x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Wheels had fallen off cart long ago

After caddie Stevie Williams outburst at the Bridgestone Invitational, it is hard to imagine how he and Tiger Woods were ever close.

Images of Tiger Woods fist-bumping or sharing a hug with caddie Stevie Williams at the US Open in 2008 were indelible. Williams' firing, and subsequent comments, have tainted the memory.
Images of Tiger Woods fist-bumping or sharing a hug with caddie Stevie Williams at the US Open in 2008 were indelible. Williams' firing, and subsequent comments, have tainted the memory.

Cue Liverpool, July 2006.

Tiger Woods taps in to win the British Open. He has just forged four days of iron play so sublime it ought to wreak sonnets. Briefly, he double-fist-pumps, but what ensues proves more memorable.

He approaches caddie Stevie Williams for a predictable hug and then one of the soaring sport moments of the fresh century. Into Williams' right shoulder Woods begins a quaking sob - for five seconds, 10, 15, finally 16.

Nobody wonders why.

The gruff, tough father, who fashioned Woods' towering golf game had died of cancer at 74 that May, and this would be the son's first major title with Earl Woods departed.

As the Kiwi caddie and the Thai-African-American golfer unlock and stride off together, Williams seems to attempt consolation by pointing skyward.

So cue Liverpool 2006, and look now, after the world's loudest-ever golfer-caddie break-up.

Cue San Diego, June 2008. Woods eyes a spiteful 15-foot putt to reach a US Open playoff. With one leg mangled, he has produced a Saturday back nine with two eagles and one ludicrous chip-in birdie, and a score of 30 that is worthy of an aria, but he must hole this Sunday stumper to tie Rocco Mediate.

And here comes another of the soaring moments in all of sport of late, as that ball rumbles forward and takes a little tour of the lip and drops, and Woods leans back and pumps both fists to a rapturous audience. So the image widens, and in from the left hurries a figure in shorts wearing black. The caddie's gait looks almost klutzy. Williams and Woods share a whopping high-five and walk off arm-in-arm, laughing.

Cue San Diego 2008, and look now, after the huffy-caddie saga in Ohio.

What happened this past Sunday in Akron did not just count as weird. It surpassed the mere hilarity of golf galleries chanting the name of a caddie as they did along the back nine. It exceeded that the caddie hails from a country 13,000 kilometres from the course, while the golfer some derided is so thoroughly American. It even trumped the zaniness of the role-of-caddies discussion that spawned from Williams helping Adam Scott win.

No, the very idea of Williams standing amid reporters ripping Woods for firing Williams, and Woods denying Williams' account, and the whole familiar relationship devolving into one snippy spat, hits Woods' legacy in some of the last pristine places left: video archives. It lashes it with a fresh coat of muck.

Watch Liverpool 2006 now, and wonder if Woods really did wind up firing Williams over the phone. Watch San Diego 2008 now, and wonder did Woods honestly get miffed because, in his latest hiatus, Williams took a temp job with Scott?

Really?

In this decline, even the soaring sport moments on video aren't much fun anymore. Even after a Florida fire hydrant made the fire-hydrant hall of fame in November 2009, when Woods wrecked into it, you still could watch such moments with clear-headed revelry. Woods' personal scandals, loud and perpetual and punchline-worthy as they became, did not intrude in such footage.

Now you watch and think about the cluttered issues of loyalty and decency and caddie-firing. Or marvel that his image could fray even farther. All that prurience and now a catty caddie, too?

If ever you covered Woods at tournaments major and otherwise, you might agree: All of this has played out shockingly.

So carefully did Woods and his handlers manage his image that covering him always felt as if standing across a moat. They drained almost every shred of spice in pursuit of the perfectly pristine.

He gave plastic answers in news conferences, nothing abnormal nor sinful there, but he also secluded himself from providing any hints of his humanity. Even his customary greeting after being thanked for his time in news conferences - "You got it" - sounded canned.

He walked, inaccessibly, steely-eyed from place to place, never stopping to chat nor construct any kind of mutual understanding with those chronicling him, a habit that wound up imprudent as reporters lacked any of the personal affinity that might have helped in a crisis.

It worked, endorsement-wise, proving that people in the 21st century still warm to blandness, but now that so much of the narrative has come unwound and keeps unwinding, we have some fans cheering a caddie, perhaps because they had been fired before, perhaps because they resented Woods' scandals or perhaps even with tinges of racism.

It's still bewildering to watch all of that high-priced image-management wind up spiralling into all of this.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae