Aug
10
2011
In Defense of Steve Williams (and Caddies)
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

Stevie guiding Scotty around AAC

Look, I’m tired of the drama, too, but I’d also like to share some thought and insight before we move on. Plus, I disagree with Conor, who thinks I’m a sucker, on this matter, but from my vantage point, Steve Williams has changed.

There’s no question Adam Scott hit all the shots to cruise to a four-shot victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. And I won’t argue that Steve Williams should have handled the spotlight better and praised Adam’s outstanding play — which he’s admitted and passed on his regrets — but as he’s since said, he was caught in the moment.

Who hasn’t done that?

When I arrived at Atlanta Athletic Club on Monday, there was obviously quite a bit of buzz on Stevie’s “win.” Naturally, the caddies didn’t want to speak on the record, but the reactions were what you’d expect: “Unbelievable.” “Ridiculous.” “Couldn’t believe he wouldn’t shut up.” “Can you imagine getting interviewed on the 18th green? He should have been making sure Adam signed the correct scorecard and then spoke to the media.” “He’s delusional.” “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”

Though Stevie’s comments were over the top and shocking, I found myself jumping to his defense a bit.

Given the atmosphere at Firestone and the cheers for Stevie throughout the week, not to mention the fans chanting his name when he and Scott walked to the 18th green on Sunday, I would’ve thought I’d won, too!

Earlier last week, I was floored when I initially heard more people calling Stevie’s name than Adam’s or his playing partner’s. Adam would stick a shot and the response was, “Nice number, Stevie!” — not “Nice shot, Scotty!”

Crazy, huh? That’s why CBS chose to interview Stevie. It was an unprecedented move, but the right one.

As I’ve mentioned, Stevie was engaging and friendly through the week at Firestone. He acknowledged the fans. He had a permanent smile on his face. He apologized to the members of the media for treating them unfairly while caddying for Tiger.

For more than 12 years, Stevie barely uttered a word under Tiger’s decree, and suddenly he can’t shut up when you put a mic in front of him. Can you blame him? After over a dozen years of grunts and silence, he unloaded.

He’s also enjoying the company of his peers.

For the first time (last week at Firestone), he hung out with us all week,” said Don Cooper, Lucas Glover’s longtime looper. “I think he enjoyed last week being part of the boys…he seems happy.”

Maybe all this time it was Tiger who didn’t want Stevie fraternizing with other caddies.

*********

Speaking of which, I’ve been a little bothered by some of the comments — namely, “He’s only a caddie” — that I’ve read on this site and on Twitter.

Sure, caddies aren’t swinging the club, but they’re still human beings, not indentured servants.

Believe it or not, players depend on their caddies for more than calculating yardages and toting around their bag. What is a caddie’s job? — besides, you know, “show up, keep up and shut up.”

“If I earn my man a shot a round, I’ve done my job,” said Chad Reynolds, Nick Watney’s looper. “I’m helping him.”

That’s the general rule of thumb for caddies — save them a stroke a round, four each tournament, but there’s room for human error and there will be times when they cost their player a stroke, which is really like two shots because they’re supposed to save them one.

There are times when a guy is playing so well, the caddie just tries to stay out of the way.

But to those who think they only serve as a strong shoulder, think again — it’s more complicated than merely being a porter.

“My caddie is a friend, first of all,” 18-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, a two-time winner on the European Tour told me on Monday. “You have to spend a lot of time with him — prepare for all the tournaments and during the rounds.

“Yes, he carries the bag, but he’s the only one beside you in the tough moments and the good ones. He’s a bit of psychologist, too. He has to say things in the right moments and the right things, so it’s not an easy role to be a caddie. It’s difficult, you have to understand your player really well. You have to understand his game and mentality. If you don’t say the right thing to a player, he might take it badly and you can’t do that on the course.”

Said Lee Westwood on Tuesday at his press conference: “It’s more what they don’t say than what they do say. It’s such a psychological and mental game, golf, that the smallest wrong thing at the wrong time can distract you from what you’re trying to achieve.”

23-year-old Australian Jason Day thinks caddies deserve more credit than they receive. The relationship Day has with his caddie is unique — Colin Swatton has been a coach, friend and father figure to Jason since he was 12.

“Look at this guy, he’s walked 27 holes today!” said Jason on Tuesday, referring to Colin, who had dropped off the bag before heading back out to scout the back nine.

“If you’re a real good caddie, then you deserve a lot more praise than others,” Day told me. “Col, for example, has already walked 18 holes and he’s already going to do the back nine for tomorrow. He’s thorough. He knows exactly every up and down. Every sprinkler box out there. He knows the measurements of the greens.

“If you look at these yardage books, he normally has one where he scribbles everything in and then his actual tournament yardage books where he writes everything in. He’ll write down each day, what I hit on a hole, how much it rolled, how much it bounced, and all that other stuff.”

How much credit should caddies receive if it were quantified?

Manassero figures 60% to the player and 40% to the caddie. Day thinks it’s a 70/30 ratio.

“Because a good caddie can save you strokes out there,” he said.