In light of the Matt Kuchar and his caddie fiasco, Paul Gallagher speaks to a European Tour caddie about the PR disaster for the player and gains some insight into the inner workings of a player/caddie arrangement
Matt Kuchar has been getting the airtime he doesn’t need. In doing so he completely sucked the air out of Sergio’s Saudi petulance recently. Golf is struggling enough these days without their star performers throwing themselves under the bus.
Greed, or ignorance, can be an awful affliction. Kuchar’s short arms, long pockets approach with his caddie at the Mayakoba Golf Classic last November is a story that simply wouldn’t go away. The top line was Kuchar won the tournament and earned $1.3 million but only gave his local Mexican caddie David Ortiz $5,000 instead of a percentage or win bonus.
Agreements between players and caddies take place all the time. In Kuchar’s defence, what was agreed was agreed. And remember, Ortiz was not the regular caddie, he was filling in for Kuchar’s regular bagman John Wood. The fact someone got wind of the financial details and how the story was subsequently handled were more glaring than the act itself.
Kuchar agreed to pay Ortiz a further $45,000 to reach the $50,000 total Ortiz “felt he deserved”. He also made a full public apology, but the whole sorry episode came long after the tall American’s squeaky-clean image has been well and truly soiled.
A contact currently caddying on the European Tour gave his view on the Kuchar saga and was able to shed some light on the inner mechanics of caddying and how agreements tend to be reached.
“With Kuchar, I’m not overly surprised what happened. If you’d asked me to pick out someone who would behave like that, Kuchar would be up there,” said our man inside the ropes. “He has a bit of a reputation as the sort who might bring his family to the Players’ Lounge and leave them there all day, so he doesn’t have to pay for them to go and eat somewhere else.
“That said, it’s an awkward one. There’s what happened, then what he said about it, and then what he said about what he said! What happened (paying $5,000 after winning $1.3m) was kind of an eye roller but likely wouldn’t have gone any further if he hadn’t then asked everyone to ‘get off his case’.
“However, Kuchar’s second statement was borderline racist when he said ‘making $5,000 is a great week’ for him. That whole aspect was cringing.”
Kuchar admitted as much in his last statement. “I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive, making a bad situation worse.” It’s hardly a chapter his manager Mark Steinberg, who also manages Tiger Woods, will look back on fondly either.
We asked our contact, what is a typical setup between player and caddie – if there is such a thing?
“Ultimately players and caddies form agreements all the time. I would say nine times out of 10 they are informal and verbal and there’s little either can do to go against any agreement or make counter claim. Reputation is all any of us have and that’s what we trade on, our word.
“A standard rule or guide would be five per cent for making the cut, seven per cent for a top 10 and 10 per cent of the prize fund for a win. That’s pretty standard stuff. Agreements will differ and some of the payments will be made before or after tax, depending on the player and which jurisdiction you are in.
“Travel costs also vary, some players will pay half flights, some caddies choose not to because they like their own flexibility. Accommodation is usually up to the caddie, but that can change if you get nearer to the top end of the game.”
“All I can say is it’s a weird labour market. You could have this conversation with 100 different guys and you will have 100 different outlooks. Relationships between players and caddies varies massively.”
Paul Dunne, for example, has a close working relationship with his caddie Darren Reynolds and both spend a lot of time in each other’s company on tour. “At the other end of the spectrum, I know caddies who rock up on a Tuesday afternoon, pick up the bag and set it down after the round on Sunday afternoon and that’s all they do. They don’t even tag the flight bag.”
So, where did Kuchar go wrong?
“Somewhere along the way, he’ll have had a conversation with the local caddie and it went something like this: ‘If I miss the cut, I’ll give you $1,000, if I make it, I’ll pay you $2,000 and if I win, I’ll give you $4,000’.
“In the end Kuchar wins and gives Ortiz $5,000, more than initially agreed. But someone got wind of the details and said it was ridiculous.
“What I will say is, 10 per cent win bonus isn’t necessarily saying you did such a good job this week. To some extent it’s paying off all the times the player missed the cut, or flights became expensive because of last minutes changes to plans.
“We’re all in it buying a lottery ticket every week, looking for that one win that would make a difference.
“From that perspective you look at this local guy who Kuchar picked up and he doesn’t have any history with the player. Kuchar’s mistake was he should have kept subsequent opinion to himself rather than putting it out there on social media.
“Either way, agreements are made between players and caddies and the details of which should ultimately stay out of the press. You don’t ask people how much they earn in other walks of life.”
Kuchar will be happy to get back to letting his golf do the talking.
IRISH GOLFER MAGAZINE