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  • Did Matt Kuchar stiff his caddie? Will Hosung Choi live up to the hype? And what is going on with Jordan Spieth? We examine that and more from the PGA Tour.
By Daniel Rapaport
January 14, 2019

Matt Kuchar picked up his second win of the young season Sunday, battling back from a two-over-through-five start to shoot a four-under 66 and win the Sony Open by four. The victory moves Kuchar to second in the FedEx Cup standings, No. 22 in the world rankings and puts him squarely in contention for a spot on the President’s Cup team. It should have been a stress-free, all-positive weekend for the ever-smiley 40-year-old. The Twitterverse, however, wouldn’t let that happen.

It all goes back to Kuchar’s first win of the season, which came at November’s Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. Kuchar’s normal looper, John Wood, couldn’t work that week, so he employed a local caddie. Kuchar would go on to win by a shot, collecting $1.296 million in the process. The standard player-caddie agreement is the caddie gets 10% of the winnings, which would equate to…pulls out calculator…$129,600. According to a former PGA Tour pro, Kuchar paid his caddie roughly…actually pulls out calculator this time…2.3% of that.

Tom Gillis tweeted the following on Friday night: “If Kuchar wins this weekend let’s hop he pays his man more than 3k like the last win. 45 mil in earnings. Could’ve changed the mans life.” (Gillis stuck by the tweet all weekend; Kuchar, when asked about it on Saturday, said “that’s not a story” and suggested he paid more than $3,000 but less than 10%). An overwhelming majority of responders took great issue with Kuchar’s rumored stiffing, with one pretty notable exception… Brandel Chamblee. The outspoken Golf Channel commentator highlighted that $3,000 is double what the caddie would make on a normal week, and that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge based on hearsay and one man’s tweet.

A couple thoughts on this matter. What likely happened is that Kuchar and his caddie agreed on a $3,000 flat rate before the week started. The question here is whether there was any discussion as to whether Kuchar would pay more based on his finish in the tournament. It’s entirely possible that conversation never happened, maybe because the caddie didn’t want to muddle a great opportunity for himself by irking his player. Perhaps, then, Kuchar opted to view things through a literal lense: no conversation, no agreement, no extra money. If that is indeed the case, that’s a bad look on Kuch. Gillis’ estimate was accurate—with his win on Sunday, Kuchar passed $46 million in career earnings, not including his endorsements from Bridgestone, Skechers and others. You get the picture. If he truly didn’t tip the guy at all after a one-shot victory, that’s a level of cold-heartedness you couldn’t ever expect from a guy who probably sleeps with an ear-to-ear grin pasted on his face.

But notice how many qualifiers are in the above paragraph. “Likely.” “Whether.” “Possible.” “If.” Chamblee is spot-on in this regard: We have no idea what actually happened. My best guess: Kuchar did give him a bonus. It was almost assuredly less than 10%, because Kuchar probably had to do more work than he would have in a normal week, but a bonus nonetheless. This, though gets at a larger issue—judging a guy’s character based on a tweet, without hearing from either party involved in the transaction, is the slipperiest of slippery slopes, like a straight-downhill-on-baked-out-Shinnecock-greens level slippery. Had the caddie himself made this claim, it’d be a different story. But he didn’t, and Kuchar himself denied the $3,000 number. Nothing else to see here, as far as I’m concerned. 

Hosung is Coming to America

Last summer, the golf world was introduced to a wild-swinging, always-leaning, lowkey-dancing player named Hosung Choi. He’s truly irresistible. I could try to describe what makes him so incredible, but there exist precisely zero words that do him proper justice. See for yourself:

He was outside the top 500 in the world back then, though, so there wasn’t much chance we’d get to see him play on Tour. Then, as though ordained by a higher power, Choi started playing better. A second-place finish at the Japan Golf Tour’s RIZAP KBC Augusta (what a name!) moved him to No. 379 in the world. Then he won his first event since 2013 at the Casio World Open and, in the process, jumped to the cusp of the top 200. Clearly, this guy is far from a sideshow.

Predictably, a movement to get him into a PGA Tour event began. A petition was launched to get him a sponsor’s invite into the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the tournament known for the football stadium-like atmosphere at its famous 16th hole. We still don’t have word on whether that will happen—it absolutely should, for the record—but some fantastic news dropped from the Heavens Monday morning. Choi has been granted a sponsor’s exemption into the AT&T Pro-Am at friggin’ Pebble Beach, where he’ll make his PGA Tour debut.

This is fantastic news. Golf needs outside-the-box personalities like you need oxygen to breathe, and Choi is certainly outside-the-box. I’ve got one question though: this guy is 45 years old. How did we not hea about him until last summer? If he’d always been carrying himself like that on the course, one would think he’d have been “discovered” long ago. Which leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe, he’s played the act up a bit recently. Which, of course, would be both within his rights and absolutely brilliant. When you’re the No. 500 player in the world, unless you find something to distinguish yourself, your career will come and go without many people noticing. Choi has made people notice, and now he’ll compete in one of the PGA Tour’s iconic events at one of the world’s most famous golf courses. Marketing 101.

What's up with Jordan Spieth?

This past week presented Jordan Spieth with a chance to begin the process of flushing out a forgettable, winless 2018 that saw him drop to No. 17 in the world rankings. After extensive offseason work with his instructor Cameron McCormick, Spieth arrived in Hawaii rested, rejuvenated and newly married, having wed his longtime girlfriend back in November. There was every reason to expect a big week from the three-time major winner.

And then he missed the cut.

Spieth put himself behind the proverbial 8-ball with a three-over 73 on Thursday that included just one birdie. He bounce back nicely with a four-under 66 on Friday but his two-day total of one under missed the cut by a single shot. Such is life on the PGA Tour. His ball striking was a little off, but the most concerning thing continues to be his putting. While he did roll in a few nice birdie putts, there were too many strokes that looked genuinely uncomfortable:

Luke Kerr-Dineen did a fascinating film analysis of Spieth’s ’18 struggles on the greens. His conclusion: Spieth is much better when he stays active before the putt, waddling between his right and left foot while he looks at the hole, then pulls the trigger right after looking back down. He tends to struggle, at least according to Kerr-Dineen, when he gets static and pauses before pulling the putter back. 

Few doubt that Spieth will ultimately return to the summit of the sport and win more major championships. But this slump has lasted too long to simply write off as natural golf ebb-and-flow. Here’s to hoping the fix is as simple as Kerr-Dineen suggests, because golf is better with Spieth near the helm.

Chip-ins

• Everything about this press conference exchange is cringeworthy.

• Gonna toot my own horn here, because this opportunity doesn’t come around too often. In my preview column, I picked Matt Kuchar (40-1) to win. I also highlighted Andrew Putnam (75-1) as worthy of a wager. They finished 1-2. Yay me.

• Game of Thrones will make its long-awaited return on Masters Sunday. That will be one helluva 12 hours.

• Charles Howell III made his annual return to his personal ATM, Waialae Country Club. With his T8 finish this week, he collected $192,000. In his 18 career starts at the Sony Open, he has made 18 of 18 cuts, posted 10 top-10 finishes and six top-four finishes. Most people, if they’re lucky, save up for months to go to Hawaii. Howell III goes every year and, more often than not, makes bank doing so. Must be nice.

• If you’ve every had this happen on the golf course, you know how amazing it feels.

• An earnest plea to every golf announcer: please stop reminding us of Brandt Snedeker’s “pop stroke." Every. Single. Time. He. Putts.

• Here’s Zac Efron, shirtless, hitting a tee shot into a seaside par 3. Just good aesthetics all around. 

• No to these. Just a hard no. 

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