ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Steve and Tiger Split

Steve Williams may have filled in the blanks in this ongoing story for us with his post-game interviews Sunday. In fact, I thought they explained some of the more interesting events in the timeline very well. Today -- and I promise this will be the last of these posts -- I thought I'd share what I think happened between the two.

I admit this post is speculation, but everything dovetails so well that I think my conclusions are close to the truth. And please note that I'm not saying one side or the other is "right"; rather, I think it's pretty clear that there were ample opportunities for both sides to jump the shark.

Last week I said the breakup was probably caused by personal rather than professional differences. Steve's comments clearly backed up that idea and even fleshed it out a bit. It makes sense that his barbs would have been aimed specifically at problems he had experienced with Tiger, don't you think? So let's take a quick look at those specifics.

I wrote last week about Steve telling Tiger early on that he would need to earn back his respect, and Tiger perhaps feeling that the relationship had changed irreparably sometime after that. How would this have shown up? Presumably, Steve's role in Tiger's game would have been increasingly minimized as the communication lines shut down. Remember Steve's remark that caddies, coaches, and players usually work together to improve a player's game? He said he had enjoyed having input about what Adam was practicing. The most logical conclusion is that he had at one time had that kind of input about Tiger's game but that it had stopped.

Before you write that off as overblown, think about how many times you saw Tiger on the range with Steve watching or helping him with drills (like holding a club next to his head so Tiger could tell how much he was moving). Players talk about their caddies serving as a second pair of eyes, and the caddie's observations would definitely influence what a player decides to practice. Clearly Steve was no longer serving in that role and it was frustrating him -- especially when he saw Tiger struggling and probably thought he knew what the problem was.

BTW, this would also explain the "talk" Steve had with Adam about expecting a commitment to improvement from him if Steve took up his bag. Clearly Steve thought he could help Adam get better and didn't want to be cut out of the loop again.

I think all the "me-me-me" talk during the interviews came from this frustration. If Steve felt Tiger was treating him as merely the bag carrier when he felt he was playing a much bigger part, it makes sense that he would focus on finally being allowed to do what he knows how to do. Rory McIlroy was asked about Steve's comments on Morning Drive Monday, and he remarked that -- much as with Rory's "Twitter-war" with Jay Townsend -- in the heat of the moment you say things you meant but you phrase them in ways you wouldn't have if you had more time to think about them.

And maybe some of it came from Steve wanting to prove to Adam that he really could help him. In his interviews he said it was important that, when your man had his first chance to win, that you found a way to get him across the line. It's been a long time since Steve has been in that position. He also said he believed in destiny and that after watching Adam hit it well on the range, he had no doubt that Adam was going to win. Having succeeded in getting that win, I don't doubt that it did feel awfully good to him... even if he went a bit overboard in celebrating it.

Can Steve really make a difference when he's on your bag? In the wake of Steve's comments there's been some debate about this. But I think it's fair to say he certainly does make a difference. Even Tiger was capable of naming specific times when Steve made calls that saved him shots, and even I can think of one time Steve helped Adam during Sunday's round -- I believe it was on the par-3 12th, although it might have been the second shot into 14. Adam was lining up the shot; Steve walked over with the bag and said something; Adam changed clubs, then knocked the ball pin high just off the green and put it in for birdie. A wrong club there surely would have resulted in at least a 20- to 30-foot putt and a likely par, so that one call probably saved Adam a stroke. It was precisely the kind of distance call Adam had credited Steve with all week.

In that post last week I wrote:
We're pretty sure that Tiger originally gave Steve permission to caddie for Adam Scott, then changed his mind but Steve refused to go back on his word to Adam. We know Tiger told Steve in person that he was fired after the AT&T and that, whether you believe it was a "good talk" or not, Tiger said they both said some tough things "that needed to be said."
But Steve's comments Sunday indicate that Tiger actually "fired" Steve over the phone, apparently when Steve asked him about caddying for Adam. (I believe Steve has said that he had already flown in from New Zealand to caddy for Tiger, unaware that he wasn't going to play the U.S. Open. If so, it's clear the two were already having communication problems.)

