Failure Trumps Friendship

Plenty has already been written already by the experts on Tiger Woods’ ongoing work to disassemble his life.  And while I’m a big sports fan, but not golf specifically, this story grabbed my attention for a reason different than most.

Short version of the backstory: Tiger made some life choices that caused ripples, including his professional success.  After being one of the most dominant in the game, he is struggling through physical and performance issues.  He has changed most of the team that works for him, which this week included his longtime caddy, Steve Williams.  Williams and Woods have been close friends for years, appeared in each others’ weddings, and have been very successful on the course.  I will admit to still getting misty when I watch the end of the 2006 Open Championship just the Father’s Day after the passing of Earl Woods.

A very public, very private moment between great friends.  And now, after months of frustration and failure to perform, they part ways.

Woods was typically tight lipped about it, offering a short statement on his website:

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it’s time for a change,” Woods said. “Stevie is an outstanding caddie and a friend and has been instrumental in many of my accomplishments. I wish him great success in the future.”

Williams, on the other hand, had a few things to say:

“Following the completion of the AT&T National I am no longer caddying for Tiger after he informed me that he needed to make a change. After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger’s scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time. “

I thought his word choices interesting.  They speak to his surprise, of course, but there is very much a “how could you do this to me?” feel to this statement.

And yes, there has been some talk about the dangers of mixing your personal and professional lives.  In our Social Media, world, its kind of hard not too.  I touched on this not too long ago, as you may recall, regarding the ethics of those relationship.  But here’s another angle at the cost of our integrated worlds.

When you struggle through tough times, it is your family and friends on whom you so often count to see you through.  When you struggle through tough times at work, you rarely want a co-worker or, worse, a direct report being your sounding board.  So what happens when those are the same person?  What happens when your best friend is also your hired hand?

Someone has to make a tough choice.  Kudos to Tiger for doing it.  But the other person has to suck it up and take one for the team if you are going to preserve your personal relationship.  And I think that most people will agree the personal relationship should almost always trump the professional one.  That’s why I found Williams’ statement so disheartening.  While Woods works through his problems, he has made the tough choice regarding their professional relationship.  And while his personal battles have likely damaged their person relationship as well, I’ve never known anyone to blow up the personal side and save the professional.  So you take the hit and hope for the best.

Williams is angry that they made so much money and won so many tournaments, and now Woods is moving on.  And he has left Williams with little more than memories, glory, and a reputation as one of the best bag men in the game.  He could certainly have done worse.  But he takes a couple of shots on the way out the door, as human beings are wont to do.

I’ve lived through it on both sides, and while it is difficult to separate the two pieces, there is always a line of demarcation somewhere in the relationship.  While the line may be blurred, it exists.  And when crossing the line gets painful, you have to pick a side and stay there.


  1. your post is definitely interesting, though IMHO slanted towards what Tiger wants the world to think. Stevie Williams has stuck by Tiger for the last two years, not speaking out on what he has to have known about Tiger’s indisgressions, injuries, outbursts and personality “quirks”. I am sure that Williams could have made some money during that time (which he recieved no money from Tiger because Tiger was not working) by throwing Tiger under the bus. Supposedly, Williams was fired for trying to earn a living by caddying for another pro while Tiger recovered this year in order to earn a living. He supposedly cleared this with Tiger and then the Woods camp changed their mind. Bye Bye Stevie. Loyalty swings both ways and to me, it looks like Stevie Williams got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

    Rick Reilly has a good piece on ESPN about this.

    • John –

      I can certainly appreciate that perspective. No doubt Williams has sucked it up on Tiger’s behalf for a while. But to me, that’s part of working with friends. When it goes south, you have a period of putting up with it and hoping for the best. But I also think that when it falls apart, as it has here, you try to salvage the personal side if at all possible. Maybe it isn’t feasible. But I’d say that from a professional standpoint, Williams will be just fine.

      Maybe another approach is to look at what your responsibility is when a close friend implodes and you get hit with the shrapnel. From that perspective, I’m sure Williams has taken more than his share.

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