PGA Tour Confidential: Steve Williams's racial insult, HSBC Champions

PGA Tour Confidential: Steve Williams’s racial insult, HSBC Champions

Steve Williams directed a racial insult at Tiger Woods at a caddie awards dinner in Shanghai.
Paul Childs/Zuma Press

Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm just going to drop the puck and get out of the way. The story of the week has to be caddie Steve Williams's revolting diss of his former boss, Tiger Woods, at the caddies' annual awards dinner in Shanghai. (Asked on stage why he had gloated on TV after his new boss, Adam Scott, outplayed Woods while winning the Bridgestone Invitational in August, Williams answered, "My aim was to shove it right up that black a——!") My question is: With the Presidents Cup due to begin in 10 days, has Williams given golf haters a 52-card pack of race cards to play?

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, His comments certainly don't help, and the PGA Tour and European Tour's lack of a response hurt even more.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I don't think golf haters need any more ammo. There's plenty. But Williams has certainly reinforced a lot of preconceived notions and re-established himself as a world-class jerk.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: It was a stupid thing to say, even as a joke. Makes me wonder about Williams's IQ.

Reiterman: And since when does being on a stage, talking into a microphone, in front of a room full of people constitute being "off the record"?

Herre: The tours have responded — case closed. Will be interesting to see if the players let Williams off that easy. He broke the caddie code with this one. Could cost him his career.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, As Shipnuck pointed out in his column Sunday, anytime a racial incident happens in golf, it recalls the bad old days and draws attention to the fact that not much has changed diversity-wise, at least on the PGA Tour. So yes, golf haters will see this as another black eye for the game. As for the Presidents Cup, this whole thing has added some intrigue. I wonder if Tiger and Stevie will come to blows.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm disappointed in golf's tepid response but hardly surprised. As for Steve Williams, his comment was racist whether or not he is racist. It was an attempt to regain some semblance of power against someone he used to work for. It was a comment made to elevate himself and to put Tiger in his place in front of a roomful of peers. It disgusts me.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, After Woods fired Williams this summer, the public inexplicably got behind Stevie — it was a little strange to see him roundly cheered at Tour events after he behaved with such little class on Tiger's bag for so many years. This event reminded me that, to paraphrase a popular NFL catchphrase, "he was who we thought he was."

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: So far it seems like the players are letting him off with a pass — at least publicly. Adam Scott says Stevie will absolutely continue to be his caddie. G-Mac and Rory gave apathetic comments and sounded ready to move on. Fred Couples seems to be the only guy who has spoken out strongly and he said he'd fire him.

Herre: Steph, that's what they say for public consumption. In private, any player would have to wonder if he could trust Williams, who seems to think he has more power than his employer.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'll be shocked if Fred Couples doesn't fit Tiger into a match against Adam Scott during the Prez Cup, preferably singles. You know Tiger wants a piece of that action.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or ask it on Facebook.

Wei: Weren't the Australian Open organizers planning on putting Adam Scott and Tiger Woods (along with Jason Day) in the same threesome for the first two rounds? Wonder if they'll stick to that plan.

Herre: If they're smart, they will.

Garrity: Adam Scott suggested that Stevie's wisecrack was taken out of context, and one observer said that if Tiger had been present, he'd probably have laughed along with the crowd. I've never been to the caddie dinner, but I gather the banter aspires to the crudeness of a Comedy Channel celebrity roast. Does that excuse Stevie?

Reiterman: Absolutely not. It's a stupid thing to say no matter where you are.

Hack: Taken out of context. Love that excuse.

Herre: It sounded to me like some of those in attendance were shocked by Williams's crude joke, which is why word of it got out so fast.

Hanger: It might help explain why he said what he said, and it might make it less offensive than if he'd said it while talking to TV interviewers by the 18th green, but I don't think it excuses it. Bringing race into it indicates to me that Williams does have some deep-down, ugly thoughts in his head — otherwise, why would "black" have been part of that remark?

Herre: Exactly, Charlie. Other pros, like Graeme McDowell, were wise enough to make the same point.

Gorant: The rules for a comedian working a roast or doing a routine are different than they are for a glorified bellhop spewing hate speech in a public forum.

Hanger: I'm not anywhere close to excusing Stevie for this, but I think "spewing hate speech" is a little over the top. It was one ugly remark by one hard-to-like guy.

Gorant: The guy is a pig and a bully with a history of bad behavior. He's made millions-most of it thanks to Tiger Woods-carrying a bag. Soft-pedal if you want Charlie, but I don't want to ever hear from this guy again. If you said the same thing, you'd be fired and you'd have a hard time getting another job.

Hanger: I'm just saying "spewing hate speech" is hyperbole, especially when we didn't witness the incident first-hand to hear his tone of voice or judge the amount of animosity. That's not soft-pedaling it. Like I said, I think what he said was really ugly. If I were Adam Scott, I'd have fired him already.

Hack: This whole Stevie deal reminds me of the Association of Golf Writers dinner back at the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie when the R&A's Graham Brown made derogatory remarks about Asians and blacks. Peter Dawson said Brown "certainly is not racist" and was "horrified if he left that impression."

Steve Williams, Adam Scott, 2011 HSBC Champions, Shanghai

Adam Scott could face pressure to fire Steve Williams. (Paul Childs/Zuma Press)

Garrity: Some are blaming the media. (That would be us.) They say Stevie's remarks never should have left the room, that everything was off the record. Do you buy that argument?

Herre: Classic shoot-the-messenger defense/response.

Wei: I can't stand that argument — it's always the media's fault. Those reporters in attendance didn't make up the comment. Stevie shouldn't have said it on stage in front of a large group of people.

