Last week was a pretty good one for Matt Kuchar. He won just over $1 million for finishing runner-up in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament in Austin, Texas, beaten in the final by fellow-American, Kevin Kisner. The 40-year-old will have to wait a while longer for PGA Tour win No. 10.
You may have noticed, though, that most of the headlines he garnered were for something which occurred in his quarter-final match against Sergio Garcia. On the 7th green, Garcia missed an eight-foot putt to win the hole. His ball finished two inches from the cup and, angry with himself, he attempted to backhand-putt the ball into the hole, a target he managed to miss. Kuchar told their accompanying rules official that he would have conceded the putt, obviously, but was told he could not do that retrospectively. He thus won the hole and eventually won the match on the last green.
There are several takes on this. The fault was Garcia’s, of course, but he was mightily peeved that if ‘Kooch’ meant it when he said “it’s just one of those rules and it’s unfortunate”, why did he not deliberately lose the next hole to even things up? One former tour pro suggested that Kuchar’s behaviour was “like the guy who sees that you need to move your ball to mark it and then asks if you replaced it only after you’ve putted and he knows you haven’t”. Ooch, Kooch. And given the beating Garcia’s putter gave those greens in Saudi Arabia in February, leading to his disqualification there, maybe Kuchar was taking a big risk by riling him?
Kuchar has been no stranger to controversy lately. At the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, Mexico, last November, his winning cheque was for $1.3 million. His regular caddie wasn’t with him. A local guy, David Ortiz, got the gig. They agreed beforehand a fee of $4,000. After his victory, Kuchar upped that to $5,000. His regular man would have received 10% of his winnings – $130,000. Kuchar said: “For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week. I’m not losing any sleep over it.” Having been informed this did not make him look good, he apologised to Ortiz, to the tournament and “to fans of the game”, paid Ortiz $50,000 and made a donation to charities associated with the tournament.
The Spanish/Mexican theme reminded me of an old Seve Ballesteros/Lee Trevino story. When Ballesteros won his first tournament in America, the 1978 Greater Greensboro Open, he paid his caddie 4% of his winnings. The caddie thought they had agreed 5%. He fired Seve. (In Seve’s onward career, that tended to work the other way.) Two weeks later, Ballesteros led the Tournament of Champions by five shots after 54 holes. His last-round playing partner was Trevino. You can guess who his caddie was. Seve shot 79 on Sunday and lost by five shots. Now, you would never have got Seve to admit he’d been unnerved by a caddie, but – notwithstanding the hammy Golf Digest kiss-and-make-up chat between the pair on You Tube – if Garcia is drawn with Kuchar in the last match out in the Masters on Sunday week, he might want to see if there’s a caddie in Mexico who fancies a job. Just for one day.
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