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|| News Item: Posted 2004-06-30

Steve Williams is at it again
By Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Steve Williams takes a camera from a fan at the US Open.
When we last left Tiger Woods' caddie/henchman, the New Zealander was at golf's Skins Game, training for the Kiwi Olympic shot-put team using a fan's EOS 1D and a lake for practice. At last week's U.S. Open, Williams played the enforcer once again, at one point confiscating a camera from an off-duty police officer in the gallery, and at another point kicking --- yes, you read that right, kicking --- a camera that was raised to the face of a credentialed photographer from the N.Y. Daily News.

Both of these incidents serve to confirm what photographers who've drawn the dreaded chore of walking inside the ropes with Woods have known for some time now: in a addition to being a not-so-very-nice guy, Williams is, to put it bluntly, out of control. Until now, our complaints have fallen on deaf ears, dismissed by both writers and the Tour as plaintive whining by photographers who, it is always assumed by the Tour and its officials, must be completely at fault.

Whether or not that's true, how that justifies physical contact with, and abuse of, a credentialed member of the news media or a fan is beyond me. But that seems to be the Tour's position at present. While it's unfortunate that the events of last weekend had to take place, let's face it: there's nothing like a little assault and battery to make the more influential members of the news media stand up and take notice.

And take notice they have. The Golf Writers' Association of America is in the process of drafting a letter expressing its concern over Williams' actions, and the PGA Tour's apparent apathy toward them, to Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem. And some of the best, and most well respected writers covering the sport are publicly calling Williams (and, by association, Woods) on the carpet for both his actions and his attitude: writers like Golf Digest's Dan Jenkins ("Best person to enroll in charm school, instantly"), Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly ("...all the charm of a rhino with an impacted molar") or The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins (who prefers just plain "goon") have recently written columns expressing dismay at the way Williams conducts himself on the course.

At long last, Williams' personality is becoming apparent to everyone around the game. Even the TV guys, the sworn enemy of still photographers everywhere, were talking about it following the Open. Steve Williams has a problem, be it keeping his emotions in check, his hands (and feet) to himself, and/or in assigning himself too high a rung on the ladder of self-perceived importance. But--and I want you to think about this before you jump on me for asking the question--when it comes to his dealings with photographers, is he solely to blame?

Hell, no.

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Tiger Woods and his caddie Steve Williams with their security guards at the 2004 US Open.
I hate to say it, but every time I follow Tiger I see some of the dumbest behavior from otherwise sensible photographers, who suddenly seem to possess nary a clue about the rules, customs, and traditions of the game of golf. It seems as if drawing the short straw and getting stuck with Woods' group instantly lobotomizes many of us, "professionals" who should know better than to fire early, move around when we should be still, or otherwise distract Woods or his playing partners. Forget about the fact that just playing a decent round of golf seems to be frustrating for Tiger to begin with these days; if you were in Woods' or Williams' shoes when things like this were happening day in and day out, you'd get pretty frustrated, too.

But to the point of assaulting photographers? It's sad, but that's what it's come down to. Deserved or not, Williams is taking out his (and Tiger's) frustrations on photographers, and yes, we're partially to blame. So let's make a resolution, here and now, to remove ourselves from that side of the equation. The idea--which these days should be pretty easy to put into practice--should be to let Steve Williams make a fool out of himself without any help from us. So herewith, a few suggestions.

1. STOP CHIMPING ON THE TEE BOX. Whatever happened to light meters? Or, for that matter, "professional" photographers who instinctively knew what the exposure was? When golfers talk about photographers who "shoot early," I'll wager that nine times out of ten they mean photographers who fire during warm-up swings. Anybody want to guess whence comes this recent fascination with practice swing photos? Back in the day, when we all shot film, nobody fired off a frame or two during warm-ups to check their exposure. There's no reason for anyone worthy of the "professional photographer" title to do it now, either. So don't.

2. SIT DOWN. AND STAY PUT. Tiger has just putted out on the green. Time to race to the next tee box? Uh, excuse me. Where are you going? There are still two other guys in this group who haven't finished. Wait until they're done. Then move. If you MUST move earlier, then at least slip outside the ropes and move around behind the gallery.

