Monday, August 8, 2011

The Bridgestone Update

"What were we 
talking about?"
What a great call by CBS to stick a microphone in front of Stevie Williams after his big win yesterday.  Let’s skip the subtle (like an anvil landing on Wile E. Coyote) digs at Tiger and get to the good stuff like “I’m a very confident front-runner.”  The knee jerk reaction on Twitter to this quote and the overall interview by deep thinkers like Andy Roddick (yes the tennis player) was that Stevie didn’t hit the shots so what in the hell was he talking about?  We’ll cut Roddick some slack because when your response to any and all criticism is, “oh yeah, well I’m going home to fool around with Brooklyn Decker,” you can kind of say whatever you want.  When you write something as geeky sounding as the Fantasy Golf Report, however, you don’t have that luxury, so let’s dig a little deeper and determine whether Stevie’s self-importance is justified or if he’s just an arrogant blowhard…or both.   

We need to start by accepting the premise that a good caddie helps a golfer win.  Seems simple enough.  Anyone who has played with a good caddie and a bad caddie knows the value of the difference and it’s as much about confidence as anything.  The last thing you want to hear from your caddie on the first green is “I think it breaks left.”  Stevie Williams lacks a lot of things (tact, modesty, an appreciation for the art of photography) but confidence is not one of them.  The fact that some of his confidence seeped into Tiger’s game is indisputable.  Case in point – there is no way Tiger would have had the confidence to invite a Perkins waitress back to his Escalade if Fluff was still his caddie.  That’s a 3-wood from 265 over water to a front pin.  (Unfortunately, Tiger caught it a little thin).            

"Driver again from here?
Are you sure Christophe?"
We need to also accept that Stevie Williams is one of, if not the best caddie in the world.  Prior to getting hired by Adam Scott, he worked for Ian Baker-Finch, Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd and Tiger Woods and, through yesterday by his own modest count, he has 145 wins.  (While I’m trying to make the case for Stevie’s value, it’s very hard to ignore the fact that he is claiming tournament wins as his own.  Next thing you know Wilt Chamberlain’s bodyguard will be claiming he slept with 10,000 women).  So if we accept those two things as truth, then the question is simple.  How many strokes is Stevie Williams worth compared to Christophe Angiolini?  (He was Jean Van de Velde’s caddie at the 1999 British Open.  He’s currently writing a book with Salman Rushdie and the captain of the Exxon Valdez called Can I Get a Do Over?).    

Let’s be very conservative with the answer and see where it gets us.  The winner of a golf tournament usually hits about 280 shots in four rounds.  Take out 14 shots per round for drivers off the tee and another 14 per round for tap-in putts and that leaves about 168 shots in a tournament where a caddie is likely offering some advice.  Now let’s say that out of those 168 shots, the caddie’s advice or the confidence he instills in his player that he’s hitting the right shot saves one stroke.  That’s reasonable right?  By making that assumption, all we’re saying is that a good caddie improves his player’s score for the tournament by 0.6%.  If you had a caddie next to you all day offering good advice like “you need to use a semicolon there” and “your boss just left for the day, let’s get out of here,” you’d be at least 0.6% better at your job.  Kind of like when Kramer had Stan the caddy advising him on his lawsuit against Sue Ellen Mischke.  Wait, that’s a bad example.  Let’s move on.        

"I'm Bob May. I beat Tiger in
the PGA Championship. 
Really... can you check 
the guest list again?" 
Next we need to apply our theory to the history of the Tiger-Stevie relationship (now it’s “our” theory so when it’s completely discredited, I don’t have to take all of the blame).  Tiger has won 14 majors.  He won three of them in a playoff and one by one stroke.  If “our” theory is correct, and you replace Stevie with a caddie who doesn’t make that one stroke difference, Tiger’s down to 11 and possibly 10 majors and Rocco Mediate, Chris DiMarco and Bob May are all making a lot more money at corporate outings (which leads to a serious question about the depth of the fields in some of the majors Tiger was winning, but we’ll save that for another day).  Let’s be realistic and say it only costs Tiger three majors because there’s no way he’s losing a playoff to Sergio at the ’99 PGA Championship.  As cruel as they can be, I refuse to believe that the Golf Gods would have subjected us to a preening 19 year old Sergio winning a major.                  

So through the subjective manipulation of statistics, we’ve proven that Stevie Williams was directly responsible for 3 of Tiger’s 14 majors and maybe he is as great as he thinks he is and maybe I should have stuck with the math major in college.  (Then again, when you use your notes on a take-home multi variable calculus exam, and fail it anyway, it’s clearly time to find a campus map and locate the English Department).  The potential hole in this theory is that there are other caddies out there who could have had the same positive effect on Tiger’s game.  I think we refuted at least part of that counterargument with the “Perkins Waitress in the Escalade” example.  The rest is purely subjective but the fact is that in tournaments this year where Tiger has played and Stevie has caddied for someone else, Stevie has out earned Tiger $140,000 to $58,500 so maybe he was worth more than three majors.  I know he thinks so.