PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Call Matt Kuchar what you like. Catcall him from the gallery next time you see him at a tournament, like a handful of fans did at the Genesis Open on Friday. Blast him on social media and throw in the hashtag #cheapskate for good measure.
If you’re European, start preparing your colorful taunts and money-related jibes in advance of next year’s Ryder Cup. If you’re not, bemoan and shake your head at the way a $1.3 million payday turned into a cataclysmic public relations hailstorm.
Do pretty much whatever you want, just don’t say Kuchar’s actions are bad for golf.
Because they’re not. The lingering fallout from the Mayakoba Classic Open champion’s penny-pinching fiscal offering ($5,000) to stand-in Mexican caddie David Giral Ortiz made Kuchar himself look like a guy with a bewildering mish-mash of unsavory traits. How about greed, belligerence, insensitivity, ignorance, snootiness and an astonishing lack of awareness for starters?
But it is him that looked bad, and still looks somewhat bad even after backing down and agreeing to pay Ortiz $50,000, per a statement he released on Friday.
The hot topic of conversation
Golf didn’t look bad. Golf made out great.
Golf, heading towards the tail end of NBA All-Star week, was getting itself talked about on Pardon The Interruption and chirped about up and down Twitter’s testy channels of pontification. Golf, at the rather sleepy beginning of the calendar year, has been a hot topic of conversation.
The best bit of all, the chatter was by no means restricted to golf fans, or even supporters of other sports. This was an all-inclusive argument, with two clearly defined ideologies batting the topic back and forwards in bars and on couches and in Ubers and parent-teacher conferences and all the weird kinds of places you’d never typically hear talk of birdies and lofted wedges.
Is a deal a deal? Or did the little guy get screwed?
As this is an opinion piece, here’s mine. The caddie, Ortiz, did get screwed but possibly made things a bit more dramatic than they needed to be. Kuchar, the multi-millionaire, acted like an idiot and made it worse by talking about it pompously. It’s pretty sanctimonious to say that “for a guy who usually makes $200, $5,000 is a great week”, when you’ve just landed a check worth 260 times that amount. Ortiz took over the bag when Kuchar’s regular caddy, John Wood, did not travel to Mexico. Typically tour caddies make 10 percent of their player’s winner’s check. Kuchar’s agency later offered an extra $15,000, before finally agreeing to pay the $50,000 Ortiz suggested was appropriate.
But again, golf isn’t hurting because of it. Golf has enough polite guys in nice and expensive country club threads, saying and doing and nodding at the right things. Now it has a villain, quite an unlikely one given how popular Kuchar previously was, but a villain nonetheless. There’s another villain knocking around the place in Sergio Garcia, too, after his marvelously petulant meltdown in Saudi Arabia last week, but more on him in a bit.
Kuchargate, Caddiegate, Bonusgate, JustPayTheGuy-gate is one of those topics that virtually everyone has some kind of relatively strong take on. The main reason is that there really isn’t any middle ground to be had, except for total indifference.
Given that the etiquette of tipping culture is as ingrained in American life as overeating and Netflix-binging, and the bonus payments to caddies are a form of tipping, people get fairly heated about it. And contentious verbal banter is something golf can use more of.
Emotion makes for the best kind of golf
The best thing in golf is the Ryder Cup, where passions are ignited like nothing else in the sport and where courtesy and propriety give way to swagger, nationalism and emotion.
The next best thing is the final day of major championships, where the crowds are involved at the heart of the action, their vocal chords adding to the drama and jangling at the nerves of the players.
Sports are at their finest when we care about the participants and golf already has enough guys who are smiley and likeable and on their best behavior. Having Kuchar cast in the role of villain isn’t just inevitable, it is perfectly fine. Same goes for Garcia, after he got booted from the Saudi Arabian tournament for gouging the greens and repeatedly hacking at a bunker like he was cutting sugar cane.
Do you really think a single person decided not to watch the Genesis Open this week because it would have Kuchar in it? No chance. Or shied away because they were fearful Garcia might repeat the aforementioned meltdown and they would get injured by a rogue speck of sand?
Not all publicity is good publicity, but all this hasn’t caused one bit of damage, except to Kuchar’s ego and the Saudi greens. Now that Ortiz will get his due recompense, it is no harm, no foul. The bunker will recover.
The funny thing about villain tags, they last for a while. So while the skeptics would say that such behavior is deplorable and we wouldn’t want to see it repeated regularly, it doesn’t need to be. Kuchar will still be the lousy tip guy a couple of years from now, Garcia still cast as the tantrum-throwing bunker bandit.
A little naughtiness keeps the sport in the spotlight, an area where golf sometimes struggles outside of its biggest events. Following his opening round on Friday, Tiger Woods spoke to the press for a total of two minutes, and the most interesting thing he said was that he was looking forward to grabbing some lunch.
The Kuchar saga generated some traction during a period when most other sports are on hiatus, just like Garcia’s incident did to a lesser extent the week before.
With Kuchar tipping like a hack and Garcia hacking like one, golf found itself at the heart of America’s sporting news cycle, and that’s no bad place to be.