AKRON, Ohio – Four years ago, I spent a week caddying on the Nationwide Tour, which essentially makes me an expert on all things bag-toting.
I'll spare you the gory details, other than to mention that my man Roland Thatcher and I were on the leaderboard at one point, only to find ourselves slamming the trunk on Friday evening after missing the cut.
Even so, I learned plenty that week. Simple math isn't so simple. Never leave your player's golf bag in a place where it can double as a target.
And two guys without a weekend tee time can consume an awful lot of pizza and beer while watching multiple football games.
I gleaned some knowledge from my fellow loopers that week, too. Their main piece of collective advice was that I try to refrain from becoming one of the We-He caddies. You know the type. They sound like this: "We started out with a birdie on the first, but he made a bogey. We battled back, then he made some mistakes late in the round."
We-He caddies have been around since professionals started playing the game for money, but for perhaps the first time in the history of the profession, we witnessed a Me-Me caddie Sunday at the conclusion of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
For the four people around the world who still don't know the history behind the story, here's the par-3 version: Steve Williams caddied for Tiger Woods for 12 years. They won 13 majors together. While Woods was injured this summer, Williams started working for Adam Scott. Woods didn't like that and fired him. So Williams started working for Scott full-time.
It was golf's equivalent of a mob boss ordering his consigliere whacked, only to watch him get saved by another family.
There was quite a role-reversal for Williams' image, too. Long known as the sullen, obtuse bodyguard for Woods who never saw a camera he didn't want to heave into a water hazard, the caddie transformed into a sympathetic figure overnight. He became just another poor schlub whose company decided to pursue other options and summarily dismissed him from his assignment. He was one of us.
The support for Williams from the Firestone Country Club galleries was tangible throughout the week, but never more so than on the final hole.
With a three-stroke lead, he watched his man Scott pipe a tee shot into the fairway and the two began their victory march to the green.
Meanwhile, the swelling, frenzied crowd grew louder and louder. The fans weren't cheering for Scott, though. It's not that they were rooting against him; it's that nearly all audible accolades were foisted upon the man carrying the bag. A former bully from the dark side, Williams was for the first time being accepted as a beloved character.
In an unprecedented bit of hilarity, before Scott made a clinching 5-foot birdie putt, the caddie had to silence the gallery from yelling for himself. When the ball dropped into the bottom of the cup, Williams pumped his fist a celebratory gesture not unlike that of his former employer and hugged his player.
Within seconds, CBS commentator David Feherty sidled up to Williams, put the microphone to his lips and asked what this win meant to him.
“I’ve been caddying for 33 years and this has been the best week of my life,” said Williams, who has also caddied for Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd, Peter Thomson and Ian Baker-Finch. “I’m not joking. I’m never, ever going to forget this week. It’s the greatest week of my life.”
Uh-oh. The invention of the Me-Me caddie.
He talked about his 33-year caddying career. About his record as a front-runner. Even offered a comparison with his moonlighting gig as a race-car driver.
During the short interview, though, Williams never showed any humility for his role in the victory. He never acknowledged the irony in a caddie getting more attention than the player. And most importantly, he never mentioned Scott. Didn't say he was thankful for the opportunity to work with him nor did he commend him for such stellar play.
Instead, Williams ensured that he would be the biggest story on this day, rather than deflecting all glory to the man who finished atop the leaderboard.
The result was that the sheer delight from the hordes of fans screaming his name on the course never transcended to those watching at home on television. In person, Williams was a conquering hero. In living rooms and 19th holes around the world, he was an arrogant scene-stealer, reveling in the attention and taking all the credit for his player's victory.
Caddies often garner too much credit for a player's success and shoulder too much blame for the failures. That's also a fitting metaphor for how Williams' scenario unfolded. Those behind the ropes heaped too much praise on him for the victory; those watching on TV issued too much blame for his lack of grace.
The truth rests somewhere in between. It shouldn't go unnoticed that Scott's first title in more than a year coincided with Williams' first week as a full-time employee. Nor should it be ignored that the caddie used this victory as a forum to promote his own agenda, which can be summarized thusly: "I don't need you, Tiger."
The fact that general reaction in the hours after what Williams referred to as "my 145th victory" has been negative speaks to the power of media and common sentiment toward the role of caddie.
More than anything else, though, it's about Steve Williams and how the Me-Me caddie will never win friends and influence people.
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