Kuchar and His Caddie Dilemma

The Unfortunate Exchange Between Matt Kuchar and David Ortiz

As a teen, I had one of those jobs that almost all teens have. It was, as most of them are, rather thankless, but I did learn one lesson on a particular day when a person I was attending said to me, “I’ve got a tip for you.” I summoned the best manners I could, and simply said, “Thank you.” He responded, “Don’t play the horses.” Then he walked away and left. He was able to do that because of what I was at the time. I was a teen, I was in a job with no future, just trying to make the summer finances work. I had not yet finished a degree, and was ripe for abuse that perpetrators call “experience.” I dearly hope that is not what Matt Kuchar was doing.

Kuchar hasn’t won for a few years, but he remains one of the top group of money earners on the PGA Tour. He recently broke the dry spell by winning the Mayakalia Classic in Mexico. His grand prize – nearly 1.3 million. I guess there is an unwritten arrangement between players and caddies, with some variations – a certain percent for making the cut, the top ten, or in the ideal circumstance, a win. The percentage varies between 3 and 10 percent, but a win leans more heavily toward 10. At various times,  players will cover certain caddie expenses, such as travel, and other times, not. Kuchar’s regular tour caddie, John Wood, was not able to make the tournament, having signed on to another project, and as sometimes happens, Kuchar hired a local caddie from the course, a Mr. David Giral Ortiz. At this point, I would hasten to note that Ortiz is not a second-rate caddie simply because he lives where the tournament is being held. A local expert is often the best source of guidance for playing a course he has known for years. Ortiz’ residence is a cinder block house near the course.
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Apparently, Kuchar arranged terms with Ortiz, but the possibility of cuts, top tens or a win were not set in stone. Following the lucrative victory, Kuchar presented Ortiz with an envelope containing $3,000, then departed. Word got around, and the caddie who had served as a thinking man’s counselor and beast of burden for four days offered a mild-mannered objection for what one columnist called the “all-time stiffing.” Mr. Wood, had he been the caddie for Kuchar, would without a doubt have received 10 percent of the winning check, so ironic in the victory photo with golfer, caddie, and large check. The stink over the issue grew, and Kuchar upped the ante somewhat, from three to five thousand, and eventually to fifteen. One must assume that Kuchar thought it over more than once, but also that people were in his ear, perhaps other players, press,  caddies, etc. Eventually, Kuchar apologized and promised Ortiz the full amount.

That’s all fine and good. I don’t know what the inner details were, or what Kuchar was originally thinking. However, as I said before, I hope that it wasn’t the same principle that hides behind child and slave labor in economically disadvantaged countries. The reason I bring it up is that Kuchar is quoted as saying, “For a guy who makes $200 a day, $5,000 is a really big week. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.” I can’t swear that such is the case, but my pursuit of a certain logic added a sub-text that “He’s a Mexican, the peso is lousy, so I can get him for peanuts, and he’ll still love it because it’s so much better than usual.” It’s sounds like the principle, or lack of it, behind corporate installations in poverty-stricken areas filled with sweat-shops. Most humans might be tempted by a pathway to make off with more of the prize money than usual, and rationalize it with what the victim is used to.

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Kuchar made it clear that he was satisfied with and appreciative of Ortiz’ work. For four days, the golfer was in the professional golf business, and the caddie was as well, whatever else he does in other weeks. The golfer delivered, and the caddie did as well, a good effort all around. The golfer got the money the tournament said he would get by winning, and the caddie – he should take what John Wood would have gotten. I don’t know how long the heckling will continue at the tee box, but Kuchar’s professional life has changed. He has been put to an ethical test, and only he can make sense of whether he passed it or not.

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