Caddie chips in to make a point

Big Stevie Williams has done it again, carrying the bag right up the leader board and on to the winner's podium at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. This time for top Aussie golfer Adam Scott.

And if in his effusive victory remarks there appeared to be a degree of Schadenfreude in the fate and form of his former boss, Tiger Woods, languishing 18 strokes back in 37th place, he might have been forgiven.

He had, after all, been summarily and unceremoniously sacked by Woods, who thus ended one of the great sporting partnerships in the modern era.

So it should be remembered that in the fallout after Williams' frank and pointed comments following Scott's winning round, there is rich subtext: Tiger Woods is still the biggest story in golf and if he's not providing good copy then the next best thing is his former caddie - particularly if that caddie has a point to prove and has duly done so.

Williams is not universally liked on the pro-golf circuit. He is self-evidently a hugely competitive character who speaks his mind. In a recent past life, he earned the ire of some followers, and elements of the press, for his robust protection of Woods when the latter was being photographed at inopportune moments or otherwise disturbed during his rounds. He cut a brusque no-nonsense figure, bag over back, trudging in his trademark shorts across the great fairways of world golf.

But one does not have to look too far to find elements of a sort of aristocratic hauteur in the views expressed after the new partnership's spectacular success. To some, Williams is evidently a bovver boy - or a petrol head - from the wrong side of the privileged golf world's tracks, if not the wrong side of the world.

It is hardly Williams' fault that he was, after Scott's win by four strokes at Firestone, thought to be a significant part of the story. But when he was approached and pressed for comment, what he had to say was construed in a very particular way.

If the world's most famous caddie had buttoned his lip after this latest triumph he would doubtless have been labelled morose and graceless. Instead he spoke his mind, and, if some of us might prefer a degree more restraint and modesty in our heroes, nice guys don't always make the winner's podium. "I caddie and I go racing and when I go to the racetrack the only place I'm interested in finishing is first.

When I go to the golf course, that's the only place I'm trying to finish," Williams said.

But it was more the fact that he opened his mouth at all, and the dig at Woods, that got the golfing world going.

"I have been caddying for more than 30 years now. I have won 145 times and that is the best win of my life," Williams said immediately after the win.

"A lot has been said this week and it is great to back it up.

"I back myself as a frontrunner as a caddie and I have won again." It did not take long for the golfing "twitterati" to react. Former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger tweeted: "Steve Williams breaks the unwritten caddie rule, by talking to the press ... Most don't; a few do at times when appropriate." Williams' remarks were construed in a report in the UK's Guardian newspaper thus: "This was the best, and most impressive win, of Scott's career, so one can assume he might have raised an eyebrow at Williams' shouldering him out of the way to take the limelight. Players hit the shots, caddies carry the bag, as the old saying goes." In other words you're only a caddie in short pants, Stevie. You should be seen and not heard, so, whatever else you do, don't go getting above your station.

Professional golf, particularly in the United States, is largely a sport for wealthy well-heeled white men - which in part was the appeal of Tiger Woods. He broke the mould in more ways than one. He brought with him huge and diverse new audiences.

He earned gazillions for himself and everybody associated with a sport that has its share of arcane rituals and time-hallowed hierarchies. Caddies, so it goes, are just the bag carriers, the gun bearers, the porters, the lowly forelock-tugging servants of golf. Steve Williams' real crime this week was in daring to suggest otherwise.

Simon Cunliffe is deputy editor (news) at the Otago Daily Times.



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