Hanger: Absolutely not. Heck, the tweets of those in attendance would've made this news even if no journalist ever typed a word. You can't say anything in a public forum in today's world without it being broadcast by the people, much less something about race.

Reiterman: If a member of the media eavesdropped on Williams saying this in the locker room, that's one thing. But in front of 200 people? Yeah, right!

Wei: I'm sure there were a lot of off-color remarks that night, but he said it in front of a large group on stage and not while he was making a joke over beers with four of his pals.

Hanger: And all of those other off-color comments evidently managed to avoid race, or we would have heard about them too.

Garrity: Putting aside the obvious racial animus, Williams's remark was still vitriolic. Can any of you explain his bitterness toward the man who gave him riches, notoriety, and a supporting role in 13 major victories?

Wei: No — unless we're missing a big chunk of the story in their fallout, but it just further reinforces that Stevie is a bitter and petty man.

Herre: Maybe Williams felt betrayed by Woods. He might have felt he was inside the circle, but really wasn't and in the end was portrayed as just another enabler. The post-crackup silence by TW reinforced that possibility.

Hanger: Breaking up is hard to do, and rejection is hard to handle, even when you've had a lot of good years together. Stevie's also pointed to his loyalty to Tiger through all the scandals, so it clearly hurt to be cut loose. That said, you'd think all that cash would soften the blow somewhat.

Mick Rouse, SI Golf+ Intern: I would be a bit bitter too if I had such a successful run with a guy, stood by his side through an entire sex scandal, and then was fired after it was all said and done. I'm sure Stevie felt betrayed after he showed loyalty to Tiger.

Garrity: Williams was quick to apologize to Tiger and to the ubiquitous "anyone else I have offended." Case closed? Or should Scott find someone else to tote his bag at this week's Australian Open?

Herre: My guess is Scott will make a change after the dust settles.

Ritter: I would be shocked if Scott doesn't replace him.

Hanger: He should can him, and now, because this will be a huge distraction for Scott (and his teammates) the next two weeks with Tiger at the Aussie Open and Presidents Cup. And then we can wait around to see what Williams says about Scott!

Wei: Who else was moved by that heartfelt apology on Stevie's website? Just seemed like the obligatory PR-y statement.

Rouse: If I was Scott, Stevie would be long gone, but I'm not and Scott has stated that Stevie will be there to carry his bag for him in Australia.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I don't think Steve Williams makes it to Thursday. Adam Scott missed an opportunity to show that golf doesn't have a tin ear to racial issues, but now he'll face too much pressure — he'll have to get rid of Williams. There's no way the PGA Tour will let Stevie-Tiger overshadow its international showcase at the Presidents Cup. I suspect Williams will issue a more sincere apology and announce that he's taking some time off.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I agree with Walker. I'm a bit surprised Adam has stuck with Williams this long. Who needs the distraction of having this guy on the bag? And Adam's personality is so antithetical to Williams's.

Garrity: Overshadowed by the Williams imbroglio was World No. 2 Rory McIlroy's not-so-believable explanation for his recent change of agents. ("I wanted a fresh view of things.") Anybody here know the real reason Rory left Chubby?

Rouse: He told me, but it was off the record. Sorry.

Reiterman: Who knows for sure, but it sounds like Rory's got a little Tiger in him — as soon as someone in the camp starts to overshadow the star, see ya!

Garrity: Chubby definitely has the bigger shadow.

Wei: Do you mean Chubby was overshadowing Rory? I didn't get that sense at all.

Reiterman: Chubby Slam?

Wei: I guess, but did that really bother Rory? Doesn't seem like his style. Chubby Slam was over in August, anyway.

Walker: I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it might have had something to do with money.

Martin Kaymer wins WGC-HSBC Champions

Kaymer shot 63 on Sunday for the victory.

Garrity: Before we go, let's throw a bone to the pros who wisely let their clubs do the talking. Former World No. 1 Martin Kaymer shot a final-round 63 to win the WGC-HSBC Champions and end a 10-month slump, while Jay Don Blake captured the season-ending Charles Schwab Championship out in San Francisco. Am I right in thinking that Kaymer's Komeback is the bigger story?

Herre: Reminds me of a Simon & Garfunkel song. Where have you gone, Jay Don Blake?

Wei: Maybe just a tad! Very impressive performance by Kaymer (who fell off the face of the earth for a while after he tried to change his swing to hit a draw because he was convinced he couldn't play Augusta with his fade). He birdied nine of the last 12 holes and that included missing a 3-footer for birdie on the ninth and parring a par 5 and short par 4.

Morfit: Kaymer is for certain the bigger story. He's already established his upside having been No. 1. It's going to be crowded at the top the next five years at least.

Reiterman: The 2012 season is going to be epic.

Gorant: Hopefully it's a sign that he'll re-enter the conversation for No. 1. Guy hit the top spot last year and then faded.

Ritter: After showing so much promise from the 2010 PGA through January, Kaymer had a surprisingly quiet season. He even played his way out of the top 10 in the SI Golf Ranking. But nine birdies in his final 12 holes for a 63 and a W? I put him back in at No. 9 in my latest poll. The battle for No. 1 in the world will continue to be fun to watch next year.

Wei: He'll be OK — as long as he doesn't try to change his swing/ball flight for one golf tournament again.

Herre: Kaymer is a big talent, but kind of mechanical and a bit of a flake. He'll probably flash on and off his entire career.

Hack: I'd forgotten about Kaymer after he talked himself into another missed cut at Augusta. Glad to see he's found his way back.

Rouse: Wait, we're not going to discuss the Kardashian divorce tonight? Kaymer played brilliantly, but I'm not about to proclaim his "Komeback." (Very Kardashian-branding of you on that one, John.) Kaymer got hot at the right moment, but I don't know if he can sustain that consistently.