Turning 40 has been good for Matthew Gregory Kuchar, better known as Matt Kuchar - at least at a golfing level. Born on 21 June 1978 in Winter Park, Florida, the American is enjoying a golden run so far this season, with two victories and a fourth place.
In fact, it has been his best career season, together with 2016, when it comes to number of wins ever since he graduated in business administration at university in 2000, turned professional and in 2001 joined the US PGA Tour. His performances this season, until February, had brought him nearly $3 million in prize money, accumulating a total of $46.6 million on the US circuit, where he won the first of his nine victories in 2009 (Turning Stone Resort Championship). The following year he collected his second victory and finished the season second in the FedExCup, and his next victories came in 2012, 2013 (two) and 2014. His most important career titles include the Players Championship in 2012 and the 2013 World Golf Championship Match Play.
After his victory in 2014, Kuchar would spend four years without savouring the sweet taste of victory, until last November (already into the 2018-2019 season), when he won the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya, and where - interestingly - he hired a Mexican caddy for the occasion. His next victory would come in January at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Overlooking his first tournament of the season, where he finished 57th, he was in the top-25 in the other six he had played until early February, including his two wins and fourth place.
Kuchar has been a regular in the top-10 of the world ranking in different periods since 2010, reaching his best position - fourth - in June 2013. Now he is around 20th.
In the majors, his best finishes were second at the British Open in 2017 (three shots behind Jordan Spieth), third in the Masters in 2012 and fifth in 2014, sixth in the US Open in 2010 and 10th in the 2010 US PGA Championship.
At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Kuchar won the bronze medal, and in 2011 the World Cup and Presidents Cup representing the United States. He has played in three editions of the Ryder Cup, achieving five points in 11 games.
Kuchar’s victory last November in the Mayakoba Golf Classic is still in the news despite the time elapsed. The controversy centres on the $5,000 her paid his Mexican caddy, David "El Tucán" Ortiz, after winning $1.3 million for his triumph at the spectacular El Camaleón Mayakoba course.
Kuchar initially said he was "disappointed" and "saddened” by the criticism he received as a result of that payment, based on the fact that Tour caddies usually are paid 10 per cent of the prizemoney in the case of a win, which in this case would have been $130,000. For a club caddy at a resort used to earning $100 to $200 a day, that would have been a monumental sum.
In February, in an interview with Golf.com, Kuchar explained once more the agreement he had reached with the caddy before the tournament. "I was very clear on Tuesday (the week of the competition): I offered him the chance to win up to $4,000 with the bonuses, and he accepted."
Kuchar reported that he told Ortiz he would pay $1,000 if he did not make the cut, $2,000 if he did make it to the weekend, $3,000 if he was top-20 and $4,000 if he finished in the top-10. "The additional $1,000 was in gratitude for a great week. Those were the terms and he agreed with them. I do not know what happened. Someone must have told him,’You need a lot more.' "
Ortiz subsequently said in an interview that he was given an envelope with cash on the Sunday night after the tournament and that he counted it after Kuchar had left. In another interview shortly after the Mayakoba tournament, the Mexican caddy said he still expected to receive a bonus cheque for the victory. He did not believe he had been paid in full.
“El Tucán’”said he would not be interested in working for Kuchar again, although he described him as a "good person and a great player". Ten weeks after the tournament, Ortiz was offered an additional bonus of $15,000, but declined. In an interview he said, "No, thanks. They can keep their money." He said he thought a payment of $50,000 would have been adequate.
Kuchar felt a little embarrassed that Ortiz had been offered the extra sum. "It was the agency," he said, referring to Excel Sports Management, which represents him. Kuchar's agent, Mark Steinberg, also represents Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.
Kuchar smiled and said,”It's not coming out of Steinberg's pocket." In other words, Kuchar implicitly recognised that the money came from his own funds. He said the additional payment offered was Steinberg's effort to control the damage.
Kuchar eventually relented, releasing a carefully worded statement that noted, "This week, I made comments that were out of touch and insensitive, making a bad situation worse. They made it seem like I was marginalising David Ortiz and his financial situation, which was not my intention. I read them again and cringed. That is not who I am and not what I want to represent. My entire Tour career, I have tried to show respect and positivity. In this situation, I have not lived up to those values or to the expectations I’ve set for myself. I let myself, my family, my partners and those close to me down, but I also let David down. I plan to call David tonight, something that is long overdue, to apologise for the situation he has been put in, and I have made sure he has received the full total that he has requested.
I never wanted to bring any negativity to the Mayakoba Golf Classic. I feel it is my duty to represent the tournament well, so I am making a donation back to the event, to be distributed to the many philanthropic causes working to positively impact the communities of Playa del Carmen and Cancún. For my fans, as well as fans of the game, I want to apologise to you for not representing the values instilled in this incredible sport. Golf is a game where we call penalties on ourselves. I should have done that long ago and not let this situation escalate."
A resident of St. Simon Island in Georgia, a hiking and skiing enthusiast, married and the father of two boys, Kuchar started playing golf at 12 when his mother, Meg, enrolled her husband and son in the sport at the country club where they were members. Matt and his father started playing and became hooked.
His father, Peter, is an excellent tennis player who once was ranked number one in doubles in Florida state. Matt also played extremely well with the racquet until he opted for golf.
His wife, Sybi, was a prominent tennis player at the university where they met. In October 2009, they won the consolation title in the USTA National Doubles Husband/Wife Tennis Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach (Florida).
Matt is involved with Camp Twin Lakes, a program for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges, as well as with the Ronald McDonald Jacksonville House.