Photo by Fred Vuich

Photo by Fred Vuich

Darren Carroll in a tower overlooking 18 green on Sunday afternoon.
3. ONE FRAME IS ALL YOU NEED. You're supposed to be good at this photography thing, right? So why do you need 20 frames of the same thing? You're not shooting chromes anymore, so in-camera dupes aren't necessary... That really cool, back-lit picture of Tiger contemplating his navel lint as he waits by the side of the green? It's nice, and I'm sure it could win you a Pulitzer, but while you've been firing off enough frames to fill, empty, and re-fill the buffer on your 1D-Mark II, his playing partner has lined up his putt, backed off it, and is now staring at you with an "Anytime you're ready, buddy," look on his face. PAY ATTENTION!

4. WATCH THE LINE. A guaranteed way to draw the attention of a golfer and/or caddie is to get in what's called a player's "line." Around the green, if you can draw a straight line from the ball to the hole to yourself, you're in it. On the tee and in the fairway, if you can draw a straight line from the ball to yourself and, looking over your shoulder, the flag or landing area, you're in it. Use your head. Move before anyone tells you to. Better yet, position yourself in the right place from the get-go.

5. USE THE ON/OFF SWITCH. You know the camera you sling over your shoulder with the short zoom on it? I know this sounds silly, but make a habit of turning it off. One great thing about golfers: they don't move very fast. You'll have plenty of time to turn on the camera when you need it; the inconvenience of having to do so is more than outweighed by the embarrassment of accidentally leaning against a vertical-release trigger button in mid-backswing.

6. LOOK AROUND, AND BE PREPARED. Always maintain an overall awareness of where each player in your group is, and develop a plan for how you're going to get into position BEFORE the player gets to the ball. Should you cross the fairway now (at a proper crosswalk, of course) to get to the proper side of the green, or would it be better to wait until you get to the green and walk around? Sometimes it's faster to duck outside the ropes, jog a little, and then move back in, in order to keep ahead of play. When you move inside the ropes in between shots, move slowly; look back over your shoulder or walk backwards so that you can stop at the appropriate time.

7. DON'T FIRE BEFORE THE BALL HAS BEEN STRUCK. Yes, this includes on the backswing. And it includes when the player first steps over the ball. And it most certainly includes practice swings. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Robert Beck has backswing pictures in his member gallery. Fred Vuich won a World Press award for a backswing photo. Guess what? Beck has been doing this for a long, long time--fifty years, at least. Fred shot Daguerreotypes of Old Tom Morris back when St. Andrews was a 12-hole course. There's a reason they can make those kinds of pictures: they've been doing it long enough to know when it's "safe"--when there's ambient noise, which direction the wind is blowing, when they're far enough away, whether or not PF-21 has been set up on the 1D (go look it up...) and so forth. There's no set formula for when it's okay to do this. Like a good golf shot, it's a "feel" thing. And like a golfer who only plays once a year, a photographer who
Photo by Fred Vuich

Photo by Fred Vuich

Sports Illustrated's Robert Beck in action at the 2004 US Open.
covers one golf tournament a year doesn't have the feel for that shot. Sorry, but it's true. So save yourself, and the rest of us, a whole lot of trouble. Don't do it.

That's it, in a nutshell. Will it solve all of our problems on the golf course? Probably not. Will someone still have a brain-fart every now and then? Absolutely. We are, after all, only human. But it's imperative that we, as a group, control what we can. We don't need to be scapegoats, we don't need to have the TV analysts point to us as the ones who just ruined a guy's chance at winning a golf tournament, and we certainly don't need Steve Williams to use and abuse us as part of some misguided power trip.

What we need is to clean up our collective act, and not give him, or anyone else, a reason to come after us. When you think about it, if we use common sense, it shouldn't be too hard to do.

One more thing and then I'll shut up. Golf is a sport involving rules, etiquette, and tradition. Some people think that some of those rules and customs are silly (and many of them spend way too much time making those feelings known on the message board). Nevertheless, players demand quiet when playing their shots. It is not for us, as members of the news media, to rewrite those rules in order to make our jobs easier, or simply because we think they're stupid, or because we observe that baseball players can hit a 90-mph fastball with 40,000 people screaming at them.

The rules of golf are the rules of golf, and the courtesies extended to its participants, reinforced by hundreds of years of tradition (and, I might add, by the ability of 99% of golf photographers to lay off the shutter button until contact), are inviolable. Deal with it. They're not going to change so that you can get a cool picture of Tiger at the top of his backswing. If you don't like it, then please, by all means, stay away from the golf course. Go cover NASCAR or something.

Come to think of it, Steve Williams does race cars in the off-season back in New Zealand...

(Darren Carroll is an Austin, TX-based freelancer who regularly covers the PGA Tour for Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated, and Golf World.)

Related Links:
Darren Carroll's member page

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