Williams-gate: Is Stevie Being Punished for Honesty?

Woods to Williams: "Great one Stevie...."

Woods to Williams: "Good one Stevie..."

I’ve not waded into the whole Steve Williams/Phil Mickelson is a prick with “tits” debate because I wasn’t frankly sure how the whole strange affair would end.

This all started with Williams comment a few days ago at a charity event:

“I wouldn’t call Mickelson a great player,” Williams was quoted as saying, “Cause I hate the prick.”

The remarks was a rare harsh word it professional golf and led to the question of how Williams’ employer, Tiger Woods, would react. Would Tiger Woods sack his nasty caddie, who also typically does exactly what is asked of him (act as enforcer, camera tosser, bad cop to Woods’ good cop)? The answer tonight is no — at least that’s what Tiger is saying currently:

Tiger Woods said he was disappointed by his caddie’s disparaging comments about Phil Mickelson in New Zealand newspapers.
Steve Williams was quoted in the Taranki Daily News as saying he wouldn’t call Mickelson a great player “because I think he’s a prick.” When contacted by another New Zealand newspaper, Williams confirmed making the comment.
“I was disappointed to read the comments attributed to Steve Williams about Phil Mickelson, a player that I respect,” Woods said in a statement Monday. “It was inappropriate. The matter has been discussed and dealt with.”

Of course Tiger has to say he’s disappointed. Notice Woods calls Mickelson, “a player I respect.” Not a person he respects. My take is that Woods respects Mickelson as a golfer — as an individual it is a different matter. As for Williams, he’ll get a pass — this time.

There’s a lot going on here, especially for a story that’s being told at a time when Woods has been away from golf for six months, and on the eve of hosting his own charity silly season event. Woods issued a statement today — but tomorrow the media will have at him and this story will generate lots of headlines.

So what did Williams say, exactly? He admits to calling Mickelson a “prick,” and saying that the Phil-ster doesn’t respect him. Fair enough. Tough language, but he’s not the first person to think Mickelson is a self-absorbed prima-donna. I recall talking with the tour writer for GolfWeek who said Mickelson would occasionally blatantly lie to reporters, and was only well liked by cameramen, for whom Phil would turn on that 40-watt smile. Print guys, on the other hand, were treated rather differently.

There’s surely some truth to the fact Mickelson isn’t always kind to those around. Sure he signs tons of autographs — a laudable fact — but he’s not well-regarded by his peers, and in that, Williams is just verbalizing what many have wanted to say. After all, Mickelson is referred to as “FIGJAM” by many, and no, I’m not going to tell you what the acronym is. You can figure it out yoursef.

However, I think there’s something else going on in this whole mess that should be acknowledged. Most of my peers complain that those around golf don’t have enough colour. They don’t make comments that have any interest other than to say, “I played good today,” the type of remarks we usually watch on Golf Central. And largely that’s true. Then, when someone makes a remark that’s slightly out of the ordinary, writers deliver blows in column inches, condeming the player for saying too much or talking out of turn. It happens time and again. Think David Duval on the Ryder Cup. Or Stephen Ames on Woods’ driving. Or Hunter Mahan on the Ryder Cup again. All honest, thoughtful remarks. Not off-the-cuff BS. And they were all dragged over hot coals for their comments.

Okay, Williams is being about as blunt as a brick to the face. But I actually don’t see the big deal about the his remark that Mickelson is a piece of work. That’s widely known — just rarely made public. However, his second comment is a bit odd:

But to make matters worse, the Guardian has reported a story Williams told about this year’s US Open at Torrey Pines, where Woods and Mickelson were paired together.

The two players were walking down the 17th fairway when, according to Williams, someone shouted “Phil” in Mickelson’s direction. The world No 2 did not respond until the fan shouted, “Hey, Mr Mickelson.” When Mickelson turned and waved, the fan yelled out “Nice tits”. The crowd erupted in laughter; Mickelson went double bogey, bogey and his chances of winning the tournament disappeared.

The issue is that Williams seems to have made up the story to get some yucks from a dinner crowd to which he was speaking. The story has changed a few times since its telling. First it was at this year’s U.S. Open. Then it apparently happened a few years back at Bethpage. Truth is that the story has circulated for a few years — often with Colin Montgomerie as the centre of the joke. There doesn’t appear to be much actual truth to it, and in turn it is this part of the story that makes Williams look classless. Why repeat something he knows isn’t true?

Woods can’t be pleased. He’s hosting his charty silly-season fundraiser this week (Canadians Mike Weir and Stephen Ames are in the field) and he has a press conference today. He’ll spend the whole time answering questions about Williams and their future together.

Lorne Rubenstein, in this morning’s Globe, seems to have a similar perspective.

All of which makes it intriguing to see Lawrence Donegan’s take on this at the Guardian. He points out, and rightly so, that this situation would have been very different had it been Bones Mackay, Mickelson’s loop, who had made the remarks. Remember the reaction to Ames’ comments? If Ames got that much heat for saying Woods couldn’t hit a fairway — which was true at the time — Mackay would surely have been fired.

In the meantime, Williams lives to throw cameras in a lake another day.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Punished for being honest?? I don’t buy it. I think more like: not being punished enough for being extremely stupid. Tiger fired Fluff Cowan for being too much of a celebrity….. Stevie makes Fluff look reserved.

    It’s widely known there was a fair amount of tension between Jack and Arnie back in the day when pudgy (you could say fat) Jack was dominating by performance, but hunky Arnie was getting all the fans with his charm and good looks. You never heard one of their caddies calling the other player a “prick”.

    The other side to this that everyone in the media is scared to talk about is that Tiger Woods is hardly a friendly warm guy, but nobody will talk about how Woods is cold and arrogant, cause they are so scared of being put in the group that Tiger doesn’t care to talk to. Ooohhh sooo scary. Instead they talk about Mickelson supposed this and Mickelson apparently that, and “it’s well know that Mickelson is not liked by his peers…..blah blah , I call BS.

    How many players on Tour do you think really like Tiger Woods?? How many of them do you think really enjoy being completely dominated by him – almost to a point of embarrassment? None of them will say anything because they are scared to death of the steam-roller that crushes anyone and anything that comes close to being critical of Tiger. That includes caddies – of course if any caddie said anything close to these comments about Steve Williams – it would be good bye – case closed.

    Phil can be criticized for not being aggressive enough in his approach to dealing with the media and protecting his image since the beginning of his career. People pick on him because he has allowed it for too long and now it’s considered fine to do. Tiger made it clear he wouldn’t stand for anything from anyone – from the beginning when he let Fuzzy fry. But just because Phil has allowed himself to be more of a punching bag than Tiger, doesn’t mean that everyone should just follow like sheep and continue to do what everyone else does. Especially while continuing to walk on eggshells anytime Tiger Woods is concerned. Tiger Woods is everybit as cold and miserable as Vijay, but look at the beating that Vijay takes over it, compared to the dearth of press Tiger gets for it.

  • Let’s not over react. Vijay’s caddie wore a cap stating “Tiger Who” in the President’s Cup.
    It was not the soap opera this has become.
    Steve Williams should not be a story, full stop.

  • It would be an interesting debate to see who is well-liked more by the players on tour -Tiger or Phil? My opinion is Tiger, by a mile.

  • I think it would be a pointless debate because, like me, you probably don’t know anything about either of them. You might as well have a debate about Superman vs. Batman although… who knows… maybe you already have.

  • Guys, I’m going out on a limb and am going to suggest that on any given week ~20% of the players that tee it up on the PGA Tour are p_ _ _ _ _, as_ h_ _ _ _ and schmucks. My reasoning is — ” why would the PGA Tour be any different than the population at large?”

  • OK, what about the person who yelled out to Phil (or Monty): ‘Nice Tits’?

    Did anyone demand that he be fired from his job?

    What about football coaches who use profanity in press conference? Should they be fired too?

    As far as whether Tiger is liked by his peers or not. Just remember that without the Tiger factor on golf, these people would not be making millions without winning a darned tournaments. They know not to bite the hand the feed them.

  • All this would be interesting if it were between the players. Williams is a mere bag carrier. Any able bodied person with half a brain could do his job and Tiger would still win…. Methinks the caddie is the prick and I expect him to be looking for a new job by this time next year.

  • This is a case of the distant second fiddler trying to get top billing. It doesn’t work. It is like RT trying to make himself a journalist. It doesn’t work.

  • Please………..

    Tiger and Steve have talked about how much of a boob Phil is way before this privately SO WHAT….. he just got caught saying it to the wrong person and Tiger is acting like he has TALKED to Steve about it……..RIGHT!!!!!!

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