Steve Williams Ball Incident**

nyt-paper.gifI didn't pay much attention to the PGA episode with Steve Williams possibly stepping on Tiger's ball during Thursday's first round. But then Bob Verdi reported some Williams comments in the new Golf World that caught my eye. Wondering if it strikes you as red-flag worthy as well?
"Tiger's angry about this and so am I. He's under the microscope more than anybody. Me, I take great pride in my work. Kirsty [Williams' wife] is pregnant. She's going to have a boy. I'll be a father for the first time. You think I could live with it if I wasn't honest about this? Golf is a game of honor and respect. For anybody to question Tiger's and my integrity, that's not right."
Williams is referring to a report in the Newark Star Ledger where writer Kevin Manahan wrote:
In the scramble to find Woods' ball near a creek at the bottom of the fairway, Williams was the only person near the spot where he eventually found the ball, embedded in the ground. And, during the search, just before he found the ball, Williams was walking along the creek's bank when he made a step and quickly appeared to pull back his foot -- perhaps as if he had stepped on something. He then located the ball.
Notice in the comments to Verdi that Williams called on the dreaded wife+baby-on-the-way=honorable defense to shield him from questions about the episode. That's from page 1 of the modern day corporate crisis management model. Only Williams heaves Nikon's into lakes. He's not some gray suit-wearing CEO.
"And if I did step on it and Tiger had signed an incorrect scorecard, he'd have been disqualified. Does anybody think I would risk my reputation or Tiger's if there was even a doubt? Evidently, the paper here and The Golf Channel think so, because they had me guilty."
Thanks to reader Jeff for pointing out that Selena Roberts in the New York Times wrote about the episode in her Sunday, August 14 column (speed is not always the strength of this web site!):
As the uncivilized bouncer on the golf course, the churlish Steve Williams will hurl a fan's Nikon into a water hazard if its shutter clicks during the precious backswing of Tiger Woods.He would do anything to protect Woods, but would Williams give himself up? If Williams had been the culprit - and not a fan, cameraman or marshal, as he contended - Woods would have been penalized an additional stroke beyond the one he took for declaring the ball unplayable.

An added stroke, and the scorecard he signed would have been incorrect, meaning disqualification. An added stroke, and sponsors, TV executives and tournament officials would have headed home in a Buick carpool of tears. Williams didn't help prop up his version of the event by telling The Star-Ledger: "Even if I did step on it, it's not a penalty. Not in a hazard."

First problem, he was wrong about the rules. Any player whose caddie steps on his ball is guilty of a violation. But more important, the "even if" comment creates room for doubt as to whether it was Williams or horse-hoofed gremlins that stomped Woods's ball into the earth's core. Not even Woods believed the ball embedded itself, but he did not believe it was his caddie's fault.

Certainly, Williams should not be condemned without evidence, but the situation does illuminate how golf's integrity is founded on a guilty conscience. But what's worse, ratting out yourself as a golfer or penalizing your boss as his caddie?

Given Williams's impenetrable loyalty to Woods, it may not be too far-fetched to wonder if he was covering for himself to protect Tiger. That's what Williams does for a living. As if Tiger has never played on a municipal course next to a firehouse or alehouse, Williams demands absolute silence from galleries, photographers, blimps and, if given the chance, migrating geese overhead. He also acts as bodyguard, training partner and best friend. Williams is the intimidating caretaker of the PGA Tour's golden one. But did he make authorities blink?

Officials viewed the tape of the incident and found there was no evidence of any person stepping on the ball - they questioned everyone from marshals to spectators - but no one directly asked Williams if he was at fault. There was no inquisition because, as the P.G.A. Championship spokeswoman Rebecca Szmukler said: "It's an honor thing. It would be up to him to come forward." Honor is at the heart of golf - no matter how insignificant the whiff, lie or scorecard error seems.
**Reader George questioned the articles above (and my posting them a week after the fact...fair point). He suggested that  Tiger's remarks needed to be included in this tale since they do tell a different story. I agree:
Q. Did you think there was any possibility that Stevie might have stepped on the ball yesterday?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I saw the videotape just like all you guys saw, and if you look at it, he walks three steps closer to actually point out the golf ball, so he wasn't even near it. It's just one of those things where unfortunately the ball was embedded in there somehow. We don't know whether it was a marshal who did it five minutes ago, prior to that, or it was some photographer, it was some marshal, it was some we don't know, that's the thing. We don't know.

Q. But you're certain it wasn't him?

TIGER WOODS: No, he wasn't walking in the hazard. He was walking out of the hazard and the ball was in the hazard.