $130,000. Nothing is universal in the caddie world, but 10 percent is an accepted standard for carrying a Tour player to the winner’s circle.
John Wood, Kuchar’s regular caddie, had a commitment and couldn’t be at Mayakoba. Kuchar picked up Ortiz, reported to live nearby in a modest cinder-block home, and among the regular caddies at Mayakoba who loop for roughly $200 a day.
“For a guy who makes $200 a day,” said Kuchar earlier in the week, digging himself ever deeper in the sand trap of social media hell, “a $5,000 week is a really big week.”
What next . . . let Mexico pay for it?
The thin ice on which Kuchar stood was that he and Ortiz cut a deal prior to the tournament. Ortiz was to get $3,000 for the week, bumped to $4,000 if Kuchar broke his 55-month drought and pocketed the win. When he topped the field, he rounded it up to $5,000, handed Ortiz the cash, and went off to celebrate his win.
The precise math here: It was $1.296 million for the win, less the $5,000 share, for what amounted to a 0.39 percent tip and a net of $1.291 million. Think of it in terms of a $50 bill at the Outback and a $0.20 tip for the server. Chances are, the hostess would drop you with a boomerang as you made for the exit, mate.
In the weeks since, Ortiz reportedly e-mailed Kuchar’s agent, requesting the $50,000 Kuchar finally did pony up by sunset on Friday. Until Friday, Kuchar only dug in even deeper, like that hacker tearing apart the bunker.
“I certainly don’t lose any sleep over this,” he said, words that ultimately made his apology hard to accept. “This is something I am quite happy with, and I was really happy for him to have a great week and make a good sum of money. Making $5,000 is a great week.”
Kuchar finally realized this would not go away. Without some financial act of contrition, the story would stick to him like nettles in the high grass, for his 8-10 more years hitting among the big boys, then presumably for another decades or so on the Senior Tour.
We can only assume Ortiz will be happy at $50k. It’s the figure he raised in the back and forth with Kuchar’s agent. Will it ameliorate the alcohol-fueled yahoos along the ropes now just waiting to load up on Kuchar? If you believe that, my friend, go have another.
Adding to the deep cut here is that the PGA, at a time when fewer and fewer major newspapers cover the sport, increasingly relies on social media to spread its story. The Tour has loads of good stories, and until recently Kuchar was one of them. For his entire career, he has been gregarious and approachable, a huge success despite never winning a major.
Mayakoba was his eighth Tour win (he added his ninth at the Sony Open last month). He has finished in the top 10 of 11 majors, helping him to the $46 million in career earnings and untold millions more in sponsorships. Some of that $50,000 payment Friday was a message to his sponsors, who now must debate whether to renew with an apologetic Mr. Grinch.
A man’s wallet is not necessarily a window to his soul. If it were, all the richest among us would be saints, and the poorest assigned to the sinners. Too often it is exactly the opposite.
Kuchar, a good guy accustomed to conquering the trickiest terrain, on Friday hoped that $50k will buy him a mulligan. Only time will tell if he lives or dies on Skinflint Hill.Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought” appears regularly in the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.