Out of the Rough
Steve Williams with Michael Donaldson
Here is Adam Scott, the languid Australian golfer, on the second playoff hole of the 2013 Masters. He has hit his second shot to the green. He asks his caddy, Steve Williams, who has defected from Tiger Woods in controversial circumstances: “Steve, can you read this putt? I think it is a cup outside the hole.” Williams is characteristically abrasive and dogmatic: “Adam, that’s not even close. It’s at least two cups and a bit. Trust me. I know this putt. It breaks more than it looks.”
Scott trusts Williams. He putts along the line suggested to him. The ball takes a gentle curve and plops into the hole. When it drops in, Scott becomes the first Australian to win the Masters.
The former coach of Woods, Hank Haney, has called Williams the “greatest” caddy in the history of golf. This incident, vividly recorded in Out of the Rough, provides a justification for this call. Twenty-five years earlier at a Masters tournament, Williams gave exactly the same advice to Greg Norman for a putt that was in the precise spot as Scott’s and with a similar pin placement. Norman rejected the advice. He missed the putt and provided golf history with one its most infamous self-destructive back nines. Williams remembered the incident. This uncanny ability to remember everything that happened in every tournament round, and then provide his player with an exact prescription of what he had to do, provided the winning edge for Williams and his players.
He was not afraid to bully his players to greatness, either. Until the coming of Williams, a burly New Zealander who had aspirations to become an All Black prop, caddies had been seen and not heard. Can anyone remember who caddied for Arnold Palmer? Williams has changed this history. There is a page in his book noting: “Players I’ve Won Tournaments With”. Notice the “I’ve won”. No false modesty here. His golfers have won 150 tournaments. The appropriation of these victories by Williams from champions like Woods, Bob Charles, Norman, Raymond Floyd and Scott is controversial in golf circles. But there is more truth than bragging in the Williams claim.
Chapter two, “What I Do”, provides a fascinating insight into how Williams went about his work in caddying his player to an optimum performance. “A good caddy,” he writes, “can make a huge difference to a player’s performance by offering guidance, decision-making and focus.” This decision-making and focus actually started with the caddy, in the Williams method. He made a habit of mapping the course for his player with an exactitude that embraced, for instance, the tendency of Woods to spray his tee shots. So Williams prepared charts for possible (more likely, probable) shots from other fairways. He studied the design of each course and the psychology of his players. He monitored weather reports so avidly that if he didn’t take an umbrella out on an overcast day, other caddies reckoned they didn’t need one either. He saw the caddy as a driver of his player: “A caddy is like a jockey on the horse, or a navigator in a rally car … My aim is to give my player absolute certainty.” And absolute support. When Scott was disconcerted by the slow play of the American golfer Kevin Na, Williams gave Na a bollocking. When Na objected, Tour officials were called in to calm matters down. Williams over-stepped the mark, admittedly. But Scott welcomed Na’s quicker play after the confrontation.
The worldwide selling point of this book is its account of the Woods-Williams relationship. The insights into how Woods achieved greatness and then the collapse of his golf game and his life are fascinating. Woods emerges as a nasty, self-absorbed personality. Williams was right to feel betrayed when Woods did not acknowledge that his caddy knew nothing about his prowling night-life behaviour. The most enjoyable aspect of this engaging memoir, though, is the sunny account of his early life and his career up to its Woods climax. The story of caddying for Peter Thomson at the age of 12 and then running away to Australia to become a professional caddy is a classic tale about growing up in New Zealand and then chasing a dream in the big world.
Williams never was an All Black, but he became the Richie McCaw of golf caddies, a great sporting achievement in its own right and story worth telling.
Spiro Zavos writes about sport for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Roar.