Tiger’s control issues led to split
After scandal engulfed Tiger Woods, Steve Williams was under intense pressure from those around him — principally, his wife — to leave the side of golf’s fallen champion.
Kirsty Williams, who remains to this day close with Woods’ now ex–wife, Elin Nordegren, was both devastated and repulsed by the revelations that Woods had been leading a secret adulterous life.
Her husband understood; the truth had shaken him, too.
But though it would make his life more difficult — and despite the fact they didn’t really need the money — Williams still resolved to stand by Woods.
“You don’t abandon a mate when he’s down,” he told his wife in early 2010.
At first glance, he can come off as Luca Brasi to Woods’ Don Corleone — a one–dimensional brutish enforcer — but in reality Williams, while unapologetically loyal, is a far more nuanced man.
The New Zealander had long before pledged that he’d stay until the only record that matters to Woods — Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors — was broken.
And he’s a man of his word.
Ironically, keeping his word has now gotten him fired.
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While researching “Unplayable,” my 2010 book on Woods, I asked someone close to him for one word to describe what he was really like.
Complicated, came the answer.
Just how complicated is now obvious for all to see, because there was no rational reason for Woods to end the most successful golfer–caddie team in history.
Not after 12 years, 250 tournaments, 13 majors and 72 victories around the world together.
Not after they’d stood in line at each other’s weddings and been as tight as brothers, in ways both admirable and juvenile, as anyone who’s witnessed their farting contests could attest.
And especially not after Williams had stood by him while others, from his wife to his sponsors to his agents, IMG, ran for the exit as the Tiger Woods brand crumbled.
But end it he did, out of nothing more substantial than hubris.
Neither Woods nor Williams is publicly talking about what prompted the split.
Woods’ statement that “it’s time for a change” is as laughably generic as the old standard, “irreconcilable differences,” offered up in Hollywood divorces.
Though it’s true that they’ve grown somewhat apart over the past 18 months — Woods relies almost entirely these days on his manager, Mark Steinberg — those close to the situation say that Williams was fired simply because he’d filled in as a caddie for Adam Scott.
Last month, Williams had flown from New Zealand to his summer home in Oregon believing he’d be joining Woods at Congressional Country Club.
But a day after he arrived came the news that the injuries to Woods’ left leg were going to keep him out of the US Open.
With Woods sidelined, and seeing that he was already in the US, it seemed innocuous enough to Williams to answer an SOS from his old friend, Scott, who’d just parted ways with longtime caddie Tony Navarro and needed someone to step in while he looked for a permanent replacement.
But it wasn’t innocuous to Woods, who wasn’t happy to be sharing his caddie with another player.
Neither did he want to deal with the inevitable media speculation the news would invite.
But Williams had already promised Scott he’d work for him at Congressional and told Woods he wasn’t going to go back on his word.
The straw that broke this camel’s back came when Williams showed up at Woods’ own tournament, the AT&T National in Philadelphia, with Scott, who finished third.
Williams hadn’t thought it necessary to get Woods’ permission a second time but at a closed-door meeting after the trophy presentation, Woods told Williams he‘d been disloyal and fired him.
It’s obvious from an interview Williams gave Wednesday with a New Zealand radio station that the charge of disloyalty still stings.
“I was completely loyal, as loyal as somebody could be,” he said. “I took a lot of heat during Tiger’s scandal, not just myself but my family as well, and never really got pardoned from that scandal.”
His statement, posted on his website, was also revealing.
“Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger’s scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time.”
Williams is clearly, to use his word, “disappointed,” but he shouldn’t be.
He should’ve known there was every chance that this day would come because Woods is a control freak and Williams won’t be controlled.
Williams has always been the one — if not only — member of Tiger’s camp unafraid to speak his mind.
(It perhaps explains why Woods kept Williams in the dark about his nocturnal activities.)
Woods isn’t one for dissension — it is, in the end, his hamartia, or flaw — and neither did he like to read quotes from Williams in the media.
But Woods tolerated his independence because he knew he had the world’s best caddie.
In the end, even that wasn’t enough to save Williams.
He’s gone the way of all those around Woods who’ve forgotten who’s the boss: from his first agent, Hughes Norton, to his first caddie, Fluff Cowan, to two coaches, Butch Harmon and Hank Haney.
So, what now?
Scott gladly has hired Williams but the word is Woods wants to play at the Bridgestone Invitational in the first week of August but doesn’t yet have a caddie.
The two loopers he most respects, Billy Foster and Joe LaCava, he may not be able to get.
The happy–go–lucky Englishman Foster isn’t likely to leave Lee Westwood and doesn’t want to relocate to the United States. LaCava’s just left his longtime employer, Fred Couples, to start with Dustin Johnson, a player with tremendous upside.
When he was at the top of his game, everything around Woods appeared stable; now very little does.
At a crossroads in his career, his future has never been more uncertain.