When the news broke 48 hours ago that Tiger Woods officially parted ways with caddie and close friend Steve Williams, the internet was abuzz with activity…. everyone has an opinion on what events may or may not have led to the divide between golf’s dynamic duo, but this much is certain: very few who follow the game ever imagined the day coming when Woods would no longer be walking the fairways with Williams by his side. Williams himself seemed shocked to learn that his services were no longer wanted, as he detailed his disappointment in an interview on Wednesday (below).
The 12-year partnership that began back in 1999 was the perfect match, or seemed to be. A successful dynasty awaited. Friendship happened. Marriage happened. Children happened. The loss of a father happened. Steve Williams became much more than just a looper for Tiger Woods – he became a close friend, if not a confidant. As Williams points out in his interview above – he was there with his friend through thick and thin, good times and sad times, good rounds and bad. He was the guy that maintained order inside the ropes, duties that included playing marshal to trigger-happy cameramen to barking at galleries to stop breathing while his player was trying to concentrate. To some he was seen as a villain, to others a modern-day Matt Dillon on the links. He was also very opinionated and unafraid to make enemies, as we learned a few years back that HE WASN’T IMPRESSED WITH PHIL MICKELSON. Steve Williams was a lot of things to a lot of people. But there was no denying that he was the right guy on Tiger’s bag, the guy who Tiger trusted more than anyone else.
But then came the scandal back in November of 2009.
For the past couple of years, Williams has seemed reluctant to talk much about how the scandal impacted their friendship, other than saying that he was just as shocked and disappointed to learn of the revelations as anyone else. That was about the extent of what he offered to the media. But within 48 hours of his firing, Williams opened up a little about how the scandal did impact their relationship, most notably in disclosing that right before his first tournament back last year that he told Woods that “he lost a lot of his respect and that he would have to earn it back.” Woods isn’t the type to be talked down to by anyone…. much less a caddie that he’s helped make a millionaire a few times over during the past dozen or so years. Would it be out of line to suggest that if Williams did indeed have that conversation with Woods – could that have been the beginning of the end? I think it’s a fair assumption.
And then we notice how much different their on-course interactions have been since then…. what used to be chatty, back-and-forth joking and laughter had pretty much been replaced by countless scenes of frustration and uncertainty with very little banter. They no longer appeared to be two friends embarking on destiny, but rather a boss and an employee trying to somehow get through their differences and challenges. No doubt – Williams was starting to feel the pinch financially… then when Woods admitted that his ongoing knee problem was going to impact his schedule and force him to take an indefinite leave of absence, Williams decided to do what most other tour caddies do in those instances – seek permission to find temporary work until his player was back in action. Granted – it was a surprise to see Williams anxious to work with another player, but it’s also worth noting that he too is highly competitive and enjoys winning…. Maybe spending the past 12 years with Tiger has rubbed off on Williams like that, the desire to compete and win.
But what gets lost in all of the changing scenery in the continuing saga of Tiger Woods is the changing scenery itself. He’s no longer the player most feared, nor is he the most sought-out athlete as far as the corporate sponsors are concerned. He’s on the verge of falling outside of the top 30 in the world rankings, his last win came two seasons ago and is currently ranked 20th in the World Golf Rankings. He’s not only up against father time as it relates to beating Jack Nicklaus’ career 18 major victories, but also as it relates to his health. It used to be a forgone conclusion that he would become the greatest golfer that ever lived, but currently it’s uncertain that he’ll ever win another tournament, period. Currently, Tiger is dead on pace to become the 2nd best player that ever lived, which is a milestone away from being considered the best-ever.
And not that his career has been anything other than impressive… who in their right mind could argue that Tiger hasn’t been the greatest player in this era of the game? But when you think about what might have been lost in the span of 2 years is absolutely mind boggling…. except now it just doesn’t appear to be an unprecedented career full of record-setting achievements lost. It now seems that he’s in the process of ridding himself of all emotional attachments that ever meant anything to him. Then again, maybe nothing outside of winning ever mattered.