Inside the caddie awards: Raw ... and racial?
SHANGHAI - Australian Adam Scott says he is comfortable with his caddie's apology for comments about his former boss at a party honoring the loopers here Friday night.
That likely would have been enough, had it been a no-name caddie talking about a journeyman player and those comments not so highly charged, to end the story.
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But when Steve Williams jabbed his former boss, Tiger Woods, with a racially charged zinger, then Scott’s public support will do little to quell the fervor that is sweeping the golf world.
“Well, Steve released - issued a statement and apologized,” Scott said after the third round on Saturday at the WGC-HSBC Champions. “He did the right thing. That's all there is to say about that, from my side of things.”
It all started innocently enough Friday night at HSBC's Caddie Night, which honors the game's bagmen. Approximately 150 caddies, players, family and media attended a casual, buffet-style dinner and awards ceremony.
According to one participant who insisted on anonymity, “It’s a fun event for the caddies and players, very much in house. Generally speaking it’s a night of taking the kit out of each other. That’s what we do, and that’s the tone of the evening.”
Even at the start of the awards the emcee mentioned that the comments and festivities were meant to stay inside the four walls and not inhibit the participants.
About 20 minutes into the awards, the best “Celebration of the Year” by a caddie was awarded to Williams for his news conference at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after Scott’s first victory with the Kiwi on the bag.
Williams had been sacked by Woods a month earlier at the AT&T National and clearly was still seething about his ouster, despite two years of silence and support in the wake of Woods' sex scandal.
Williams' comments that Sunday in Akron, Ohio, laid bare his feelings.
“I’ve been caddieing for 33 years, and this has been the best week of my life," said Williams, who had been on the bag for 13 of Woods' 14 major championships. “I’m not joking. I’m never, ever going to forget this week. … It’s the greatest week of my life.”
With that backdrop, Williams approached the podium in Shanghai to receive his award and was asked an innocuous question about his award and uttered the following response:
“It was my aim to shove it right up that black a------.”
Some in the room laughed, considering the tenor of the festivities, while others shook their heads at what was said, observers said. Others were somewhat aghast by the comments.
Williams then retired from the podium and went and stood at the back of the room as other awards were announced.
Once the event broke up at about 10:30 p.m. local time (Shanghai is 12 hours ahead of Eastern time), many of the large group stayed around for drinks, with the bar still open.
At about the same time, some British writers were finishing their dinner at a local curry restaurant and heard Williams' comments via some of the attendees.
Eventually, the journalists made it to the bar where the party was held and confirmed the story.
With heightened sensitivities in the United Kingdom after soccer player John Terry’s alleged racial comments toward Anton Ferdinand during Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Queens Park Rangers in a Premier League loss last month, the British press corps deliberated.
For nearly three hours, until about 2 a.m. Shanghai time, the group of about five debated whether they should write the story. Nothing on Twitter had been written, and the journalists thought Williams' comments would come out sooner or later. They decided to report what they had confirmed.
By early Saturday morning here, Williams' comments were front-page news. When approached at breakfast, Williams was stunned to learn that the British press had gone with the story.
“Why would they do that?” he said. “The whole thing was meant to be fun.”
Hours later, Williams posted a comment on his website.
“I apologize for comments I made last night at the Annual Caddy Awards dinner in Shanghai,” it read. “Players and caddies look forward to this evening all year, and the spirit is always joking and fun. I now realize how my comments could be construed as racist. However, I assure you that was not my intent. I sincerely apologize to Tiger and anyone else I’ve offended.”
Woods, who was in Australia prepared for next week's Australian Open and the following week's Presidents Cup, heard about Williams' dig almost immediately.
“I was with Tiger last night when he heard the news,” Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at Excel Sports Management, told The Associated Press. “We got multiple calls from people who sounded like they were leaving the caddie party. Tiger obviously wasn’t there. He doesn’t know exactly what was said. But if multiple reports — which all seem to be accurate — are true, then it’s sad it’s come down to this.”
“It’s a regrettable comment, and there’s really nothing that Tiger can do or say. He’s just going to move on.”
The driving range at Sheshan International Golf Club, site of this week's WGC-HSBC Champions, was unusually quiet as many players and caddies were unwilling to comment on the uproar.
One caddie said Williams’ comments at Bridgestone and here were giving caddies a bad name, but that was the extent of the reaction.
Williams and Scott arrived on the driving range at 9:44 a.m., preparing for their 10:40 tee time in the final group, with Scott three shots off the 36-hole lead.
Neither said anything, and Scott took up residence in the middle of the range to hit balls.
As players came off the course, few were willing to comment, with little more than a "no comment."
Rory McIlroy, who had to deal with his own drama this week after his highly publicized breakup with agent Chubby Chandler, spoke briefly on the issue.
“It's just unfortunate that there's been such an argument between a player and a caddie,” McIlroy, 22, said. “I've heard that since then, Stevie has apologized for his comments, and I think now that he's done that, everyone can just move on and sort of put it behind them.”
Graeme McDowell, who like McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, put a finer point on the incident.
“You know, there were a lot of things said last night, jokes made, fun was taken, the piss was extracted, and things got a little bit out of hand,” McDowell said after his round. “He takes one word out of that sentence and nothing gets said about it. These are racially sensitive times, especially in sport. It's unfortunate, because it was a very sticky situation. I kind of feel bad for him in many ways because, like I say, it was a very humorous evening, and it's unfortunate that it's come out as negatively as it did.”
After Scott's round Williams did not speak with the media, but Scott did and stood by Williams and tried to put context to the evening’s festivities.
“There was a lot of language used last night,” Scott said. “And it's just this was reported. I don't really think that stuff has ever left the room before, and it's probably good reasons why. I think it's probably all very unnecessary.”