I think too much is being made of this, as some are saying that Steve is calling Tiger a liar. I put "fired" in quotes because Steve's actual words were that Tiger said "Maybe it's time for a change" over the phone, which could be taken as a not-so-veiled threat that he would fire Steve if he caddied for Adam. That was the last straw for Steve, who of course did caddie for Adam... and then the actual firing happened in person. And no, I'm not sure we'll ever get that clarified.

But something more may have been at work here.

Last week on Morning Drive Erik Kuselius asked Annika Sorenstam about the ethics of looking for a new caddie when that caddie already works for someone else. Annika made two interesting comments -- one, that the good caddies are already working for someone else and if you want one you have to take them from someone else; and two, that caddies are always looking for greener pastures. She was talking about Tiger's search for a new caddie, but it might have affected Tiger's reaction to Steve wanting to caddie for Adam during the U.S. Open.

Some caddies clearly work with one player but loop for other players when their player takes a week off -- one example is Fluff Cowan, who loops for both Peter Jacobson and Jim Furyk. Steve probably pursued that line of thinking when he asked about looping one time for Adam. But I suspect Tiger, who was clearly already having personal difficulties with Steve, assumed Steve was looking for another bag and that Adam -- who had recently dropped Tony Navarro and had no regular caddie -- was trying to woo him away. And let's face it -- Tiger's a control freak, so the idea of "lending" his caddie for a week never entered his mind.

So, very briefly, here's what I think happened:
  1. The wreck, which I once nicknamed Tailgate, sets off the series of events. Tiger vanishes as more sordid info comes out, and Steve (along with the rest of Tiger's team) is considered guilty by association. This begins the strain on Steve's end.
  2. Tiger finally makes "the confession," which satisfies nobody, and the bad news continues to grow. Steve says nothing; this is SOP in Tiger's camp, after all.
  3. At some point, when they start working together again, Steve tells Tiger he'll have to work to regain his respect. I suspect his and his wife's friendship with Elin complicates this -- how does he deal with both Tiger and Elin fairly? The real problems between Tiger and Steve probably begin here.
  4. Tiger's game falls apart. Hank Haney leaves. Tiger withdraws even more, and Steve in increasingly left out of the loop.
  5. Tiger's game hits bottom. Steve isn't getting to caddie and his input becomes less important as Sean Foley enters the picture. The relationship between the two gets worse.
  6. Tiger's injuries take him out of competition, and now Steve doesn't even get to caddie -- which we know Steve really enjoys.
  7. The communication gets so bad that Tiger doesn't even tell Steve not to come over for the U.S. Open. Steve doesn't find out Tiger isn't playing until he's already here. Adam Scott has no caddie and asks Steve if he'd like to do a one-time gig since he's already here.
  8. And now the whole thing comes to a head over a simple misunderstanding: Steve just wants to caddie for a week, but Tiger thinks he's ready to leave... and their relationship has gotten so bad that their dominating partnership ends with a whimper. And, in typical fashion, the employer simply sees it as cutting his losses while the employee takes it personally.
I don't think either meant things to go this way. Neither had it out for the other. But it looks as if a very successful partnership ended basically because the two stopped talking to each other.

Having said that, this won't be the end for either player. In time Tiger will return to form, get a new caddie, and start winning again. And yes, I suspect Tiger will break Jack's record -- he only needs 5 more majors. And while I know that sounds like a lot, remember that Jack didn't win his 15th until he was 38 and that he pretty much shut things down just after he turned 40 to focus on family and business.

And if Adam and Steve stay together, I think it transforms Adam's career. For the first time I can remember, Adam Scott actually has some swagger! Between his golf swing and Steve's knowledge and toughness -- whether you like him or not, he's arguably the best caddie in the game right now -- I can realistically see Adam now finishing his career with 4 to 6 majors. He's only 31, you know; Phil picked up 4 majors between 33 and 40, and could have picked up at least one more if he hadn't hit that driver off 18 at the 2006 U.S. Open.

To me, there lies the true irony of the situation. As bad as this breakup is, it could eventually give us two superstar golfers where before we had one. And that would definitely be good for the game... and for us fans.

No comments:

Post a Comment