The photograph, Matt Kuchar says, sits in his office and “always” will.
In the image is Kuchar on his right knee posing with the trophy he won at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, his first victory in four years.
Kneeling to Kuchar’s right, holding the flag from the 18th green, is David Giral Ortiz, the local caddie who worked for Kuchar as a one-week replacement for his regular looper, John Wood, and whom Kuchar called his “lucky charm” that week.
Both men are wearing big smiles to signify the momentous event.
Neither is smiling today.
Not with the story of Kuchar paying Ortiz only $5,000 of the $1.296 million check he won that week — a sum that Ortiz has publicly described as unfair and insulting — having generated more publicity than Kuchar’s win did at the time.
This story took on a life of its own when Golf.com recently quoted Ortiz as saying: “I am not looking to disparage Matt or give him a bad name. Fair is fair, and I feel like I was taken advantage of by placing my trust in Matt.”
The story took a turn for the worse when it was revealed that Kuchar’s agent, Mark Steinberg, offered Ortiz an additional damage-control $15,000, but Ortiz, who said he’s seeking $50,000, turned it down as unacceptable, saying, “They can keep their money.”
The entire affair has become an embarrassing mess and one that cannot help but tarnish the reputation of Kuchar, who until now has been known as one of the nice guys on the PGA Tour.
This is where Steinberg comes in.
Kuchar pays Steinberg, whose job by definition is at least partially about handling public relations, a lot more than the $5,000 he paid Ortiz. And Steinberg has clumsily and irreparably mangled the situation.
If you recognize the Steinberg name, you do so because he’s represented Tiger Woods for some two decades, and he authored perhaps the sloppiest, most damaging job of public relations in sports history during Woods’ marital infidelity scandal in 2009.
Yes, Kuchar has not handled this Ortiz situation well, and he deserves criticism for his unfortunate frugality. But Steinberg, whom Kuchar pays to handle things like this, has failed miserably.
Steinberg is the common denominator to this Kuchar kerfuffle and the historic mishandling of the Woods scandal by hiding Woods in a cloak of silence for weeks, before Woods finally emerged in that ridiculous, awkward blue-curtain-background press conference in Ponte Vedra, Fla.
Steinberg did Woods no favors then with his professional incompetence and now, in a much tamer controversy, he’s done Kuchar no favors by failing to advise him to make it right with Ortiz.
The $50,000 Kuchar should have paid Ortiz — which is still $79,000 less than the PGA Tour going rate of 10 percent for caddies on a tournament-winning bag — is well worth preserving Kuchar’s squeaky-clean image, especially for a player who’s earned more than $47 million on the golf course and countless millions in endorsements off of it in his career.
Instead, what Ortiz got from Steinberg in response from the reported three emails Ortiz sent him was, according to Golf.com, a terse note telling him: “I am out of the country. What Matt has offered is fair.”
What actually would have been “fair” is Kuchar taking some of the money he overpays Steinberg and giving it to Ortiz.
Kuchar, in an interview with Golf.com this week at Riviera, said he’s “disappointed” and “sad” that the story has come to this, with Ortiz’s hurt feelings clouding one of the most rewarding wins of his career.
Kuchar, who insisted he and Ortiz agreed on a $1,000 payment if he missed the cut, $2,000 if he made the cut, $3,000 if he had a top-20 and $4,000 if he had a top-10, said he believes “someone got in his ear” about not being paid fairly.
The bottom line is this: Kuchar, even after the fact, should have been advised by Steinberg that the $5,000 was not a fair amount and that, despite the prior agreement, he should pay him the $50,000 Ortiz asked for.
Instead, Kuchar, who this week is playing the Genesis Open at Riviera in Los Angeles, is in the throes of damage control trying to defuse a story that’s raging louder than anything that’s taking place on the golf course. It’s damage control that Steinberg should have handled months ago.
How does this guy keep gaining and retaining clients like Woods (whose brilliant career has lined Steinberg’s pockets with money, built homes and made a life for him), Kuchar and current world No. 1 Justin Rose?
Good work if you can get it.
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