PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — When does significant cash savings — let’s say $124,000 — turn into a loss of something much more valuable? Call it the Kuchar Konundrum.
That $124,000 is the maximum amount that Matt Kuchar shortchanged David Ortiz, a resort caddie in Mexico who worked for him when Kuchar won the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November. A PGA Tour bagman would have expected to receive 10 percent of Kuchar’s $1.296 million prize, or $129,000. Ortiz, who is not a Tour regular, says he should have been paid $50,000. He got $5,000.
That $124,000 Kuchar kept affected more than his wallet.
Any talk about Kuchar, who is not one of the Tour’s more compelling stars, should be because he’s having a career resurgence. The victory in Mexico broke a four-year winless drought. He added his ninth career title at the Sony Open last month, a win that was overshadowed by social media revelations about stiffing Ortiz.
Five weeks later, Cheapskate-gate remained the focus at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles — so much so that Sergio Garcia should have paid Kuchar’s debt to Ortiz as a thank-you for diverting attention from him after his misconduct DQ in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, Sergio’s desert tantrum is entirely in keeping with his public image, whereas the Kuchar mess is wholly at odds with the genial, golly-gee image he had enjoyed. Angry outbursts are forgiven by fans who know what golf can inflict on a man’s psyche. Cheapness is an offense of a different order.
And Kuchar’s public response immolated rather than inoculated him.
After first dismissing it as a non-story, Kuchar shrugged off criticism by saying he had met the terms of his agreement with Ortiz, a claim the caddie didn’t co-sign.
“You can’t make everyone happy,” Kuchar said earlier this week, before making a lot of people unhappy. “For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week,” he told Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger.
Rarely has the tone-deafness of the 1 percent been laid so bare.
Kuchar dismissed the row as a social media distraction and insisted he wasn’t losing sleep over it. But this week proved that it was not confined to social media, and that he was losing considerably more than sleep.
During his Friday round at Riviera, Kuchar heard jibes from the gallery. On the sixth hole, a spectator said, “Go low, Kuch, go low! Just not on the gratuity!” There were others, too.
Distractions are an expensive business on the PGA Tour. A jab from beyond the ropes — whether at an inopportune time or as recurring banter — can affect a player’s performance and earnings. Especially if Kuchar gets in contention on a Sunday, when the stakes are higher and the fans are over-served. It takes just one bad actor, and Kuchar gave them a script.
Other costs are more intangible: Reputational damage, marketability, the respect of his peers. Everyone with a grudge and a Twitter handle has been given license to stick the boot in. A tsunami of negative Kuchar tales have metastasized online, each unchecked claim gleefully amplified, even one accusing him of not getting ice cream for a kid caddying in his group. I mean, who could like a guy who won’t give a kid ice cream?
Cheapskate-gate has been a master class in public relations mismanagement.
“The tip can be righted. It’s the words that won’t go away,” said LeslieAnne Wade, the former head of PR for CBS Sports who now runs her own management company. “I would be more concerned about the perception of the words and what that says about a person than about the tip.”
On Friday afternoon, Day 35 since the story became public, there was finally a statement. And a check. Two of them, actually. Ortiz will get his $50,000, and a donation will be made to the tournament in Mexico for its charitable work. Kuchar admitted that he cringed while reading his comments from earlier in the week, and he copped to mishandling the matter.
“Golf is a game where we call penalties on ourselves,” he said, attempting to draw a line under the most costly victory of his career. “I should have done that long ago.”
On that, at least, both player and caddie will agree.