Greg Bruce, author of a masterful feature on Steve Williams, reviews the autobiography of a seething brat who is also undeniably the greatest caddy of all time.
I wrote a feature about Steve Williams in Metro magazine early last year. It was a long process, begun in early 2013, when I sent him a handwritten letter, because he didn’t have an email address on his website. He wrote back to me several weeks later and told me to email him in six months time.
I didn’t have much on so, come October, I got back in touch. I had told him I wanted to spend some time with him, play some golf with him, do all that sort of experiential, immersive journalistic bullshit in the hope that some interesting and amusing insights would ensue.
He was more interested in not doing that. What I got was an hour-long interview in a café down the road from his house in Huapai and a second interview a few weeks later, which lasted about 15 minutes, after he had laid down some brutal honesty about how much of a priority this wasn’t.
I submitted the story to Metro under the headline ‘Steve Williams is retiring.’ What I meant by that was that he was retiring from the game, but – killer pun alert! – he’s also actually quite shy. It wasn’t hugely accurate, but you’ve got to take an angle. Metro went with ‘Loud-mouthed Caddy’ which, if you think about it, is the exact opposite.
Both my story and the wordplay of the abandoned headline hinged on Williams’ greatest regret, which was not speaking up when he knew Raymond Floyd was about to make a colossal fuck up on the second to last hole of the 1990 US Masters, which ended Floyd’s chances of becoming the oldest ever winner of that tournament, golf’s most prestigious.
I interviewed Ray Floyd for the Metro story. He told me that he didn’t usually want Williams’ input and so didn’t usually ask for it. Williams may be a famed loudmouth but he knew the rules and so he never said anything to Floyd unless he was asked. He did the right thing by his boss at the Masters. But he doesn’t care about that. He wants to regret that moment and he will.
Intriguingly, given Floyd’s insistence on his silence, of all the players Williams has been involved with, Floyd is the one he speaks most fondly of. What follows is a list of players he mentions in his new autobiography Out of the Rough that he has either called a prick, actively dislikes, has no respect for, has spoken rudely to, or thinks should never have been playing on the tour: Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na. But you can have no doubt he would rather share a communal shower in a rural locker room with all of them, plus late-career Colin Montgomerie after a 36 hole playoff, before he would spend another goddam minute with Tiger Woods. If there’s one thing Out of the Rough makes clear, apart from the fact that Steve Williams is history’s greatest caddy, it’s that he thinks Tiger Woods is a bit of a shit.
On page 65, Tiger meets Stevie for the first time and asks him to wait while he finishes something. Stevie finds out that thing is a video game, and from that moment on, things aren’t looking good for Tiger. It’s not fair to say that the whole book is a slow accumulation of details designed to make Tiger look like a dick – but it is fair to say that three pages later Tiger turns up late to the US Open because he had been watching a cartoon.
By far the greatest moment in the book occurs on page 133 when Williams quotes Tiger saying, in 2004, “Stevie, I think I’ve had enough of golf. I’d really like to try to be a Navy SEAL” and then spends three years doing hardcore military training, including parachute and dive training and being shot with rubber bullets in something called a ‘kill house’.
It’s an incredible moment in the context of this otherwise fairly straightforward book-length account of bitterness toward an ex-employer. You can’t help but wonder how different our world and this book would feel if Tiger Woods had joined SEAL Team Six, become a precision killer, and never once felt the need to commit adultery to compensate for his ongoing swing issues. But we got what we got and the book is dense with all the shit you’d expect about the rooting and the subsequent feuding.
But what’s really beautiful about Out of the Rough is the long stretches when Williams puts all that aside and talks about exactly how Tiger dismantled golf as it was once played and rebuilt it in his image. Like when he describes the way Tiger played a different course to everyone else at the 2006 British Open: shorter irons off the tee to take the fairway bunkers out of play, then massive approach shots to the greens played with accuracy the rest of the field was neither capable of, nor Navy SEAL-sy enough to even consider. For all the bad blood, you can feel how much Stevie once loved Tiger and loved being a part of this sporting-historical moment.
Still, it’s also quite beautiful to watch the way hubris, entrenched loathing and latent cultural imperialism combine to create sentences like the following. It’s about the time Tiger won the 2008 US Open, playing for five days with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and stress fractures in his tibia, all of which Williams thinks was caused by his Navy SEAL training:
“For me to be part of one man’s hell-bent determination to win, and to have played a significant role along the way, was like being Tensing Norgay alongside Edmund Hillary on Mt Everest.”
Steve Williams is retired now, but he is not yet quiet.
May he never be.
Correction: the original version of this story mentioned Woods’ victory in the 2009 British Open; it was the 2006 Open to which we were referring.