Matt Kuchar is defending his title at this week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic, but his return to Mexico is understandably making headlines for another reason. He’s back at the El Camaleon Golf Club, the birthplace of his infamous caddie-payment scandal.
A contrite Kuchar spoke to reporters on Tuesday and said the ordeal is “something I’m not proud of,” and that it prompted some self-reflection.
“I’ve tried to use this opportunity to learn from mistakes, to grow, to try to learn and be better,” Kuchar said. “I’m proud of being able to make amends like I have with David and the community, and certainly very excited to get this week started off to hopefully a good start here.”
A refresher on one of golf’s spiciest controversies in recent memory: Last November, Kuchar used a local caddie, David (El Tucan) Ortiz, at Mayakoba because his normal looper, John Wood, could not work. Before the tournament started, Kuchar said he agreed to pay Ortiz a flat rate of $5,000 for the week if he made the cut. Kuchar went on to win the tournament and its $1.3 million winner’s check, but did not give Ortiz any bonus in addition to the $5,000 payment. Full-time caddies usually receive around 10 percent of a winner’s prize; Ortiz’ pay amounted to roughly 0.4 percent of Kuchar’s earnings.
News of the payment short fall didn’t come to the light until January, when Kuchar was contending in the Sony Open. The 41-year-old nine-time PGA Tour winner, who has earned more than $50 million in career prize money, was widely criticized for missing an opportunity to help change the life of Ortiz, who worked as a caddie at El Cameleon for a few hundred dollars per day. The chorus of critics grew louder and more forceful when Kuchar seemed to initially defend his decision.
“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week,” Kuchar told Golf.com at the Genesis Open in February. Later that week, he changed his tune and apologized. He also eventually paid Ortiz an additional $45,000 and donated money to local charities.
Kuchar was asked Tuesday how the situation changed him as a person and a player.
“I think I equate it a lot to team sports, you know? You learn a lot in losses, you learn a lot in hard times.
“Certainly, it’s given me an opportunity for growth, for self-betterment. I try in situations to definitely not make that mistake again, but to be better in so many areas—to try to be more charitable, try to be more giving, try to take more opportunities to do the right things.”
Kuchar is making his first PGA Tour start of the 2019-’20 season after finishing a terrific 2018-’19 campaign that saw him win twice and qualify for the U.S. Presidents Cup team that will be competing in next month in Australia.