Is it possible that Tiger Woods simply has no idea how people outside the ropes of a golf course relate to one another?
On Wednesday, Woods formally announced that he and caddie Steve Williams were parting ways, a decision that he'd apparently broken to Williams several weeks ago. But as Williams has indicated in the last 24 hours, this decision was in no way mutual, and that he cannot believe this is the outcome of his consistent -- some would say misguided -- loyalty.
On his website, Williams released the following statement:
"Following the completion of the AT&T National I am no longer caddying for Tiger after he informed me that he needed to make a change. After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger's scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time. I have had the opportunity to work of late for Australian Adam Scott and will now caddy for him on a permanent basis. Having started my caddying career with Australian great Peter Thompson and working for Greg Norman in the 80's I am excited about the future working for another Australian."
Clearly, Williams believes the loyalty he showed to Woods through a decade-plus of victories, plus both Woods' personal problems and injuries warranted more than a "thanks for your service" pink slip. (He did tell Golf Digest's Tim Rosaforte he respected the fact that Woods handled the dismissal "man to man," but that's where the respect apparently ends.)
Interviewed on Television New Zealand, he went even further: "You could say I've wasted the last two years of my life. I've stuck with Tiger and been incredibly loyal. I'm not disappointed I've been fired -- that's part of the job -- but the timing is extraordinary."
When the Woods scandal, with its lurid tales of trysts around the world, first broke in late 2009, Williams was implicated by association. They're partners on the course! Wouldn't he have known about everything that happened off the course as well? And if he didn't know, why didn't he immediately quit?
"My name should have been cleared immediately," Williams said. "It wasn't and that's what makes it even more disappointing what's transpired [recently]." He indicated that the revelation of Woods' transgressions set off what he called "the most difficult period of my life," and his decision to stick by Woods met with considerable criticism from friends.
Even so, Williams saw something in Woods that kept Williams in the fold. Was it simply money? Certainly Williams earned millions while in Woods' employ. But even if Williams' decision to remain was purely mercenary, remain he did, at a time when Woods had few friends and almost no one willing to stand up for him.
"I, along with a lot of people, lost a lot of respect for Tiger and I pointed out before his return at the Masters at Augusta in 2010 that he had to earn back my respect," Williams said. "Through time I hope he can gain my respect back. He definitely needs to earn my respect again, that's for sure."
We've opined before in this space that perhaps the best thing Woods could do would be to clean house, to start over with an entirely new entourage not beholden to him, and not responsible for enabling him prior to Thanksgiving 2009. Clearly, by keeping much of his prior management team in place, he hasn't done that; by cutting loose the man who was literally his most visible public supporter, he once again gives the appearance of caring for no one but himself.
The loss of Williams could be hugely damaging on the course as well as in the court of public opinion. Williams is 13 years older than Woods, and while he didn't give off a "father figure" vibe, he certainly had it in him to guide Woods in certain directions -- on the course, at least -- while keeping more intrusive elements like the media and the galleries at bay. Whoever takes on the job of caddying Woods, and there are no serious candidates as yet, will have to be part psychologist, part bouncer, an enforcer with Zen calm.
Look, it's Woods' prerogative to fire his caddie at any time; he's done it in the past. This is an employer-employee relationship. (And to be fair, we haven't heard Woods' side of the story.) But there are ways to handle these separations with grace, respect and dignity, ways to keep someone who's been one of your most loyal backers from feeling like all his own pain and stress were meaningless.
Woods has a long list of people who deserved better from him. It's a shame that list continues to grow even now.
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