Just seeing the name in print will have been enough to draw an involuntary reaction from some of you.
The 41-year-old American was in the spotlight again this past week after an incident in a sandy waste area at the Porsche European Open in Germany, the latest in a series of missteps that have drawn the public’s ire.
Video of Kuchar – with the blessing of a European Tour rules official – removing loose impediments around his ball quickly went viral and had many accusing the American of breaking the rules, or at least the spirit of them.
Leaving aside the specifics of this particular case, what has been interesting to watch over the past year has been Kuchar’s rapid fall from grace in the minds of the golf public, a lesson any aspiring professional would do well to take note of.
For the bulk of his career, the former US Amateur champion flew predominantly under the radar, opinion of his character ranging from indifference to ‘seems a nice enough bloke’.
But since it emerged last year he had paid his temporary caddie just $5,000 of a nearly $1.3 million winner’s cheque at the Mayakoba Classic, things have quickly headed south in the public opinion stakes.
Aside from being an extraordinarily successful golfer (one of only eight players in history to surpass $50,000,000 in PGA Tour career earnings) Kuchar has become the poster child for how to erode a previously untarnished public persona in a matter of relatively few months.
The nine-time Tour winner resides in that top echelon of golf where celebrity, entertainment and the playing of a game with high moral expectations intersects with golf’s newest tradition – social media commentary/outrage.
“What has been interesting to watch over the past year has been Kuchar’s rapid fall from grace in the minds of the golf public, a lesson any aspiring professional would do well to take note of.”
As JB Holmes and Bryson DeChambeau have – rightly or wrongly – become the embodiment of slow play in the golf public’s mind, so Kuchar has become the face of controversy.
Whether or not this new-found reputation is deserved is almost impossible to know from a distance.
The underpaying of the caddie last year (and his glib initial reaction to it where he suggested $5,000 was a ‘pretty good week’) smacked of a meanness that was distasteful.
His other public infractions, however, have all been related to the rules of the game and in each instance he has technically done nothing wrong.
At the WGC Matchplay he upset Sergio Garcia after the Spaniard took a casual approach to, and missed, a short putt before his opponent had conceded the putt. That mistake was all Garcia’s but Kuchar somehow was equally tarnished by the fallout.
At The Memorial he refused to accept the decision of two separate rules officials when his ball landed in a pitch mark that he insisted was his own (they disagreed). Again, it was a stance he was entitled to take, whether popular or not.
And in Germany it is debatable whether he breached the rules as he was unquestionably entitled to do at least some of what he was doing.
The point is, though, that none of that matters in the court of public opinion.
Kuchar’s reputation has taken a significant hit since Mexico last year and while that likely doesn’t bother him much given all he has achieved it is an important lesson for all aspiring players.
This brave new digital world is a difficult one to negotiate.
Rod Morri is founder of the TalkinGolf Podcast Network, home of the State of the Game, iSeekGolf, TalkinGolf History and Feed The Ball podcasts.
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