Matt Kuchar stiffed his caddie. Tom Gillis blew the whistle. Today, 'Loopergate' had a happy ending.
If this whole professional golf thing doesn't work out, Tom Gillis could find a new career as a debt collector.
Matt Kuchar, No. 10 on the PGA Tour's all-time money list with more than $46 million in on-course earnings not including millions more in endorsements, said Friday afternoon that he will pay an additional $45,000 to the caddie who helped lead him to victory in Mexico in November.
It brings to end a six-week firestorm that was instigated by Lake Orion's Gillis, a Champions Tour player, who blew the whistle on Kuchar's frugal payout of local caddie David "El Tucan" Ortiz, who carried the bag and helped lead Kuchar to the title at the Mayakoba Classic in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Loopergate is over.
"I knew what was right. The whole thing was right vs. wrong," Gillis told The News on Friday, while he was on the practice range in Florida.
"It wasn't about smearing Matt. It was, 'That's wrong, and you should try to make it right.' Unfortunately, it had to come to that. It is what it is.
"At the end of the day, everybody's gonna win now."
Kuchar made his three-paragraph statement, which included a lengthy apology, after he completed his round at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles.
Kuchar was on a four-year victory drought when he arrived in Mexico for the Mayakoba Classic in November. With his regular caddie unavailable, he hired Ortiz. The two agreed on $3,000 base pay for the week, plus the chance at a $1,000 bonus. After Kuchar won the tournament and the $1.3-million top prize, with significant help from Ortiz's local course knowledge, he handed Ortiz an envelope with $5,000 cash.
Gillis, 50, who spent several years on the PGA Tour, first caught wind of the payout in late December or early January, from a current PGA Tour player. The PGA Tour player knew Gillis was outspoken on social media, and asked if he would get involved to orchestrate additional compensation for Ortiz.
Gillis said he mulled it over for several days, including two "sleepless" nights, before tweeting Jan. 11, “If Kuchar wins this weekend (at the Sony Open) let's hope he pays his man more than ($3,000) like the last win. ($45 million) in (career) earnings. Could've changed the man’s life.”
The blowback was fast and furious, though Gillis said he estimates 90 percent of people who responded to him — from fans on Twitter to current PGA and Champions Tour players — supported him going public.
"1.3 million vs. 5 grand, man, that's just not good," Gillis said. "That's how I got involved. I sent the tweet out to get the ball rolling, get some steam. One thing led to another."
That weekend at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Kuchar, 40, called the whole thing a non-story. But the story didn't die.
Kuchar has taken enormous heat since the story went public — national headlines have called him "cheap" and "phony," among other digs — with fans at the notoriously rowdy 16th hole at the Phoenix Open two weeks ago even serenading him with greenside chants of, "Pay your caddie!"
Fan heckling could've gotten even worse next week in Mexico City, where the World Golf Championship is being held, with Kuchar in the field.
Gillis became directly involved in the saga shortly after his initial tweet, even exchanging direct messages on Twitter with Ortiz. Gillis helped negotiate an additional payout, even emailing Kuchar's agent, Mark Steinberg. Steinberg didn't respond to Gillis.
Ortiz finally went public for the first time this week, giving an interview to Golf.com in which he said Kuchar's team offered $15,000. "They can keep their money," he said. Ortiz wanted $50,000, total, which Gillis said was widely considered fair compensation.
That forced Kuchar to again address the situation this week in Los Angeles, and that didn't go well. His recent interview drew additional outcries, as he suggested $5,000 was a great payday for Ortiz given his socioeconomic status.
"For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week," Kuchar told Golf.com.
"I read them again and cringed," Kuchar said of those comments, in his Friday statement. "That is not who I am and not what I want to represent."
Said Gillis: "I don't think Matt's a bad person. I'm sure he's done massive amounts of charity that's not really touched on. I don't think he should be remembered for this."
The typical bonus structure for a regular caddie on Tour is 10 percent for a victory, 7 percent for a top-10 finish, and 5 percent for any winnings.
So, why not $130,000 for Garcia? The bonus structure typically is less for a fill-in, Gillis said, given bonuses for regular caddies are meant to help cover expenses incurred throughout the year, when the player may not be earning steady income. Gillis said everyone he spoke with on Tour thought $50,000 would be a fair resolution.
It's 10 times the initial $5,000 payout, which was considered significantly cheap on Kuchar's part — and that's why Gillis spilled the beans on the payout while Kuchar was on his way to the Sony Open championship, his ninth PGA Tour victory, in Hawaii in January.
"I know Matt, I've sat on the (PGA Tour) policy board with him, I don't have any problems with him," Gillis said Friday, just as Kuchar's statement was going public. "I'm just happy he made it right. Kudos to him for making it right.
"I'm happy Matt realized this."
This is the second time Gillis has gone public to help get a debt paid. In April 2017, he blew the whistle on Ben Crane owing Daniel Berger $6,000 from a putting contest. Crane refused to pay for more than two months, and Berger, whom Gillis has known since he was a teen-ager, contacted Gillis to ask for advice. After Gillis sent out the tweet, Crane quickly settled the debt.
Gillis may ruffle some feathers on Tour — many times, he's received calls from PGA Tour and Champions Tour brass, not to mention his sponsors, uncomfortable at best and displeased at worst with his outspokenness — but he stands by his decisions. Especially this one, he said. Gillis has a blue-collar background, and caddied for two years in the early 1980s at Indianwood in Lake Orion.
That said, many acquaintances rushed to Gillis' defense in January, even though he got the initial payout wrong — he first understood it was $3,000, when it was $5,000 — including many caddies who have previously worked from Gillis.
One told a story of the caddie getting paid more than Gillis even earned one week.
"In 1993, when I won the Jamaican Open, and $26,000, I had a caddie who stole my tennis shoes during the first practice round, but I kept him because he read the greens so good," Gillis said. "I couldn't fire him. And at the end of the week, I gave him $2,600. We're still friends to this day. That's just me. Everybody doesn't feel that way. Some people are tighter. There's no crime in that, as well.
"... I've played in 29 countries and used a lot of local caddies, and some of the best feelings ever are when you get done with a tournament and you give a guy way over what he thought he was gonna get paid. That was some of the best joy. ... For me, it was more of a moral thing.
"I'm happy that (Ortiz) got his 50 grand, and he's gonna be happy.
"In the end, this will change his life."