News & Opinion

Day turns to Williams for new direction

Jason Day
Based on the Masters Readiness Factor, Jason Day stands poised to win at Augusta National.

PEBBLE BEACH Calif. – The man with 15 major championships stood on the range Wednesday in shorts and a white collarless shirt. Meanwhile, a light fog came on little cat feet, as poet Carl Sandburg might describe it if he were covering this U.S. Open, and dropped its curtain of chill.

The 15-major man was now underdressed due to the weather change, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was busy watching Jason Day, more sensibly attired in slacks, a shirt and a long-sleeved pullover, hit balls on Pebble Beach’s practice range.

Maybe 15 major titles keeps him warm. Anyway, welcome back to the U.S. Open, Steve Williams, super caddie.

Oh, did you think I was talking about a different 15-time major champion? Nope. Williams is the most successful caddie in modern golf, having been on the bag for nearly 150 victories, including 15 major championships. He caddied for 13 of Tiger Woods’ 15 majors over 12 years, including the 2000 U.S. Open blitz here when Woods won by 15 strokes. Williams was with Greg Norman for the 1986 British Open, and Adam Scott at the 2013 Masters.

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Jason Day

Williams, 55, retired after 2017 and returned to his native New Zealand to be with his family and enjoy his main hobby: speedway racing. A funny thing happened on the way to the retirement home. Australian golfing great Jason Day needed help.

So, meet the new Dynamic Duo: Day and Williams.

Day is a former No. 1-ranked player in the world. He won the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in a duel with Jordan Spieth, and he contended in the U.S. Open and the British Open earlier that year. Then, he had a hot run in the FedEx Cup playoffs, winning twice. That year, his best golf looked better than anyone else’s best.

Fast forward to 2018, when he had early two victories but slumped later in the year, sliding to 14tth in the world rankings. He has managed five top-10 finishes this year, but he hasn’t been much of a factor. That may sound like a pretty good career to a lot of middle-of-the-pack golfers, but Day is a talented player who seemed headed for superstardom. He’s 31 and often an afterthought, not a superstar.

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Steve Williams (left) made a formidable tandem with Adam Scott, but now the veteran caddie will team with another Aussie, Jason Day, beginning in today’s U.S. Open.

© SNAPETURE SPORTS PTY LIMITED/ANTHONY POWTER (2013 FILE)
Steve Williams (left) made a formidable tandem with Adam Scott, but now the veteran caddie will team with another Aussie, Jason Day, beginning in today’s U.S. Open.

When he missed the cut two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, it was an embarrassing low because he lives in the area. Day has tried a few different caddies in recent years, including a couple of friends, but after the Memorial showing, he decided to make a major change. So, he hired the best man available, a 15-major man. Asked if he thought that he was underachieving, Day said that he was severely underachieving.

“I feel like I’ve got a game that when it’s on, I can win most tournaments,” Day said. “Now that I have Steve on the bag, hopefully that will flourish and I can make winning more of a habit. I know that I can do it.”

There is another undercurrent in play with Day beyond just being disappointed by his results. Working hard was almost a mantra in his comments, and he said his wife, Ellie, and his manager, Bud Martin, more or less staged an intervention to tell him that he wasn’t working hard enough on his game to be as successful as he wants. He’s got a major title and tons of money, and he’s a family man who wants to be there for his kids, but he’s going through the kind of midlife crisis that many PGA Tour players face in their 30s.

That’s part of why the phone call to Williams was awkward. Day said he had to sell himself to Williams, not the other way around, as it usually is with caddies and players.

“He came back on the bag to win major championships,” Day said. “It was more about him seeing in my eyes that I’m going to do my best to try to do that. His drive and will to be successful is very, very high. He told me, ‘If you’re not working hard enough, I’m gone.’ ”

The Day-Williams duo raises an age-old question: How much difference does a caddie make, given that he doesn’t hit any of the shots? It’s a question without an answer, of course, but caddies do important work other than just toting bags. They get yardages and often help with strategy, club selection and reading greens.

Maybe Tiger Woods would have won 15 majors even if he’d used a pushcart. Obviously, however, Williams played a key role in his success. The same goes for Scott, a gentle man who maybe wasn’t tough enough to win a major championship until he got a tough-guy caddie on his bag. Scott was unsure about a putt in a Masters playoff, but Williams knew the right read and delivered it, allowing Scott to hole the putt that beat Angel Cabrera and become the first Australian to win a Masters.

Of course, no caddie is a superman. Scott bogeyed the last four holes to lose the 2012 British Open to Ernie Els, and Williams was powerless to stop it.

Day is looking for an edge. He hopes Williams is it.

“I told Steve, ‘Look, my goal is to get back to No. 1 in the world,’ ” Day said. “I want to do everything I possibly can to get there. Whatever you need to tell me, I'll do it. I’m very disappointed with how this year has progressed. I think Steve will take me to that next level.”

Williams has done it all as a caddie. Day needled him about his age earlier in the week. “Everyone that came up to us on the range was like Andy North and Jeff Sluman, all these older guys, and I told him, ‘This is really showing your age,’ because he was here in ’92 and in 2000.

“So, it’s nice to have someone who has unbelievable experience in major championships and a winning pedigree. It puts my mind at ease that he knows what he’s doing. Ever since he started on the bag, I’ve worked a lot harder.”

Today, they’ll take on Pebble Beach (tee times). Day doesn’t want to let his new man down. Williams doesn’t want to let his new man down.

They’re a team now. They hope that translates to a new Day.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle