Thursday, May 19, 2016

On Meeting Bag Man: Steve Williams

One of the more interesting "characters" on the PGA tour isn't even a player, it's a caddie. I've written about Steve Williams at this point, too many timesThis Kiwi has had colorful and exciting career, serving as the caddie for Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and now Adam Scott. But after meeting him in the Atlanta airport and talking to him in the United Club lounge, I suppose it's worth another go. Here's why.
I am not a people watcher, but my parents are. My folks are down to earth and they don't literally carry a lot with them; metaphorically I think they do. They have one cell phone between them and my mom has but three phone numbers in it: one for my brother, sister and for me. The only time she uses the device is when she's talking to one of us, many times about one of us. Because they travel lightly, they are free from distraction. They read, they talk to the people around them, they watch people and they have a a knack for spotting celebrities when they travel.

What's funny about their star sightings is that they never tell me about them. Quite often, I will talk about an athlete or an actor and my mom will turn to my dad and recall when and where they saw that person. For example, after watching the "30 for 30:I Hate Christian Laettner" my dad said, "We were flying back from visiting your brother in DC sitting in Dulles airport and I said to myself I recognize that guy. When he stood up and I knew it was Christian Laetner." 

Like my parents, my friend Peggy has a keen eye. She picks up on details like few people I know. One of them is people, in particular famous ones, she sees in public. Ask Peggy what celebrities she has seen or met in person and the dossier is an impressive one. It's fun to spend time with her for a number of reasons, but one is because you just never know who she might see. For example, heading back to her apartment after our run in Central Park turned to me and said "three o'clock, black Baseball cap. It's Kevin Bacon." She delivered this message in a way I never would. Her voice was monotone and her body language indicated nothing. I marvel at her discerning eye; I think it's better to have one that not to... 
I think this book has caught on because the subject is so....fascinating.
Humanity is so interesting, I don't know why we don't pay attention to one another more often. Obviously, celebrities aren't the only ones worth seeing but when we do it's exciting. There's a small rush of adrenaline. We all know they're people too and yet we *know* so much about them...without really knowing them. Enter in Bag Man.

On the Monday after the Masters I decided to read a lengthy article in Sports Illustrated 
"Kevin Na is Fit to Be Tied" by Alan Shipnuck. Because he was the first golfer to play on Sunday, we saw him quite a bit. I was intrigued by how he struggled with the mental aspect of the game for years. The words of the media, other golfers and especially Steve Williams didn't help.

Na sees a double standard in that when other players struggle and play slower, it is excused as a bad day, but he is never shown the same courtesy. In September 2014, at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he and playing partners Adam Scott and Chris Kirk combined to make four bogeys and two doubles in the first five holes of their opening round. All of this bad golf took a long time, and they were out of position for much of the rest of the round. Na could sense that Steve Williams was stewing. The following day, as Na labored to a 74, he believed Williams was giving him the stink eye and says that at round's end, the caddie avoided shaking his hand.
"In the scoring tent," Na says, "as I was about to leave, Stevie looks at me and goes, 'Do you ever watch a bad movie again and again?' I didn't really know what he was talking about, so I just said, 'Uh, no.' He goes, 'That's what you are, Kevin, a bad movie. I never want to see you play again.' And I looked at him, and I said, 'Stevie, you're out of line. If Adam has a problem with my play, he has every right to say whatever he wants. You're in no position to tell me what you just said to me.' He got real close to me and was saying basically that he could say whatever he wanted. It was getting pretty heated, but one of the Tour officials stepped in and said, 'Guys, not in here.' And that ended it." (Williams declined to comment.)
I could NOT believe Williams said that...It was hard for me to grasp that he had the gall to say those words to another person. And yet, knowing what I do know about Williams, I guess I could. Williams once took the camera of a patron who took a photo of Tiger Woods mid-swing and threw it into the water. Or when Adam Scott blew a four hold lead on Sunday at the Open, Williams was so mad that he walked to his car and slammed the trunk closed.  He was unwilling to talk to anyone. That's a sign that he's uber competitive. That same quality was not remotely hidden from anyone when Scott beat Woods in the Masters as he sounded a barbaric yawp from Augusta to Auckland. Steve got his revenge in that victory. Woods fired him in 2011. At least he didn't do it over the phone like Greg Norman did....
Knowing what I know about this Bag Man, carrying those images and especially the story about Kevin Na, I could hardly believe it when I rolled into line at the Atlanta airport to check my bag. It's Steve Williams: this man I had seen on the greens the day before, who I had read about earlier that day. I was so surprised that I simply said "Hi!" My eyes got real big and I gave a huge smile. As I said this, I realized he had NO idea who I am. I didn't really have anything to say, so I just moved to the back of the line and said "sorry." I immediately got onto my phone to text my friend that I was standing two people behind Steve Williams. 

I finished my message and he looks back at me and says "Susan?"
"No......." I said.  Pause. 
"Steve?" I inquire.
He looks at me and smiles, laughing.
I then start to wonder who is Susan....

Williams checked his bag and headed to his respective gate. I didn't have it in me to ask about Kevin Na. I get through security, step into the United Club lounge only to see that I am standing behind him again. When he finishes checking in I query "so who's Susan?"  He pulls me aside and wants to tell me the whole story." Turns out Susan is the head of New Zealand's PGA. There are worse people I could be. We talk for a while and golf fans start to swirl around us. They want to talk to Bag Man. As I'm preparing to depart, I ask a fatal question. "Did you have a good week?" 
I can't believe I asked that question, one I knew the answer to. Adam Scott finished tied for 42nd and 11 over par. But Steve was, is and always will be Steve. He became agitated and angry. It was not a pleasant exchange. That's how things go quite often with Steve Williams. Friendly, fiery, fiercely loyal.

My friend Peggy also loves to quote Maya Angelou who has written. "when people show you who they are, believe them." Humanity isn't that complicated. Public and private sightings and stories, we are who we are. Some of us are lucky enough to see it.

Photo Credits
Williams and Scott
Williams and Woods
Humans of New York. For book information go here

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