Matt Kuchar is one of those professional golfers most people don’t recognize, but who has done extremely well for himself.
The 40-year-old American has earned some US$47-million in prize money over his career. That’s 10th highest in history. One presumes he’s made a chunk more in endorsements. But I’m pretty sure he can still go out for dinner without getting hassled.
If you had to sketch out your own perfect, low-stress, high-reward athletic rock-star existence, this might be it. Kuchar gets a Tiger Woods lifestyle without Tiger Woods problems.
After two decades on tour, all he had to do to keep that going was play golf, be decent and not talk too much.
That didn’t go so well.
Three months ago, Kuchar won the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. The winner’s cheque was US$1.3-million. Kuchar’s regular caddy couldn’t make it, so he used a local bagman named David Ortiz.
Top golfers have contracts with their caddy that pay them a salary plus bonuses. But a one-time-only guy traditionally gets a cut of the purse.
The going rate is 5 per cent of the total, going up to 10 per cent if the golfer finishes in the top 10. It’s not a hard rule, but it’s the done thing.
In this case, Ortiz said he was expecting 50 grand. He and his wife planned to use the money to open a laundromat. What a lovely story that would have been.
After winning, Kuchar happily enjoyed some good press out of the unusual partnership, calling Ortiz his “lucky charm.” Then he paid him five grand.
Ortiz complained to Kuchar’s agent, golfing bigwig Mark Steinberg. According to Ortiz, Steinberg offered to sweeten the deal by US$15,000. Offended, Ortiz refused.
After letting it marinate for a bit, Ortiz went public this week. Suddenly, Kuchar went from being one of the sport’s good, ol’ boys to pro golf’s Marie Antoinette.
The simple thing for Kuchar to do would have been to make up a fib about crossed wires and pay Ortiz. He can afford it; it’s the smart PR play; and it’s the right thing to do. You don’t often stumble out of a bad-news story into a good-news one so easily.
If I were Matt Kuchar, I would have bought the guy his laundromat. Called it ‘Kuch’s Cleaners’ or something. He could’ve been a working-class hero. Instead, Kuchar responded by giving an interview so tone deaf that only dogs and plutocrats could hear it.
Kuchar decided to argue the facts of the case, insofar as he understands them. He’d agreed to pay Ortiz US$4,000 if he won. The extra grand was a tip.
“This seems to be a social-media issue more than anything,” Kuchar told Golfchannel.com on Wednesday. “I think it shouldn’t be, knowing that there was a complete, agreed-upon deal that not only did I meet, but exceeded.
“So I certainly don’t lose sleep over this. This is something that I’m 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.”
One wonders if Matt Kuchar would show up to your golf tournament if you offered him that same “good sum of money.” One doubts it.
An underreported aspect of the professional athletic life is the extreme cheapness of many competitors. After all, it’s not really any of our business.
But there are endless barroom stories told by hacks about seven- and eight-figure earners who expected to be comped meals, rounds, etc. and the shenanigans that resulted when they were asked to pay.
On some level, it’s hard to blame them. These are people used to being served. They’ve been conditioned to believe that the real world works just like the locker room or clubhouse. That waitresses, lobby boys and shopkeepers should be happy to give them things. Delighted, even, to do work for no other reward than the opportunity to bask momentarily in the presence of a great man/woman.
I’ve never seen Major League Baseball players quite so tickled as when someone comes around with their road per diems stuffed in envelopes. You’d think a few hundred bucks cash wouldn’t matter to guys making $10-million a year, but it does.
Kuchar’s fault here isn’t cheapness, though that’s part of it. I mean, come on. If it was in your power to entirely change someone’s life by giving them 50 bucks – which is, relatively, what that 50 grand means to Kuchar – wouldn’t you do it? Not a random passerby, but someone you’d spent a few days with and got to know a little bit? I’m guessing most people would.
Were it just cheapness, this story would not resonate as much as it has. Every one of us has a friend or relative who refuses to tip more than 10 per cent, or wants to chisel on every transaction. It’s not a sin. It’s embarrassing. Don’t be that guy. Still, it’s not a sin.
But what Kuchar has inadvertently revealed is his terminal disconnect from the lived reality of regular people. He actually thinks Joe Lunchbucket will hear his argument – ‘Sure, I made more than most of you will in a lifetime to swing a stick for four days, but, hey, a deal’s a deal.’ – and nod along with him.
Not in America. Not in most places. Not in 2019.
What Kuchar has done is remind people what many professional athletes think of the proles – that they are lesser, and so should be happy with whatever they’re given.
That’s not a good look for Kuchar. It’s not a good look for the PGA. And some day, when the mob rises up and the revolution is upon us, it’s not going to be a good look for sports.