Everything currently wrong with America can be found in the Matt Kuchar caddie story. It’s our world in a nutshell, a microcosm of a society and a people who are, to varying degrees, obliviously addicted, perpetually outraged, gleefully sadistic, devoid of proportionality and seemingly incapable of love, forgiveness and the decency required for a nation to survive.
In case you have been under a rock the past week, Kuchar, who has experienced a career resurgence with two victories in this latest wraparound season, broke his four-year winless streak last November at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. At that event, Kuchar hired a local caddie, a Mexican man named David Giral Ortiz. Player and caddie agreed to a fee of $4,000 for the week if Kuchar finished in the top 10. Ortiz’s normal fee, in a non-tournament setting, was $200 a day. Kuchar won, collected $1.296 million and paid Ortiz $5,000.
Those are the facts from an event that took place almost 100 days ago. A quarter of a year. Almost a complete college football season. In fact, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series two weeks to the day before Kuchar won at Mayakoba. Yet, on the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, the story is still in the news, not because of a particular shot or a score or any drama that took place on the course. It’s making headlines because of what one man paid another.
Some players have said things publicly about Kuchar’s payment. Not many, but a few. One said he couldn’t live with himself if he had paid only $5,000 to a caddie the week of a win. Others have said, no, the percentage payout some players arrange, which can be 10 percent for a win, is for full-time caddies, men and some women who travel 25 to 35 weeks a year, suffer through missed cuts, fight through bad weather, coach and counsel while also being psychologist and secretary, all while spending long days on the course and the range.
Both positions are reasonable and justifiable. You can disagree with Kuchar’s decision. You can even be appalled that he wouldn’t at least cut the guy a five-figure check. Or you might shrug and say, “I don’t know what I would have done.”
But that’s not where we are in America. Every topic that worms its way into our social-media-obsessed conscience has become high-pitched tribal warfare, a take-no-prisoners battle fueled by a media that is obsessed with minute-by-minute traffic to this or that website.
The common term for stories that spark these virtual bloodbaths is “clickbait,” although marketers like to doll them up by referring to them as “high-impression events.”
An impression is any interaction with a story, video or a social media post, be it through viewing, commenting or sharing. The “hotter the take,” which is online-speak for how controversial a topic or an opinion might be, the more impressions it attracts.
Since Kuchar was asked about the caddie incident in Los Angeles this week, almost every outlet in sports has covered it, either through stories on their websites, or more stealthily, by having their correspondents tweet about it.
Twitter is the forward trench in this societal suicide mission, the home of the vilest online thuggery and most shocking mob behavior. On Friday, in one thread alone, Kuchar was called a “miserable greedy elitist with little regard for the ‘help,’ ” a “tightwad douche,” a “smug a**hole,” and, of course, a “racist.” Multiply that by a thousand or more and that was what Kuchar has faced.
The media owns a lot of this. Don’t kid yourself, if David Giral Ortiz from Mexico had been David Smith from Iowa, this story would have lasted one day, maybe two. But the narrative of a rich, white man from Sea Island, Ga., giving what many consider a low-ball sum to a poor Mexican national was too good to pass up. So rather than put the story in context of Kuchar’s life and career – a career where he has always been mild-mannered and middle-of-the-road helpful to everyone; not the greatest guy on tour but far and away not the worst; a guy who everyone agrees is on the positive side of the ledger – people who have not known Kuchar and his wife for decades fanned this spark into a wildfire.
So, what happens now? Will every local caddie be interviewed and asked how much he got paid? Or is it more likely that caddies at El Camaleon Golf Club and other far-flung venues will be shunned by players when the tour comes to town?
On Friday, the mob won. Kuchar put out a statement that read, in part, “This week I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive, making a bad situation worse. They made it seem like I am marginalizing David Ortiz and his financial situation, which was not my intention. … This is not who I am and not what I want to represent. My entire tour career, 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.”
He went on to say he had made sure Ortiz had received the compensation he had requested (reportedly $50,000) and would make a sizable donation to the charities affiliated with the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
Believing this will placate those who called Kuchar every vile name under the sun is folly. As my father says, “You can’t talk a man out of something he didn’t think himself into.” I don’t believe Dad came up with that on his own. But it applies to more aspects of life now than ever.
So, what happens now? Will every local caddie be interviewed and asked how much he got paid? Or is it more likely that caddies at El Camaleon Golf Club and other far-flung venues will be shunned by players when the tour comes to town? Why would anyone risk hiring a local after this fiasco?
And how about locker-room attendants. Will they be polled to see which players are the best and worst tippers? Or is it more likely that a wider and more impenetrable barrier will be erected between the media and everyone involved in a PGA Tour event?
Matt Kuchar is a 40-year-old father of two who has a lovely wife, a receded hairline and almost $47 million in career earnings. This incident will not affect his life one bit.
The real damage will be to a media that whipped up this story, and the members of the mob who lost their collective minds.
Those are the people who need to atone. Unfortunately, since they didn’t think their way into their position, nobody is likely to talk them out of it.
Matt Kuchar, shown during his win in the 2018 Sony Open in Hawaii, is under fire because of what he paid his caddie after winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA Today Sports
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