Easing Toward Retirement, Steve Williams Reflects on Tiger, Norman and Other Highs and Lows of His Caddying Career
Steve Williams might be easing toward retirement, but don’t expect him to go quietly.
The ever-outspoken veteran caddy, who says that 2014 will be his final full-time season on Adam Scott’s bag, opened up this week to Brian Wacker of PGATOUR.COM, reflecting on a nearly four-decade career that began in anonymity but wound up turning Williams into golf’s most famous sidekick — a plus-size personality in a traditionally low-profile trade.
Williams touches on familiar topics (the early “disappointment” of getting fired over the phone by Greg Norman; the later “disappointment” of his falling out with Tiger Woods) but he also covers some fresh territory, like his biggest regret (hint: it involves the one time he chose to keep his mouth shut) and the shamed-faced moment, on Raymond Floyd’s bag, when he almost soiled himself over a snake.
It may surprise you to learn that when Woods offered him a job in 1999, Williams wasn’t sure he whether he should take it (“He’d won the Masters, yes, but you don’t know who you’re going to get on with a guy.”)
Once he got with Woods, though, Williams quickly realized how much they had in common. “I’m as competitive as he is. Even caddying you want to do the best you can do and here was a guy who had one thing he wanted to do: Win. We got on good. One of the nicest things I found early on was he always thanked you at the end of the day. My first impression after a few weeks was, ‘This guy’s been brought up well.’ He said please and thanks and those sorts of things.”
There were downsides, of course. For one, the intensity of the spotlight that shined perpetually on Tiger made Williams feel “claustrophobic.”
“You get this weird sensation when you caddie for him that you want to crawl under a tree because people are always looking at you.”
The swarm of publicity, Williams says, forced him into a role that didn’t come naturally to him.
“It’s not really my personality to be the enforcer, but it didn’t take long to figure out what Tiger wanted.”
Eventually, what Tiger wanted was to part ways with Williams. Exactly how the dismissal went down is a matter of dispute, but Williams recalls it this way:
“I left New Zealand with the intention of caddying for Tiger in the U.S. Open that year. I was told by his agent he was going to play, even though he had been hurt for the previous month. I had my father-in-law with me and a friend flying in from Oregon who was going to come to the U.S. Open, too. But when I got to the States, I learned (Tiger) wasn’t playing, so we went to Oregon, where I have a summer house. That’s when I got a call from Adam Scott, who had recently let go of his longtime caddie Tony Navarro. Adam heard Tiger pulled out and wondered where I was. I phoned Tiger about it and he said, ‘No problem.’ After some thought, though, he didn’t agree with it. Tiger changed his mind. Well, I’d already told Adam I would be there. I wasn’t prepared to ring Adam up and say I can’t do it. I’m a man of my word. I had no idea I was going to get fired over it. I also hadn’t worked a lot. Not that I needed the money, but I wanted to work. I was told (by Tiger) after U.S. Open that I no longer had a job and it’s as simple as that.
“Things don’t always transpire the way you want them to. The disappointment for me was that he claims he fired me at AT&T. He didn’t. He fired me over the phone after the U.S. Open. I went to the AT&T knowing I didn’t have a job (with Tiger). That’s just the fact. The conversation wasn’t that heated, but I knew he was upset and I tried to explain my side. It also wasn’t easy sitting around not knowing when you’re going to work. Adam is a friend of mine and I saw that as a great opportunity to caddie for a friend (in the U.S. Open and at the AT&T National).”
Working for Scott produced what Williams describes as the greatest moment of a caddying career that has found him on the winning bag in 14 major championships.
“I’m hard-pressed to go past the 10th hole in the playoff at Augusta National with Adam and Angel Cabrera. Convincing Tiger to hit lob wedge instead of sand wedge on 18 at Torrey Pines in the final round of the 2008 U.S. Open was a big call, but it wasn’t like Tiger was trying to win his first major. Major championships are very hard to win — Tiger made it look so easy, I don’t think a lot of people outside the game realized what he was doing. It ain’t that easy. No Australian had won at Augusta. When Adam read the putt, I told him his read wasn’t close and it broke a lot more than he thought. I hadn’t seen the putt before but as I walked down the fairway the first thing I said to myself was ‘It’s quicker than you think and breaks more than you think.’ Everything on the other side of that green was slower than you thought, and the same was true with fast putts. He might’ve missed that putt and not gone on to win and then he’s still trying to win his first major.”