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Sobel: Answering the Questions About Kuchar, Spieth, McIlroy and Slow Play

Feb 19, 2019 8:00 PM EST

Gary A. Vazquez, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods, J.B. Holmes

  • With less than two months to go until The Masters, Jason Sobel looks at some pertinent questions around the PGA Tour.
  • What should Matt Kuchar do to repair his damaged reputation? Should the PGA penalize players for slow play?
  • And what should we make of Jordan Spieth's peculiar form?

When I was first starting out in the golf writing biz, a more experienced — and more volatile — member of the media offered some unique advice.

“Have it out with a player,” he said, “then the next day, you’ll both say your sorries and he’ll wind up being a great source afterward.”

That’s never really been my M.O., but on the few occasions I’ve had a dust-up with a player, I’ve usually found this to be true. Battle with a guy, then make up, and you’ll have a much better relationship than if you’ve never battled at all. I still don’t recommend the strategy, but it’s hard to argue the success rate.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, not because I’ve had a recent battle, but because I wonder if this works for a different dynamic, as well.

If a player sees his image tarnished publicly, draws the ire of fans who were never that passionate about him in the first place, then makes amends for his mistake, can he actually emerge with his reputation not just intact, but somehow better than before?

The clear example in this case is Matt Kuchar, who’s rightly drawn harsh criticism in the aftermath of winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic and paying his caddie $5,000 — much less than the going rate for a man on the winning bag.

Many saw this as a clear-cut situation: Kuchar earned more than a million bucks, then low-balled his one-week-only local caddie, David “El Tucan” Ortiz, by only offering a small envelope’s worth of cash.

By the time this story went public, it was a PR disaster. The rich, white professional golfer (with more than $46 million in career earnings) failed to pay the poor, Mexican caddie the standard rate for a win. It’s difficult to argue that this was anything less than pure selfishness.

Like all hot topics, though, this one caused so much fervor because there really wasn’t a clear-cut answer.

Sure, it’s a bad look, but Kuchar and Ortiz had reportedly agreed upon a monetary payment prior to the beginning of the tournament. And yes, the standard caddie payment for a win is 10 percent, but that’s for a regular caddie, a man being rewarded for the four years of missed cuts and canceled flights and time away from his family.

Even so, this was a fight Kuchar was never going to win – especially in the court of public opinion.

This past week, after doubling-down with a few tone-deaf comments, the golfer issued a press release that finally stated he’d call Ortiz, pay him a larger percentage for the win and donate money to charitable organizations around the Mayakoba.

Story’s over. Everyone’s happy. The end … right?

Not exactly. Kuchar’s reputation has taken an obvious hit, one which won’t be easy to overcome. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be impossible.

He’s already taken the first step: Owning the mistake. That was important. Once he does speak with Ortiz, if their conversation is amicable, he should invite him to a tournament. Maybe not to caddie – Kuchar’s regular guy, John Wood, is one of the best out there – but at least to hang out.

Matt Kuchar lines up a putt at Pebble Beach. Credit: Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports.

Show the public there are no hard feelings (if indeed, there aren’t). Hell, let the guy wear an I’M WITH STUPID t-shirt that points at Kuchar as they walk down a fairway together.

He was always the type of golfer who didn’t inspire much passion. The kind of guy who might not be your favorite, but certainly wasn’t your least favorite. This is his chance to change that narrative back – and maybe even get the public back on his side. It doesn’t end with a press release, though. It’ll take some work.

But hey, sometimes in this business it takes a dust-up before a relationship can improve. Maybe – just maybe – Kuchar can turn this entire ordeal into a positive in the public eye.

How slow can you go?