PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — A few fans cheered when Matt Kuchar missed a 20-footer for birdie on the par-4 12th hole during his opening round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club on Friday. Then one yelled, “Go Kooch! Don’t worry, I always root for the villain.”
That was nothing. On Riviera’s famed par-3 sixth, another let rip, “Go low, Kooch, go low! Just not on the gratuity!” After teeing off on 10, a guy pounced on the opportunity of silence, shouting “El Tucan, Kooch! Pay the caddie!”
Some were less polite. “F—k that guy,” said a middle-aged man of Kuchar. “What [Kuchar] did was wrong, REALLY wrong,” added an older gentleman, throwing in that he’s no longer a fan of the nine-time PGA Tour winner. All around the Riv there were more than a few sarcastic calls of “Mooch!” from the gallery.
Just like that Kuchar has gone from golf’s Mr. Rogers to its Mr. Potter, the cantankerous and miserly antagonist from "It’s A Wonderful Life", for cheapskating his way out of Mexico after winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic last fall (and $1.29 million) and giving the local caddie he used, David (El Tucan) Ortiz, $5,000 for his services for the week. It was a small amount even by fill-in standards.
Once the story became public last month, the social-media mob went to work. They weren’t alone, either, judging by reaction from those in the general sports media world (ESPN’s "Pardon The Interruption", etc.), to those following along in the gallery at the Genesis.
Still, Kuchar, who has made more than $46 million in on-course earnings in his nearly two decade-long career, and his agent, Mark Steinberg, managed to bungle their way through this whole mess. With statements by the golfer ranging from this not being a story, to $5,000 being a “good week” for a guy who normally makes $200 a day, to his not losing any sleep over it, he dug his hole even deeper.
For a player who had an otherwise well-deserved good-guy persona, Kuchar's rep was suddenly muddier than the rough at rain-soaked Riviera. Friday afternoon, he finally seemed to realize the severity of his actions.
“This week I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive, making a bad situation worse,” Kuchar said in a written statement between his first and second rounds at the rain-plagued Genesis Open. “They made it seem like I was marginalizing David Ortiz and his financial situation, which was not my intention. I read them again and cringed. That is not who I am and what I want to represent. My entire tour carer I have tried to show respect and positivity. In this situation I have not lived up to those values or to the expectations I’ve set for myself. I let myself, my family, my partners and those close to me down, but I also let David down. I plan to call David tonight, something that is long overdue, to apologize for the situation he has been put in, and I have made sure he has received the full total that he has requested.”
That total: $50,000. Hey, better late than never.
Now the only question is how much the entire incident will really cost Kuchar.
“It depends,” one agent in golf said. “It depends what his sponsors are willing to put up with and what their contracts are with him. It could affect him not at all, or it could affect him tremendously.”
Especially in the eyes of the public, which ultimately could prove much more costly than the 50 grand he could have forked over in the first place.
Earlier this week Sergio Garcia offered his own mea culpa for intentionally damaging multiple greens and throwing a temper tantrum on his way to getting disqualified in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago. But he has a history of bad behavior on the golf course. Kuchar, not so much.
“The tip can be righted,” said LeslieAnne Wade, the former head of PR for CBS Sports who now has her own media firm. “The issue long term is the words and how those words color our perception of the person. A second apology might correct some but unfortunately does not erase the memories of the words from the first apology.”
More than a month after the story first broke, Kuchar’s final words in his statement were this:
“For my fans, as well as fans of the game, I want to apologize to you for not representing the values instilled in this incredible sport. Golf is a game where we call penalties on ourselves. I should have done that long ago and not let this situation escalate.”
That much, everyone can agree on.