Why Steve Williams is opening up on ‘whirlwind’ time with Tiger Woods
Golf’s most famous partnership began with a prank call. At least, Steve Williams thought it was a prank call.
“The phone rings, and it’s pretty late, half-past nine,” Williams remembers. It was Feb. 1999 and he’d just arrived in Miami for the tournament at Doral, where he’d be caddying for Raymond Floyd. But while he’d been in the air from New Zealand, Tiger Woods had split with looper Mike “Fluff” Cowan. A caddie search was afoot.
“The gentleman on the other end of the phone says, ‘It’s Tiger Woods here,'” Williams says. “And I had a mate who could take Tiger’s voice off to a tee, and I thought it was him, so I put the phone down.”
Williams’ phone rang again.
“I said, ‘Look, Bob, I’m tired, give me a ring tomorrow, I’ve just flown in from New Zealand,’ and I put the phone down again.
“It rang back again and I thought, ‘Maybe it’s not Bob,’ and actually it was Tiger. We got off to a pretty good start there, he thought that was pretty good.”
That’s how it began, the partnership that would produce 13 major championships, 63 PGA Tour wins and dozens more victories around the world. That story also serves as the introduction to Williams’ latest venture, a podcast series called Chasing Majors, in which he and Aussie golf journalist Evin Priest comb through each of the major championships won by the team of Woods and Williams.
The series marks an extended and unprecedented peek behind the curtain for Woods fans; each episode runs roughly an hour and dives into the nitty-gritty of Woods’ greatest triumphs. There are little insights — like how they’d agree meet to hit balls at “dawn-thirty,” which meant a half-hour after the sun rose — and there are more dramatic stories, too, like Williams challenging Woods’ read on a high-pressure putt or an incident Priest teased involving a helicopter in Thailand in 2000.
“I don’t want to pretend that no golf writer hasn’t ever sat Steve down before and got him in a candid setting, and I’m very respectful of the great golf writers and presenters who have interviewed Steve over many years,” Priest said. “But for whatever reason, he just seemed to let his guard down with me and I was able to ask the right questions and extract some really good stories.”
Priest called the podcast “a lockdown passion project” produced from his home in Sydney; the biggest challenge was getting the famously reticent Kiwi on board. But Priest had spent time around Williams during his tenure caddying for Adam Scott and the two appreciated each other’s style.
“I knew when to have some chit-chat and ask [Williams] a question and I knew when to shut up and let him and Adam practice and I think he appreciated that,” Priest said.
From Williams’ perspective, Priest was the right man at the right time.
“When I was caddying for Adam and Jason I could see the way Evin interacted with the players, both Australian and international, that there was a level of respect there in the way he went about his work,” he told GOLF.com. “So when Evin asked me late last year about this podcast I was happy to oblige because he seemed passionate about the idea.”
Why do a podcast at all?
“To put it simply, I thought maybe it would be selfish to sit on some of these stories if I was asked to tell them, like Evin did. I got to experience things nobody else ever will so it’s an honor to share them with the golf world. I’m just a guy from New Zealand and I know how rare these moments were.”
Williams, who had never done a podcast series, said he was surprised by how much he enjoyed his weekly calls with Priest. His professional relationship with Woods, while historically fruitful, came to a turbulent ending. Now, with the benefit of time and space, Williams seems wholly focused on the positives.
“My time with Tiger, it was such a whirlwind that I didn’t ever stop to smell the roses, really. So I quite enjoyed reliving all those memories. I’m a golf nut like all of us so I hope golf fans enjoy them.”
Priest told GOLF.com he thought the chats were therapeutic for Williams.
“I think he got as much out of it as I did,” he said. “I think enough time has passed now that he’s just absolutely enamored with Tiger, he still loves him like a friend and just absolutely respects his work ethic and what he’s achieved in the game of golf. And so to see him, the nostalgia on his face [as they recorded], he was so appreciative of what he was able to achieve with Tiger and I think he enjoyed relaying that all as much as I enjoyed asking the questions.”
It’s no secret that Williams and Woods aren’t as close as they once were; time and space and life have sent them in different directions. But the pair are inextricably linked in golf history. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear Williams has chosen to appreciate that.
“Tiger is such a phenomenal champion and I don’t think we will ever see someone with the drive he had and still has. We were all so lucky to witness what he achieved. I was just happy to be a part of it.”
You can listen to the first episode below or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.