Folklore relays that Phil Mickelson almost reduced the staff at Winged Foot Golf Club to tears with the size of his tips at the US Open in 2006. After blowing a final round lead to finish six-over-par, Mickelson was seen stuffing fistfuls of notes into the palms of locker-room helpers and greenkeepers. The total, it’s told, amounted to over $10,000.
But in a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style blunder, it was another of golf’s much-loved ‘fun dad’s’ in Matt Kuchar whose gratuity – or lack thereof - has caused eyes to water. After the small issues of Saudi Arabian human rights and leaving the flag in while putting, golf has returned to its most pressing matter: etiquette.
Kuchar, a 40-year-old Floridian with an innocuous grin and receding hairline – otherwise referred to by the fairway fence claque as ‘Kuuuuch’ – had called on local caddie David Giral Ortiz to man his bag at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November after his usual partner had been waylaid.
The standard fare for fill-in caddies on the PGA Tour is around $3,000, and Ortiz, who travels 20 minutes by bus from his small home to reach the luxury resort, had already begun making plans to replace the curtains, repair the walls and fly his daughter home for Christmas. A storybook anecdote that nobody was expected to hear.
But when Kuchar, tenth in the Tour’s all-time money list having earned over $46m, trotted down the 18th fairway on his way to another $1.3m win, a skirmish over uncoordinated tipping emerged.
Etiquette, golf’s law which once graced in a power beyond those written down, tells that the winning player should give his caddy 10% of the prize, and believing $130,000 was on his way, Ortiz had begun dreaming of opening his own laundromat.
“He was definitely my lucky charm,” Kuchar said afterwards, by which point the pair’s newly struck relationship had become something of a fanfare. “He brought me good luck and certainly some extra crowd support and did a great job as well. He did just what I was hoping for and looking for.”
And after the champagne was spritzed and the ceremonies concluded, Kuchar placed a sealed envelope into Ortiz’s palm. “There you go,” he said. “Thank you. Bye.”
The moment Kuchar was out of eyeshot, Ortiz excitedly began to count the life-changing bills. He began with the $100s, then $50s, $20s, a few $10s and those lowly $5s stuffed at the bottom of the bag. There was exactly $5,000.
Kuchar’s ostensibly life-changing gratuity amounted to 0.38%.
“I was very clear and very upfront on Tuesday [of the tournament week],” Kuchar told Golf.com. “He had the ability, with bonuses, to make up to $4,000…The extra $1,000 was, ‘Thank you — it was a great week’.”
Ortiz, however, who had initially stayed silent about what he’d been given, still believed the bonus money was on its way and composed an email, via Google Translate, to Mark Steinberg, Kuchar’s agent, asking for $50,000. Steinberg, who also works with Tiger Woods and Justin Rose, offered $15,000 in return – without Kuchar’s knowledge.
Ortiz told him to keep it.
A usually tea-pot character famed for tempered emotions and a trademark smile, Kuchar has since become prized fodder for golf’s rarely graced gossip columns. Players jested with him in the locker room, outsiders disparaged his parsimony. Why couldn’t one of golf’s richest players part with a little flotsam to change Ortiz’s life?
The sport’s reputation is already needlessly flailing thanks to oil-infused appearance fees and the sight of Sergio Garcia thrashing at a bunker like a man-child attacking a rival toddler’s sand castle. Could a game so deprived of people’s champions not, just this once, have helped the little man. The guy who goes to the bank to borrow money, rather than having their logos emblazoned across his hat and sleeves.
‘Kuuuuch’, however, is not that guy. “I kind of think someone got in his ear…,” he continued, somewhat bamboozled by the whole malarkey. “For a guy who makes $200-a-day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.”
$130,000? Well that would just be ludicrious. Yes, indeed, 0.38%. That should suffice.
“I think if you ask locker room attendants, they’ll tell you that they’re happy to see me,” Kuchar concluded. “I’m no Phil Mickelson, but these guys are like, ‘Matt’s coming our way.’