Light Wallet and Bad Form Give Golf Another Hit

     Golf is a game with a small corps of die-hard fans and I am one of them. I love playing the game, and I love to watch it. One thing I never do is try and pretend that it is for everyone. I understand if people think it’s boring, I understand if people tab it as a sport for rich people, and I certainly understand when people make fun of its peculiarities in the rules of the game.

     Golf is constantly striving to become more mainstream. They had, and now have again Tiger Woods, but besides that, most of the time for every step forward that the game makes in picking up fans, it takes two steps back. Or a giant leap backwards again this week, as one of the games most popular players, Matt Kuchar, was exposed as a myopic cheapskate and borderline bigot.

     A few months back in November, in what at the time was a feel good story, the ever-smiling “Koooooch”, whose nickname is crooned out often during his rounds, won the Mayakoba Classic for his first tournament victory in four years, with a local caddie on the bag. It was his ninth career win, and it moved his career earnings on the course to almost fifty million dollars. Kuchar is also one of the top corporate earners on tour, with his consistent play, outwardly sunny personality, and easygoing nature netting him big contracts with the likes of Bridgestone, RBC bank, and Skechers.

     I felt good for Kuchar. I have always had positive feelings for him, he has been pleasant when I have covered golf, but the stunt he pulled that week, and his reaction to it when it was exposed, will put an end to that, at least for quite a while. Kuchar picked up a cool 1.3 million dollars for the win. His regular caddie John Wood, who had a conflict for the week and couldn’t make it, no doubt felt pretty ill, because the standard ten percent for a win would have been a lovely 130 grand. Local caddy David Ortiz filled in admirably, and his compensation was ……five thousand dollars.

     I had heard a bit about this story, but for some reason it didn’t get any real legs until this week. When Kuchar was asked about it by reporters, his comments turned a camp fire into a volcano. Among his tone-deaf comments were these…

     “I certainly don’t lose sleep over this,” he said. “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.” Not nearly as great at $130,000, Matt.

     He doubled down with this beauty…

     "You can't make everyone happy," Kuchar said. "For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week."

     That’s the one that really got me, just about the equivalent of saying that this poor Mexican should be happy that he got this much.

     The story started to become public about a month ago when Kuchar followed up with a win in Hawaii at the Sony Open. When that occurred Kuchar and his team offered Ortiz fifteen thousand, and he told them to keep his money. He was seeking $50,000.00, still only about forty cents on the dollar for the standard rate.

     Now, Mark Steinberg his agent, who has plenty of experience clearing up PR messes with his slightly more prominent client Tiger Woods, started to go into action. He said the story was overblown and that the original figures were distorted. Unfortunately for Steinberg, his own client was on the record clearly saying he was happy that he paid Ortiz five thousand.

    The stuff really started hitting the fan two days ago, and everyone was weighing in, and for the most part, Kuchar was taking a deserved beating. This whole thing ended up being a combination of a blog I wrote a while back, and reposted when Johnny Miller did his last tournament concerning the soft treatment golfers get in general from the golf broadcast community…..

And the one I wrote yesterday about how fans will often have their happy balloon busted by reality…

     I was listening to PGA tour radio yesterday, and their fine afternoon show “Katrek and McGinness on Tap”. Former Tour player John McGinnis was the solo host for the day, and he was fielding calls on the topic. Kuchar should have been tuned in, since five callers in a row rose to his defense, generally saying “a deal is a deal”. I was appalled, but not surprised. Golf fans are almost as soft as media on golfers, and the audience isn’t usually much inclined to have a soft spot for the likes of a poor caddy.

     I was fired up enough to call in, but McGinnis told a story that got the other side across better than I ever could, so I didn’t weigh in. McGinnis’ brother was someone who restored Harley Davidsons, and was always on the lookout for deals. He came across an ad posted by a lady who lived on a farm and was selling a Harley for five hundred dollars. McGinnis’ brother drove out and paid the sum and went on his way.

     But he always checked the serial numbers and would call the company to check on the value. In this case the initial figures stated was large, but he wanted the bike. But Harley kept upping the ante until in reached $250,000.00. It turns out that under the seat was the engraving “To the Colonel….From Elvis”. Harley had been searching out this treasure for years.

     The younger McGinnis finally said he would take the payment, but he wanted it paid out this way. In two equal checks, one of which went to the lady farmer. He had a deal for five hundred, he didn’t have to do it, but it was the right thing to do. It was actually a helluva thing to do. The lady likely would have been thrilled with ten grand. But in this case there were two winners, and in my mind McGinnis was the bigger one.

     But I guess Matt Kuchar wouldn’t get that. Finally, yesterday Kuchar actually issued a written apology, and I will say that it was a good one. But I can’t say it was heartfelt. It came after he first upped the ante just slightly when first exposed, and then after really getting ripped. and after meeting with his sponsors, he finally paid up. Fifty grand to Ortiz, and the remaining eighty thousand to the Mayakoba golf association, finally getting to the total he would have paid to John Wood. I am damn sure Kuchar wishes now that ole Woody would have made the trip.

     The structure of the payments seems quite orchestrated to me, and likely the work of Kuchar and his “team” in concert. Kuchar was taking some stick from the gallery yesterday, and while I’m not much for heckling in golf, I might have to make an exception here. Maybe Kuchar really will learn something from this, I really hope so.

     Because he clearly has a lot to learn.

Danny Clinkscale