19th hole: The People (and Tom Gillis) vs. Matt Kuchar

HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 12: Matt Kuchar of the United States acknowledges the crowd on the first green during the third round of the Sony Open In Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 12, 2019 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

19th hole: The People (and Tom Gillis) vs. Matt Kuchar

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19th hole: The People (and Tom Gillis) vs. Matt Kuchar

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Public shaming has come a long way since wrongdoers were pilloried in the town square. Medieval stocks and floggings aren’t necessary if you have a keyboard and 124 characters.

That was the length of a tweet posted Jan. 11 by PGA Tour veteran Tom Gillis: “Even better. Who’s gonna b the one to identify the player the paid his caddy 3k after winning a PGA tour event last fall???”

He was referring to Matt Kuchar, who in November won the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico using a local caddie, David Giral Ortiz. Cheapskate-gate had all the ingredients of a Twitter telenovela: a wealthy Tour pro with a saccharine public image, a resort bagman unfairly stiffed. Kuchar was hauled into Twitter’s town square and keyboard warriors, undeterred by the lack of evidence presented, hurdled kids and the elderly in their haste to toss brickbats.

Kuchar’s limp response – that he paid more than $3,000 but less than the standard 10 percent for a winning Tour caddie – didn’t douse things. Word came from Ortiz that it was $5,000, a piddling amount given the $1.296 million winner’s check. On the charge of being a tightwad, Kuchar was convicted in absentia since he’s not on Twitter. It wasn’t the first guilty verdict Gillis won while presiding over the social media show trial of a fellow Tour pro.

“If it’s a right or wrong thing, no I’m not going to stay quiet,” Gillis told me. “That’s what this situation is. It’s right or it’s wrong. We’re just trying to make it right. Social media can be very powerful and get things moving. I think he’ll pay him. I really do.”

He speaks from experience. Two years ago Gillis blasted Ben Crane on Twitter for not paying a gambling debt to Daniel Berger. Crane promptly settled up.

“Maybe I should have been a union rep,” Gillis said with a laugh. “I’d be willing to fight for the little guy anytime.”

A player prone to policing the personal affairs of his colleagues must accumulate enemies on Tour, I suggested.

“I’m sure some of them are totally against it and think we shouldn’t be airing that dirty laundry. That’s fine,” he replied. “When the man gets paid I can look in the mirror and feel good that I helped this guy out. When I hit the button to send that stuff out, I’m well aware of what’s coming with it.”

Gillis is equally untroubled by the fact that inquiries to other Tour veterans about him invariably produce orifical comparisons.

“It doesn’t bother me a whole lot,” he said. “I’m pretty comfortable with who I am.”

Gillis attributes his determination to see Ortiz fairly paid to his beginnings in a Detroit caddie yard. He spent much of his career bouncing between tours and is best remembered for losing a playoff to Jordan Spieth at the John Deere Classic in 2015. He turned 50 last summer and in a half-dozen starts on the PGA Tour Champions had four top-six finishes. But his Twitter account often has earned him more attention than his clubs.

At a 2014 Web.com event in Kansas, he was booed by fans after complaining that he had to warm up next to a lady member of the host club. That earned him a fine and suspension. Other Twitter lowlights include personal attacks on NBC analyst Mark Rolfing and a Neanderthal nugget describing a kiss between NFL draftee Michael Sam and his boyfriend as “painful” and “scary.”

Gillis may seem a rogue agent on the PGA Tour, which cultivates a “good guys” image with a devotion that can make Ponte Vedra feel like Pyongyang. He insists that’s not the case.

“I have a great reputation with all those executives. They know what I’m about,” he said. “They’ve always said, ‘Tom, you’re a principled guy, don’t change.’  There’s not going to be any repercussions for me here.”

Even some of Kuchar’s critics offered the radical view that his deal with Ortiz is no one else’s business. Not yours. Not mine. Not Gillis’.

“I disagree,” Gillis said. “If that’s the way it was then nothing would ever get done. I liken it to if you saw something happening unjustly, maybe someone was getting assaulted. At some point in time as a citizen you need to do the right thing. Sometimes you have to step in.”

“I’m not here to destroy Matt’s reputation,” he added. “The goal is to get the guy paid more than 5,000 bucks on 1.296 million. That’s the goal. Simple as that. If he gets paid fairly, the number doesn’t even have to come out. Once I know he’s paid, OK. It’s over.”

He means over for Gillis, of course. Kuchar’s image is bruised. Gillis alone can move on knowing that the only reputation unchanged in this crass imbroglio is his. Gwk

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