Tiger Woods may not have explicitly demanded that his former bagman act like a thug on the job, but Steve Williams, in an interview with PGATour.com’s Brian Wacker, says that was one of his many chores as a caddie to one of the greatest golfers in history.
Whether it was punting a photographer’s camera or heaving another into a hazard, all in the name of protecting his boss during their 12 years together, Williams earned a reputation as Tiger’s henchman. Turns out, according to the 49-year-old looper who plans in 2015 to adopt a Steve Stricker-like part-time schedule after lugging Adam Scott’s satchel this year, that playing the heavy was Tiger’s idea.
"It’s not really my personality to be the enforcer," Williams claims, "but it didn’t take long to figure out what Tiger wanted."
His reputation as a goon was not at all onerous, Williams tells Wacker recently about the on-course persona he cultivated as half of a virtually unbeatable duo that won 13 major championships together before their relationship soured.
"It didn’t bother me one bit," he says. "I always felt Tiger was entitled to play on a level playing field. I felt I could make difference for him or other players in the group. I understand why I caught a lot of flack, but I only did it for the benefit of him and the players he was playing with."
It’s hardly a news flash that Williams rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when he handled Woods’ luggage. There was that time he called Phil Mickelson a not-nice word because he believed Lefty paid him no respect, and the one when Stevie threatened the well-being of any heckler who dared badger his employer, who was about to return to competitive golf after his sex scandal-induced sabbatical.
"Nothing changes," Williams told The Sun-Herald back in February 2010. "My job is to give him the best information I can and get him around in the fewest possible strokes. And as I have always pointed out, it is to try and give him a level playing field. I won’t do anything differently."
And then, of course, after Tiger gave him the ax and his new overseer, Adam Scott, won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2011, Stevie gloated about how that victory culminated "the greatest week of my life." The native New Zealander followed up such nonsense with an incendiary racist taunt aimed at at his ex-boss, and, well, you get the picture.
Wacker writes that, as Williams gets ready for his last full-time season as Scott’s right-hand man, starting with this week's Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he appears "completely relaxed and at peace."
Long before the tranquil Kiwi, who previously stalked the fairways beside Ian Baker-Finch, Greg Norman, and Raymond Floyd, among others, met with Wacker, there was all that nastiness with Woods after the two split up in 2011. How that all came about, according to Williams, differed from Woods’ account that he fired his caddie, face-to-face, at the AT&T National in July of that year.
Not so, the injured party tells Wacker. Believing Tiger would play in the ’11 U.S. Open, despite being injured for the previous month, Williams received a call from Scott, who hoped to hire the looper while Woods nursed his wounds.
"I phoned Tiger about it and he said, ‘No problem,’" Williams recalls. "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," adds Williams, who notes that, while he did not need the cash, he "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."
Williams says he harbors "disappointment" over Woods’ claims that he canned the caddie at the AT&T.
"He didn’t. He fired me over the phone after the U.S. Open," claims Williams. "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," he says about not wanting to lay about, "not knowing when you’re going to work."
During the wide-ranging sit-down with Wacker, Williams expounds on a variety of other matters, including the disparity in personalities of his high-profile patrons.
"Adam is not as intense," Williams observes. "The fuel burns in every player out here, but what you see from the outside is different from Adam than it is from Tiger. Adam is more relaxed about things, while if it ain’t going Tiger’s way it can be a tough walk some days."
He also reveals that, were it not for Woods sounding him out in 1999 about hiring on after Mike "Fluff" Cowans got the Tiger heave-ho, Williams might have quit the game back in 2000. Williams recounts that, despite Woods having routed the field at Augusta in 1997, he "wasn’t 100 percent sure" he would grab the job.
"He’d won the Masters, yes, but you don’t know how you’re going to get on with a guy," says Williams, whom Woods hired "on the spot" after interviewing him in Orlando. The challenge of working alongside a go-for-broke player like Woods convinced him to enlist with Team Tiger.
Watching Woods, then still an amateur, attempt the impossible during 1996 practice round on a raw, damp morning at Augusta, certainly caught Williams’ attention.
"Tiger was a little nervous and hit a foul ball off the first tee," Williams says. "Then he got to the par-5 second hole -- none of the other three guys [Floyd, Norman, and Fred Couples] could even reach the fairway bunker, which was about 295 yards away at that time -- and he turns to his caddie and says, ‘Can I carry that trap?’
"We all just looked at each other, like ‘What do you mean can you carry that trap?’ Tiger whipped it over the bunker and it was like, ‘Wow.’"
The rest, as they say, is pop history.
Not surprisingly, despite his post-victory crowing, that Firestone triumph was not the high point of Williams’ long career as a caddie; it was helping Scott read the putt that he canned to beat Angel Cabrera in the playoff to become the first Australian to win a Masters.
"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," Williams affirms. "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."
Were it not for Williams convincing Scott that the putt had far more break than he was seeing, Williams believes the nine-time official PGA Tour winner may still be in search of his first major.
"When Adam read the putt, I told him his read wasn’t close and it broke a lot more than he thought," Williams says. "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.'"