Matt Kuchar returns to Mayakoba Golf Classic and site of 'Caddie-Gate'

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 11: Matt Kuchar of the United States celebrates with caddie El Tucan on the 18th green after winning during the final round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon Mayakoba Golf Course on November 11, 2018 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Rob Carr/Getty Images

Matt Kuchar returns to Mayakoba Golf Classic and site of 'Caddie-Gate'

PGA Tour

Matt Kuchar returns to Mayakoba Golf Classic and site of 'Caddie-Gate'

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Victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic last November for Matt Kuchar should have been one of golf’s feel-good stories of the year.

After all, it snapped a four-year winless drought for the popular veteran who banked $1.3 million in prize money for his effort. And he did so with his “lucky charm,” a fill-in caddie, David Giral Ortiz, who goes by the nickname “El Tucan.”

Yet this story took a turn for the worse in January while Kuchar was on his way to victory again at the Sony Open of Hawaii with his regular caddie, John Wood. PGA Tour Champions pro Tom Gillis leaked word in a tweet that Kuchar had paid his caddie far less than the customary 10-percent rate of the winner’s check. Despite Kuchar claiming it was a “non-story,” – further evidence of his tone deafness in this matter – it grew into national news and the social media uproar that ensued sullied his former choir-boy image.

During the Genesis Open in February, where one fan cracked, “Go low, Kuch, go low! Just not on the gratuity!” and others had launched a GoFundMe account to raise money for Ortiz, Kuchar issued a statement in which he apologized for his initial actions and did what he should have done long ago: cut a check to Ortiz reportedly for $50,000.

”Golf is a game where we call penalties on ourselves,” Kuchar said in his statement. ”I should have done that long ago and not let this situation escalate.”

With the public relations fiasco behind him, Kuchar enjoyed a return to prominence at age 41, qualifying for the Tour Championship after a one-year absence when he dipped to No. 76 on the FedEx Cup standings.

He finished 16th this year and earned more than $6 million. In addition to his two victories, Kuchar was runner-up at the WGC Dell Match Play and RBC Heritage among his eight top-10 finishes. When asked to explain what he attributed his improved form to, Kuchar, speaking at the Tour Championship, said, “I feel like the best answer I’ve given out for that is just persistence. I feel like I’ve stayed the course.”

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 09: Matt Kuchar of the United States celebrates his birdie with his caddie on the 15th green during the second round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon Mayakoba Golf Course on November 09, 2018 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Matt Kuchar celebrates his birdie with caddie David Gural Ortiz on the 15th green during the second round of the 2018 Mayakoba Golf Classic. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

 

He continued. “The game of golf, you’re always just looking to improve just a little bit. Last year was frustrating, where I feel like this is closer to the game I want to play, the game I think I’m capable of playing. So this feels a little more normal. Last year I tried to chalk up as a little bit of an abnormality, and this is back on track again.”

Kuchar’s return to the norm also meant a return to the U.S. lineup for the Presidents Cup in Australia in December. He qualified for his fifth consecutive appearance. Kuchar is set to make his 2019-20 PGA Tour debut this week in his title defense at the El Camaleon golf course at the seaside resort south of Cancun. (Other Presidents Cup participants in the field include Tony Finau for the U.S. and Abraham Ancer, Jason Day, Joaquin Niemann and C.T. Pan for the International team.)

Last year, Kuchar posted 22-under 262 setting the tournament record and also a personal-best 72-hole score en route to his eighth Tour title. While the aftermath that led to Kuchar-Gate may have put a damper on his memories of the victory, he’ll never forget the celebration on the 18th green.

“I nearly teared up when I sank that final three-footer and then saw the family come running out,” he said. “It’s a special thing for me.”

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