For the second time this season, Matt Kuchar found himself embroiled in controversy. And for the second time, he took the wrong option when the ethical path was easier than a tap in.
The latest incident occurred at WGC World Match Play event in Austin, Texas when an unfortunate dispute threatened to mar an otherwise intriguing quarter-final clash between Kuchar and Sergio Garcia.
It all kicked off on the par-3, 7th when Garcia missed a seven-foot birdie putt to win the hole leaving it a few inches to the left. That wasn’t the problem though. Thinking the putt had been conceded to halve, he inexplicably stabbed the putt with the back of his putter head toward the hole and missed.
Officials stepped in and said that although Kuchar would have given him the putt, technically the putt had not been conceded and marked the hole as won by Kuchar. This was only the beginning of the drama though.
When Kuchar told Garcia that he did not want to win the hole that way, Garcia suggested he could rectify this by forfeiting the next hole to even things up. A reasonable suggestion you would think, considering that Kuchar, already leading, would still have the advantage of having fewer holes to defend in order to advance. Kuchar declined the suggestion, saying he didn’t like the idea, without giving any reason as to why not.
This brings to mind the other recent unsavoury incident involving Kuchar. After winning a PGA event in Mexico in December, he paid his caddie a measly $5,000 after earning $1.3m in prize money – standard caddie fees for winning a tournament usually run at around 10% of prize money.
This is just wrong on every level. Kuchar has earned over $50m in prize money throughout his career and his substitute caddie is poor. Yes, the unofficial tipping etiquette for substitute caddies has a lower figure than 10% and Kuchar had an agreement beforehand with the caddie, but $5,000 represents a 0.4% commission for a guy who has just helped you win a tournament with his local knowledge! Kuchar ultimately paid his caddie $50,000 but only after intense media pressure. This could have been a feel-good fairytale story if Kuchar had paid him out properly – securing his future for a fraction of his winnings.
This is where I have a problem with Kuchar. For all the golly-gee, Mr Nice Guy image that he likes to portray, he doesn’t step up when it’s time to do the right thing.
The right thing to do in Mexico?
Pay his caddie $150,000 for his troubles and to say sorry for not handling the matter correctly in the first place. That would have put the issue to bed properly.
In the Garcia dispute?
Kuchar could have just forfeited the next hole. Simple and fair.
Some will instead point fingers at Garcia. Yes, it was Garcia who let his temper get the better of him after missing the initial putt. Yes, it was not Kuchar who instigated it. Yes, Garcia has himself recently been involved in some controversy – getting himself disqualified in Abu Dhabi for damaging greens.
It’s also true that rules are rules in golf. But this is matchplay and the players certainly have some leverage in this regard. In fact, one only has to look back to 2014 and the third round of the match play against Rickie Fowler, when Garcia himself made an incredible sporting gesture. After taking a drop in a ruling that took an excessive amount of time and may have negatively impacted Fowler’s concentration, Garcia conceded an 18-foot par putt to Fowler who went on to win the match on the 18th.
This time around, Garcia was forced to backpedal, admit his wrongdoing and walk away before doing any more harm to his bad-tempered image.
The controversy also robbed golf viewers of the chance to enjoy a great battle of golf – Kuchar ultimately won the game on the last hole but it was yet another hollow victory.