Opinion: Villains like Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia are good for golf

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Call Matt Kuchar what you like. Catcall him from the gallery next time you see him at a tournament, like a handful of fans did at the Genesis Open on Friday. Blast him on social media and throw in the hashtag "#cheapskate" for good measure.

If you’re European, start preparing your colorful taunts and money-related jibes in advance of next year’s Ryder Cup. If you’re not, bemoan and shake your head at the way a $1.3 million payday turned into a cataclysmic public relations hailstorm.

Do pretty much whatever you want, just don’t say Kuchar’s actions are bad for golf.

Because they’re not. The lingering fallout from the Mayakoba Golf Classic champion’s penny-pinching fiscal offering ($5,000) to stand-in Mexican caddie David Giral Ortiz made Kuchar himself look like a guy with a bewildering mish-mash of unsavory traits. How about greed, belligerence, insensitivity, ignorance, snootiness and an astonishing lack of awareness for starters?

But it is him that looked bad, and still looks somewhat bad even after backing down and agreeing to pay Ortiz $50,000, per a statement he released on Friday.

Golf didn’t look bad. Golf made out great. Golf, heading towards the tail end of NBA All-Star week, was getting itself talked about on Pardon The Interruption and chirped about up and down Twitter’s testy channels of pontification. Golf, at the rather sleepy beginning of the calendar year, was a hot topic of conversation. The best bit of all, the chatter was by no means restricted to golf fans, or even supporters of other sports. This was an all-inclusive argument, with two clearly defined ideologies batting the topic back and forth in bars and on couches and in Ubers and parent-teacher conferences and all the weird kinds of places you’d never typically hear talk of birdies and lofted wedges.

Is a deal a deal? Or did the little guy get screwed?

Opinion: Matt Kuchar finally pays caddie $50,000, but drama costs him more than cash

More Opinion: Sergio Garcia's past behavior speaks louder than his latest apology after DQ

As this is an opinion piece, here’s mine. The caddie, Ortiz, did get screwed but possibly made things a bit more dramatic than they needed to be. Kuchar, the multi-millionaire, acted like an idiot and made it worse by talking about it pompously. It’s pretty sanctimonious to say that “for a guy who usually makes $200, $5,000 is a great week,” when you’ve just landed a check worth 260-times that amount. Ortiz took over the bag when Kuchar’s regular caddy, John Wood, did not travel to Mexico. Typically tour caddies make 10 percent of their player’s winner’s check. Kuchar’s agency later offered an extra $15,000, before finally agreeing to pay the $50,000 Ortiz suggested was appropriate.

But again, golf isn’t hurting because of it. Golf has enough polite guys in nice and expensive country club threads, saying and doing and nodding at the right things. Now it has a villain, quite an unlikely one given how popular Kuchar previously was, but a villain nonetheless. There’s another villain knocking around the place in Sergio Garcia, too, after his marvelously petulant meltdown in Saudi Arabia last week, but more on him in a bit.

Kuchargate, Caddiegate, Bonusgate, JustPayTheGuy-gate is one of those topics that virtually everyone has some kind of relatively strong take on. The main reason is that there really isn’t any middle ground to be had, except for total indifference.

Given that the etiquette of tipping culture is as ingrained in American life as overeating and Netflix-binging, and the bonus payments to caddies are a form of tipping, people get fairly heated about it. And contentious verbal banter is something golf can use more of.

The best thing in golf is the Ryder Cup, where passions are ignited like nothing else in the sport and where courtesy and propriety give way to swagger, nationalism and emotion.

The next best thing is the final day of major championships, where the crowds are involved at the heart of the action, their vocal chords adding to the drama and jangling at the nerves of the players.

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