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Steve Williams Falls Short

Dermot Gilleece argues that Tiger Woods' former Caddy is no friend

Posted Nov 07, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

steve williams

In a moment of rare humility, Steve Williams was once heard to remark: “I'm just one of the workers. I don't see myself as anything special.”  More in character seemed to be his description of former boss, Tiger Woods, as “that black arsehole” during a caddies’ function in Shanghai over the weekend.

To his credit, Williams hasn’t sought the customary refuge of claiming he was misquoted or that his words were taken out of context.  Instead, he admitted his outburst “could be considered racist, but this was not my intent.”  The idea of misinterpretation is difficult to fathom, however, given that we’re talking about only two, simple words.

If he had settled for the a-word in having a little blast at Woods, it could have been accepted as no more than a case of vulgar abuse.  But the addition of the adjective “black” changed everything.  We need only ask ourselves if the focus of his abuse happened to have a different skin pigmentation, would he have described him as a “white a…….”  The notion is so unlikely as to be unworthy of consideration.   

The whole business, of course, dates back to Firestone in August when the New Zealand caddie expressed himself as being deliriously happy at the fact that his new employer, Adam Scott, had comprehensively outscored his old one in the Bridgestone Invitational.  One still cringes at the memory of Williams’ petty pot-shots at Woods in a post-tournament interview with David Feherty on CBS.

Later, even Williams was forced to acknowledge that he had overstepped the mark. “Looking back on it, I was a bit over the top,” he said. “I had a lot of anger in me about what happened and it all came out.”  It will be recalled that he described Scott’s victory as “the most satisfying win of my career”, despite having shared in 13 major triumphs with Woods during their 12 years together.  

Then he saw fit to add: “I said what I said, but I’m not going to say any more about Tiger.”  He neglected to specify that this would apply to all situations except the irresistible sort of platform which presented itself in the “caddie of the year” awards ceremony last Friday.  As it happened, he continued to carry Scott’s bag for the remaining two rounds at Shanghai, after issuing an apology to Woods.  In this context, it is interesting to note that there was no apology forthcoming to Phil Mickelson a few years ago, when he subjected Leftie to a similarly injudicious verbal slight.  That, of course, was in the knowledge that his then employer, Woods, would probably get quite a chuckle out of it.

It may be no harm at this stage to remind ourselves that the professional caddie is only a relatively recent phenomenon in golf.  And their importance was heightened considerably by the absence of badly-needed guidance for the hapless Jean Van de Velde during the climactic stage of 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie.  Then there was the caddying clanger which saw Ian Woosnam penalised for starting his final round with 15 clubs at Royal Lytham a year later.

While this mayhem made it clear that there was a lot more to caddying than the three “ups” of show up, shut up and keep up, Williams went quietly about his business.  Indeed he showed himself to be remarkably shy about publicity when in Woods’ employ, which would suggest that such behaviour was clearly a condition of his continued tenure.

The rewards, meanwhile, were formidable.  In his first year with Woods, Williams became New Zealand’s highest paid sports figure. And the remarkable bond of friendship which developed between them was illustrated by El Tigre’s decision to compete in the 2002 New Zealand Open, albeit with the more than gentle nudge of $2 million in appearance money.

For his part, Williams proceeded to become extremely protective of his employer, even to the point of arrogance and downright rudeness in the face of possible irritants, real or imagined.  Events at Firestone and Shanghai, however, were wonderfully revealing.  Through his disloyalty and general unpleasantness, Williams has hardly shown himself to be a very desirable friend.  Which, when set alongside the disastrous upheaval in Woods’s career since the events of a fateful Thanksgiving night in 2009, does much to confirm a serious lack of social skills in the making of true friends.

- Dermot Gilleece

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