PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | When Matt Kuchar walked in to meet the media last Tuesday before the Mayakoba Golf Classic, nearly every seat was taken. Reporters gathered on both sides of the press room, a multitude of cameras pointed at Kuchar, the tournament’s defending champion.
In the same room a year ago, there were laughter and smiles when Kuchar (above) described local fill-in caddie David “El Tucán” Ortiz as a good luck charm who helped him win his first PGA Tour title in more than four years. This time around, the mood was far more serious as Kuchar publicly addressed an unfortunate episode in an effort to make peace with the local community.
It had been roughly 10 months since word spread and later was confirmed that Kuchar paid Ortiz $5,000 – the amount they had agreed upon if Kuchar were to make the cut – from the nearly $1.3 million first-place check he earned in the 2018 event. With that payout being far less than in normal circumstances for a victorious caddie, Kuchar was widely criticized.
Ortiz requested an additional $45,000, which Kuchar eventually paid him. However, Kuchar’s handling of the situation tarnished his previously clean image. It’s something he still is trying to heal, which was evident last week when he came back to Mexico.
“I know what happened post-tournament with David is something I’m not proud of,” Kuchar said before taking questions. “I made some headlines that certainly I’m definitely not proud of, but I’ve done my best to make amends, to make things right with David, to do things right by the community.
“That was a tough thing on me and my family, but it was really tough when I heard my grandmother and she’s reading headlines about her grandson. I think I’ve always tried to make her proud. I’ve got kids of my own, you try to set a good example.”
Kuchar’s first-tee reception in the first round was cordial, and there didn’t appear to be signs of animosity toward him from the crowd during his round. He employed his longtime caddie John Wood for this year’s event, while Ortiz found a last-minute job looping for Rob Oppenheim, who missed the cut by three strokes.
Despite the challenges Kuchar faced in the wake of last year’s incident, his play continues to be consistent. He entered the Mayakoba tournament ranked No. 22 in the world and will represent the United States at the Presidents Cup for the fifth consecutive time when it is contested next month at Royal Melbourne. He said that berth is particularly meaningful after a dip in performance that preceded his 2018 Mayakoba victory.
“It was a disappointing year for sure for me,” Kuchar said. “I was really excited to play for Jim Furyk at the (2018) Ryder Cup in France. I didn’t make that team. … So I’m excited to be building for the Presidents Cup.”