On Monday morning at 6 a.m., there were 227 comments on GOLF.com’s news story about Steve Williams’s new book called “Out of the Rough.” On ESPN.com, there were 353 comments. On Golfchannel.com, there were 405. On PGATour.com, there were none. The Tour’s website was not acknowledging the book’s existence. (Tour spokesman Ty Votaw told me in an email that the account “doesn’t fit our editorial philosophy.”)
I downloaded the book from Amazon.com. I much prefer to read books on paper but “Out of the Rough,” in traditional book form, is not likely to ever make it to U.S. bookstores. Last year, I helped Williams write a short first-person piece about Adam Scott for Sports Illustrated. He was far more insightful than I had ever imagined he could be. I asked him if he ever planned to write a book about his time with Tiger Woods. He said that he had hoped to but was afraid of being sued by Woods and his people. He thought his best chance to evade the long arm of Mark Steinberg and American jurisprudence might be to get the book published in New Zealand, where he lives, and that’s what he did. Amazon brings it, digitally, to the world. It was $14.38, for this U.S. reader.
I went in with high hopes. I spent part of Monday morning reading chunks of it and skimming the rest. I’m sure I could put in for the $14.38 on my next expense account, but I won’t. I wouldn’t want to sully my expense account that way.
What a shame, because based on what Steve Williams has seen in golf, and his insight into golf tournaments, courses and players, he was in position to make his first book one of the great golf books ever. As it is, I’m inclined to point you toward another book, Laura Baugh’s “Out of the Rough,” published about 15 years ago. Baugh went through a personal hell, survived it, and wrote up her story with intense honesty and considerable self-reflection. Being beautiful, it turns out, is not as easy as it might seem.
Self-reflection is not Steve Williams’s strong suit. There’s one main reason his version of “Out of the Rough” exists at all, and it’s the same reason why there’s a charity called “The Steve Williams Foundation.” Steve Williams was the hardworking, demonstrative and effective caddie working for Tiger Woods when Woods won all but the first of his 14 professional majors. His record will define Williams’s life, at least the public part of it, with Woods forever. Williams was in position to write about one the greatest and most enigmatic athletes in history as no one else could, but the book is trite, superficial and vindictive.
In Hank Haney’s book about Woods, “The Big Miss,” Haney seeks to do the same thing that Williams wants to do. Haney tries, too desperately at times, to make the case that Woods owed him more credit than he was willing to give. But Haney’s book is loaded with insights into Woods that you could never read anywhere else. “The Big Miss” has, as any serious book must, a certain level of psychological detective work. Why do people do the things they do? Regarding Woods, we, the unwashed, are eager to get a better understanding of the man. That’s why there were 985 comments on those three sites at 6 a.m. But they were often in response to a single ridiculous word in the book, that Woods made Williams feel like a “slave” by tossing clubs in the direction of his bag, which required the proud Williams to bend over to pick them up.
A book that captured the real arc of Williams’s life with real depth — he became a touring vagabond caddie as a teenager, logged nights in a caddie hotel called Cockroach Manor, has feuded with various Tour officials, cameramen and Phil Mickelson — could have made for a rich reading experience.
There are factoids. Williams writes about Woods’s apparently sincere interest in becoming a Navy SEAL in mid-career. There are insights. Williams notes that Woods was worried when Mickelson won his first major, at Augusta in 2004, because he felt it would lead to more Mickelson victories, and any major Phil won would be at Tiger’s expense. There are personal revelations. Williams writes about how Woods woke him in the middle of the night and urged him to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Williams writes: “Marriage advice from Tiger Woods? I was gobsmacked.” Some months later, Woods was Williams’s best man at his wedding. So what happened? How did the relationship come to this? Forget about a real analysis of Woods’s mind, or even his training methods. Williams says in the book that he didn’t know anything about Woods’s extramarital affairs, and I can believe that, but then there is no believable portrait of an intense relationship.
Williams likes to say Tiger Woods fired him. I have a different view. I believe that when Williams did some one-off work for Adam Scott in 2011 while Woods was rehabbing from surgery that was essentially quitting Woods. In Woods’s view of the world, that was sleeping with the enemy.
I fear that my disappointment in Williams’s book says more about me as a golf fan than about Williams as writer. I have devoted too much of my adult life to watching Tiger Woods, thinking about Tiger Woods and worrying about Tiger Woods. I wish I didn’t care so much, but who can control care? Woods wore a mantle that matters to a great number of us, a mantle that got handed down from Hogan to Arnold to Jack to Watson to Norman to Tiger. What I want — what I think many of us want — is to know whether the emotion we placed in this athlete who had the capacity to change the game was well-placed or not.
I turned to Stevie Williams to take me to a higher ground. But I’m still sitting right here in my desk chair.