When Jason Dufner withdrew from this week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic to open the door for first alternate Rob Oppenheim to get into the field, Oppenheim hopped a last-minute flight from his home in Orlando to Cancun, arriving on Wednesday night.
The only snag? Getting his regular caddie, Dean Emerson, from his home in Boston to Mexico in time for Thursday’s opening round.
So Oppenheim turned to a familiar name: David (El Tucan) Ortiz.
“I needed a caddie,” Oppenheim told Golf Digest. “He lives here, was available and aside from everything that has gone on I was looking for the best opportunity to play well. He knows the course and has had success here.”
It was last November that Ortiz first garnered attention when he filled in for Matt Kuchar’s regular caddie, John Wood. Before the tournament began, Kuchar said he agreed to pay Ortiz $5,000 for the week if he made the cut. Kuchar went on to win and took home a $1.3 million winner’s check.
Full-time caddies usually get 10 percent of a winner’s check. But Ortiz received no additional money.
In January, the story broke while Kuchar was in contention at the Sony Open. Things quickly spiraled from there, with the 41-year-old nine-time PGA Tour winner heavily criticized for what most considered being a cheapskate. The criticism only grew when Kuchar, who has earned more than $50 million in his career, tried to defend his decision. After more than a month, he finally relented, apologized and paid Ortiz an additional $45,000.
This week, Kuchar is back to defend his title at El Camaleon Golf Club, with Wood back in his regular spot on the bag.
So is Ortiz, who had been at the course and on the hunt for a bag all week. For one reason or another, he wasn’t able to land one.
Enter Oppenheim, who had asked around about a few different caddies. No one was available. Then he thought of El Tucan, who lives in the area and had also helped Alex Cejka to a T-9 in the event the year before. Oppenheim asked tournament director Joe Mazzeo for Ortiz’s phone number and the two were connected. They met for the first time on Thursday but inclement weather delayed the start of the round before it was called for the day.
As for the arrangement between the two? Oppenheim didn’t disclose the amount but said it was mutually agreed upon and that both he and Ortiz thought it was fair.
“Whether it’s him, or any caddie, you want to discuss what the expectations are and payments are and get that out in the open before you go to work,” Oppenheim said. “But I would’ve done that with any guy.”
Still, a few players noticed and couldn’t help ask Oppenheim about Ortiz.
“It’s not like he didn’t want to be here,” Oppenheim said. “Maybe some guys didn’t want to deal with the [attention] of it. I didn’t look at it that way; it was a good fit for me. [What Kuchar did] was last year. I just want to give myself the best chance to play well.”