After weeks of speculation, Matt Kuchar confirmed on Wednesday he paid David Giral Ortiz, a local caddie nicknamed El Tucan, $5,000 after earning nearly $1.3 million for winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November. Whether the payment was fair (typically, a player’s full-time PGA Tour caddie receives 10 percent of a first-place check) has caused a great debate, with most siding with the caddie. But the PGA Tour star has maintained he did nothing wrong, further digging in—or digging a deeper hole depending on your perspective.
Of course, there are many who feel it isn’t right to weigh in on another person’s financial matters like this. Would the typical golfer necessarily want it made public how much they tip caddies? Probably not. But Matt Kuchar isn’t a typical golfer. He’s a walking ATM Machine who has made more than $46 million in PGA Tour earnings and possibly more than that off the course through endorsements and appearances. So even with a loose agreement in place, $5,000 is a jarringly low number after winning $1.3 million. Anyway, let’s take a closer look at some of Kuchar’s comments.
“We had a great week”: And by all accounts they did. Kuchar won for the first time in more than four years and referred to Ortiz as his “good luck charm.” Ortiz told Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger, “Matt is a good person and a great player. He treated me very well. I am only disappointed by how it all finished.” The looper has sought and been denied what he thinks is fair, $50,000 (he was reportedly offered $15,000 later, but turned it down). Ortiz acknowledges he never expected the 10 percent payday for a win a typical PGA Tour caddie receives, since it’s believed regular tour caddies assume larger responsibilities and financial risk being with the player throughout the year. Meanwhile, Kuchar took home another $1.3 million payday for winning the Sony Open in January, but it’s hard to put a price on the damage this incident has done to what had been a sterling reputation among golf fans.
“You can’t make everyone happy”: Kuchar said this to GolfChannel.com’s Will Gray, and it’s true in general. If public figures sought to rectify every negative thing said about them on social media, they’d do nothing else. But in this case, there appeared to be a very clear solution. Once the rumblings came out and public sentiment turned against him, Kuchar had plenty of opportunity to reach out to Ortiz and come to some sort of agreement. Well, a second agreement, that is. Speaking of which . . .
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“We had an agreement”: Both Kuchar and Ortiz have confirmed this, albeit with slightly different pay structures. Ortiz told Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger the two agreed on $3,000 plus an unspecified amount of his winnings. Kuchar says it was a layered structure beginning with $1,000 for a missed cut, $2,000 for a made cut, $3,000 for a top 20 and $4,000 for a top 10. What the caddie would receive for a win was not discussed. “The extra $1,000 was, ‘Thank you — it was a great week.’ Those were the terms. He was in agreement with those terms,” Kuchar said. “That’s where I struggle. I don’t know what happened. Someone must have said, ‘You need much more.'” In any event, Kuchar appears to have technically fulfilled his financial obligation here. At least, that’s what a lawyer would argue.
“Making $5,000 is a great week”: The full quote Kuchar gave to Golf.com is, “For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.” With no context, it’s impossible to argue that point. It’s likely Ortiz has never made that much money in a week and that he’ll never make that much money in a week again. Not many people do. That’s the equivalent of making $260,000 a year. But is getting less than what you think you deserve a great week? If you’re a waiter and you get the biggest tip of your life after serving a celebrity, but realize it wasn’t close to the normal 20 percent you get from customers, are you still happy?
(Kuchar never suggested making $5,000 is a lot for someone in Mexico, but others have. Dave Marr on his Thursday show on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio repeated the fact Ortiz made as much in a week as the median annual income in Mexico. Marr insisted Kuchar will “come out clean” from this incident, and the four callers I heard during my morning commute agreed. Where the tournament was played and where Ortiz is from is irrelevant. What matters is what he deserved. While most people agree with Ortiz that he didn’t merit the normal 10 percent, keep in mind the caddie’s intake was less than half of ONE percent.)
“This is not a story”: Kuchar first said this when asked about the situation during the Sony Open and he doubled down on the sentiment on Wednesday. Of course, he’s completely wrong here. If it wasn’t a story, he wouldn’t be hounded by questions about it. If it wasn’t a story, Ortiz’s side of the tale wouldn’t generate so much interest on our website and others. If it wasn’t a story, you wouldn’t be getting criticized by friends I know who don’t follow golf or by Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser on Pardon The Interruption. This is very much a story. And Kuchar’s reaction hasn’t helped make it go away.
“This seems to be a social media issue more than anything”: Funny enough, Kuchar is one of the least-involved PGA Tour pros on social media. He’s not on Twitter, where rumors of a $3,000 payday originated from fellow tour pro Tom Gillis, and his Instagram account has posted just 16 times, none of which have come in the past two years. Social media is where this story (and many others) spread, but Kuchar’s comment seems to hint that this isn’t a real issue, but one gossiped about by people online with nothing better to do. Also, Kuchar seems to be contending Ortiz is only unhappy because social media rabble rousers planted bad thoughts in his head. Even if that’s the timeline of how things shook out, the fact remains the same: Ortiz received about $125,000 LESS than what a regular caddie would have received for that week’s work.
“I certainly don’t lose any sleep over this”: The lack of contrition from Kuchar, who probably didn’t study public relations at Georgia Tech, on this matter is pretty staggering. Then again, he believes he gave Ortiz fair compensation and that’s that. Even the $15,000 olive branch offer apparently didn’t come from him. “That was the agency,” Kuchar told Bamberger. This is a man who feels he’s done nothing wrong and is not budging. It certainly hasn’t affected his play. On one hand, Kuchar’s attitude makes sense through the whole “we had an agreement” prism. On the other, you’d think his agency, including agent Mark Steinberg, would realize how much this might cost him in the long run.