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Back to Caddybytes 2006 Skin's Game Tournament Page!

Original Story from 2002 Skin's Game follows:   

On the 18th hole there the last day of the 2002 Skins Game, a fan clicked off his $7,000 camera who was situated just behind Tiger, and his caddy Steve Williams. Tiger was in the process of playing an important recovery shot from the sand and was clearly disturbed by the sounds of the camera which resulted in a poor golf shot.  Tiger glared at the fan and Steve, walked over and pulled the camera from around the guys neck and then deposited it in the lake next to the green!

Was Steve Williams wrong and 'out of line' to throw a fans’ camera into the lake after he disturbed Tigers’ shot out of the sand on the 18th green at the nationally televised Skins Game last year in Palm Desert, CA? (2002) Was the fan wrong in what he’d done?  

As usual, when it comes to blaming caddies I just can’t give you a straight black and white answer on this one. Not without discussing first the context of ‘all the gray periphery’ involved.

As you see with my Myles Byrne story on my web site, there are always mitigating circumstances, 'How could he have done such a thing?' (Therein also lies a hint of right and wrong, as I don’t defend Byrne about leaving the 15th club in Woosnams bag on Sunday of the British Open 2001, for which he bears some responsibility, just that there are always circumstances more complex than first meets the eye leading up to such an infraction!) Now let me give you this caddie’s opinion on this one:

Problems present themselves in professional golf that don’t exist in the arenas of other pro sports. The fans move about in a massively large and roped off playing field. Due to the physical size of the environment the caddie’s role necessarily becomes a marshal for his player at times. Sometimes it’s even more distracting to your player when there are only a couple of people on the tees or around the green you’re on, especially if the movement takes place directly behind and to the right of where he’s hitting a golf shot. (Or left as in the case of Bob Charles, Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson, or Steve Flesh -all Lefties) 

Other common distractions include sudden noises, like cell phones going off, an inadvertent click of a shutter by a professional photographer, fans talking and not paying attention as well as other distractions. There are distractions, and then there are Distractions! Every experienced caddy can relate one or more from his personal experiences over the years. And the caddies KNOW that it’s at least partly their job to eliminate, anticipate, and eradicate their happening as much as possible, and depending upon the situation at the time and/or the degree of the ‘rabbit ears’ of the player for whom they are working.

I hear criticism of Steve that he is not very friendly. Could he be more friendly?  Yes, however, I don't necessarily think 'friendly' is in Steve Williams job description. In many respects he has no time to be 'friendly' with the fans. Mainly because his 'hands' are always full. This isn’t Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis with one liner asides to the gallery. This the best player in golf, maybe the most high profile player EVER in professional golf. 

Steve is always 'under the gun' out there. And with a player as high profile as Tiger, he's also a bodyguard. He's got to be on the lookout for Tigers best interest at all  times, which also includes the duties of being his caddy as well. And he understandably has help in the form of visible PGA Tour security, plainclothes  security, and visible additional marshals assigned to Tigers group each day.  But Steve has more of it to deal with on a regular basis, day in and day out, than does the average rank and file tour caddy.

Word has it that Fluff got fired for being too friendly. (And signing autographs while on the range and 'on the job') -But that was genuinely Fluff, that was and is his real personality. He's anything but a 'hotdog' by nature.  If in the end Tiger couldn't take it, so be it. They had a great run together, and both are 'class' people. So this criticism of Williams for not being ‘friendly’ to the fans you see is not completely valid. That really isn't in his job description.

Tiger Woods really has no public life privacy, unlike most other pro's. Tiger is recognized wherever he goes by everyone.  I used to kid the late Payne Stewart, when he was out of uniform, (i.e., not in knickers and a NFL outfit), that you wouldn't recognize him. I often watched him walk right by fans, then stand right next to them in street clothes; they had no idea who it was standing there. I told Payne he had a great act. Tiger Woods doesn't have that luxury. And Steve is now almost that recognizable himself.  All of this creates different kind of pressures in a persons public life.

Herman Mitchell was Lee Trevino's tour caddy during a lot of his career.   And Herman was no ‘yes man’ and that was one of the trademarks that made him a good caddy. Here was truly a funny guy. And he could be quite rude with the large galleries in Lee's Army. As an example in the early 1990’s on the senior tour in Trevino’s heyday out there, Herman used nearly every means possible to get around the galleries with the golf cart. (A caddies nightmare with Herman’s rudeness being an effective commodity.) 

Here was a larger than life character, who could roll his eyes just like ‘the Great One’, (a la Jackie Gleason), and in his deep resonating drawl fire one liners, barbs, and witty comebacks you just couldn’t imagine. (I wish I’d written them all down back then especially now that's he's passed away.) But not everyone saw him in this light. And Herman had to be ‘reigned in' and made to ‘tone it down’ as other players, caddies, and officials found his style to be disturbing. 

However, golf is a huge fans sport. Like all sports, the fans must come first. (Or at least be led to believe that they do) I think that Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi, the guys of the '60's would not condone this behavior by Williams, as they pioneered playing to the fans more in their era, and saw professional golf as much for the entertainment value as anything else.    (Something to be learned from by the young guys playing the game today.)

There are a high set of standards of behavior in a game that champions itself as ‘upholding the rules’, as much as professional golf does. The PGA Tour lauding itself as a huge charitable contributor, where the professional game is played in an arena of ‘entertainment’ of paying spectators and viewed by millions through the scrutiny of the television lens. Those lens pay a very hefty price to cover the product of the tour as well as pay a good piece of the purses, which pay the players, and indirectly the caddies as well, while at the same time the press report the print copy to the sports pages for the fans of the game of golf around the world on a daily basis. 

But professional golf purports to offer something more, some higher moral standard beyond just sport for sports sake. So when there is perceived infraction of this  higher ‘standard’ of behavior, people, spectators and fans, will at times be justifiably, and sometimes not so justifiably, be appalled.  So, in this light was Steve Williams wrong here? Did Steves reactions cross that line? Did they ‘devalue’ professional golf's product, or goal as it is sometimes justly and sometimes not set to such a higher standard? Was his reaction ‘over the top’?

First of all, the fan was wrong in that he brought his camera into the playing area where they are clearly banned and his actions intruded into that field of play resulting in a very embarrassing incident for him. Even so, there are appropriate people at every golf tournament who are there to enforce these types of infractions.  Was Steve Williams wrong to 'take the law into his own hands' so to speak?

Caddying for the best player in golf comes a greater responsibility. I would have to say that yes, he was ‘over the line’. Even though at the time in his mind (I presume) he thought he was doing his job. And I also think he knew he was at the ‘Skins Game’ –hardly a modicum of Major Titles. And he probably knew he could get away with his actions there.  (However, I don’t pretend to speak for Steve here).  

And so, in a more general way, should the caddies and players lighten up? Which includes admitting that we’re wrong sometimes when we really are? Certainly. We shouldn’t forget that the game is being played in front of, and for the fans of professional golf everywhere.

I think that this situation could be easily remedied, as in giving this fan a new camera, "an apology from the Woods Team", or something like that. Even if it gets done privately. Public statements and apologies here though are not likely. (A chat about the incident between Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, likely, even if it’s in passing conversation with the full entertainment value for the money -Tiger Woods)

(Update: Tiger got fined, the camera was replaced, and a 'stupid' fan is rebuked for his dumb play as well.  So all sides are 'happy')

Bob Whitbread



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