By Flint Wheeler
Oh Tiger, you’ve come so very far from a few years back and all your personal headaches.
We’re to now believe that all those, “clear throat noise”, indiscretions, are behind you now. Your laser focus on golf is back. So I ask you, Mr. Woods, why are you struggling to win when it matters most? You know, back 9 on Sundays, hoisting Wanamaker trophies, or slipping on 44 Long Green Jackets? I have a theory, no, make it a reason why. And it has nothing to do with your swing.
When Tiger was with Butch, their style together was as close to a father son relationship as any coach and athlete that I can remember. The only similarity that I can think of is every 4 years a gold medal winning gymnast at 13 running into the arms of the 40+ year old man next to the mat clapping and waiting with open arms in celebration of landing something that would put 99% of anyone watching in traction. That relationship, albeit creepy, works. His experience coaching, teaching and mentoring her talent. Clean, crisp, obvious. Go to bed at this time, eat this, and stay away from that. My point is, Butch could tell Tiger to get to bed early, work on this or that. And most important, at that stage in Tiger’s career, he listened. Tiger needed that guidance to protect him from himself and his inevitable transcendent success. Give a kid ice cream, odds are he’s going to eat it, of course, unless Dad tells him no. Sean Foley is rendered to an advisor role into Tiger’s swing and swing only. Not surprising Tiger’s off the course (and on for that matter between the ropes) antics has been that of a child who not only ate the ice cream but spilled it all over his shirt and blamed the mess on the maid. His new swing coach, however, is far from the reason why Tiger’s not winning majors.
Adam Scott has never played so well or been more clutch. Adam now finds himself a factor in every major, winning two and like Tiger while Stevie was on the bag, boasts a little, shall we say “strutt” around the golf course. This new found bravado was never a 15th club in Adams bag. Stevie Williams (formerly Tiger Woods Caddie) has brought this element of confidence. Adam’s swing looks the same throughout the years; he dresses the same, and hasn’t changed club manufacturers. So what’s changed? Only the caddie. With Stevie Williams on the bag, Adam found whatever secret sauce creates lines at In & Out and out of business signs at “What-a-Burger”. Tiger won 13 majors with Stevie on the bag.
Not sure, but that sounds like a lot to me.
Perhaps a re-cap,
A few years back we all remember Tiger parted ways with two remarkably successful swing coaches in Butch Harmon and Hank Haney. He’s divorced from his wife, Elin. He ditched a putter that helped him earn more than $100 million.
But he still had Stevie on the bag.
There were many who didn’t care much for Williams, who barged through galleries with the bag on his shoulder, seemingly determined to mow down anyone in his way. He did not do anything that didn’t represent that his guy, Tiger, was here to win the golf tournament. Look out below any photographers, reporters or spectators that got in the way.
But he was doing the job he was asked to do and was loyal to one man, Woods, anyone else be damned. Say what you want about him, but Williams’ reputation as a caddie is impeccable, and Woods credited him several times for helping him through some tough spots.
One important instance came on the 72nd hole of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where Williams talked Woods into hitting a sand wedge from the rough — not the pitching wedge Woods wanted — knowing his boss would be pumped up, the spin generated from the shot helping him hit it closer to the hole. You know the rest. Tiger holed the birdie putt to force the playoff he won over Mediate the next day.
“Everyone is nervous when the tournament is on the line. The players are nervous, the caddies are nervous. I never sensed that Steve Williams had any choke in him at all. Do you know how many tournaments he won hoisting someone’s bag? It was over 100. He’s not just getting lucky all the time,” said instructor Hank Haney.
Now Tiger has Joe LaCava, a solid caddie with plenty of experience. But we all know the difference between good and great, solid and indispensible, is that certain, ‘it’ quality. It separates a guy who makes millions (see Dustin Johnson) and who wins majors and lands in golf lore forever, see both Tiger and now Adam Scott with Stevie on the bag.
If anyone is keeping track at home, not taking anything away from Joe LaCava’s talent as a caddie however, let’s take a look at a few infractions while Joey was on the bag. I looked but couldn’t find one, not one major infraction while Stevie was on the bag.
Just this past week Woods was assessed a two-shot penalty because it was deemed by Slugger White, vice president of competition at the PGA Tour, that Woods caused his ball to move when attempting to remove debris near it behind the first green. Tiger disagreed initially and still questions the ruling however White, a longtime PGA Tour rules official, said, “It’s pretty clear the ball moved.”
In January at the Abu Dhabi Championship, Woods believed he was entitled to relief due to an embedded ball during the second round; the ball was underneath foliage in a sandy area, and any ball embedded in sand is not entitled to a free drop. Woods could have played it or taken a one-stroke unplayable lie penalty. But after taking a drop, he received a two-stroke penalty and missed the cut by one shot.
At the Masters, he was involved in a huge rules issue when his third shot during the second round hit the flagstick at the 15th hole and caromed back into the water. Woods elected to play from his original spot, but went too far back in taking a drop. Nobody noticed it at the time, but a former rules official who saw it on television called into Masters Officials to say something was amiss. Those officials never alerted Woods that there might be an issue, so he signed his card, and only later after describing the shot did they become concerned that he had made a mistake. That is why they took the unusual, and controversial step, to assess him a two-stroke penalty and not disqualify him. He ended up four strokes behind winner Adam Scott.
The points to all this is we, as people, aren’t smart enough to know the things in life we’re not smart enough to know (Write that down). That’s what a parent is there for, a mentor, a truly great friend. Sometimes in life we need to eat our vegetables, we may not like them, but we know they’re good for us. For Tiger, Butch was that voice that we all need. Later it was Stevie, just a caddie, I know, although hindsight being 20/20, that caddie and we all have someone who Stevie represents in our own life, meant way more to Tigers success than any swing change or club selection. Stevie was able to tell the great Tiger Woods, “ no”. And he made the mistake of firing his only voice of reason. I think if you ask Tiger, and a lot of us, “Would you take him back”? After an emotional exhale, and a Thank you, we’d all say yes, and be better people because of it.
Owner/Founder, Indian Wells Insurance & Wealth Management
Host of “Tilted Sports Radio”, on KXPS Team 1010
Former PGA Class A Golf Professional & USPTA Certified Tennis Instructor
Titleist Performance Institute Certified Golf Fitness Trainer
Head tennis professional & assistant golf professional- Thunderbird Country Club
Tournament coordinator- Desert Willow Golf Resort, Toscana Country Club