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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Steve Williams

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

Steve Williams is a bigger, stronger and more aggressive version of his boss, Tiger Woods, who is famously big, strong and aggressive himself. Tiger's putter looks like a toothpick when he cradles it over his arms in the cool weather of a British Open. Williams hoists Tiger's bag with such ease that you'd think he's lifting a bag of chips.

The new season will be their tenth together and in their nine previous years they've won 12 majors. Williams is not charming to spectators. He's not a reliable quote for writers on deadline. He's not Woods' alter ego.

He's an extension of Woods.

Woods and Williams are on the course for the same reason and there's nothing genteel about it. All they really want to do is kick ass. Both are athletes: Williams is an accomplished dirt-track car racer in New Zealand, his homeland.

Occasionally, you'll see a more tender side. When Woods won the British Open in 2006, months after the death of his father, Tiger sobbed in the arms of his caddie. Williams, nearly 12 years older, held his friend as Woods both mourned and celebrated.

At the groundbreaking for his Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim in 2006, with Bill Clinton at his side, golf's biggest star pledged $25 million and called it the most important thing he had ever done. In October, Williams did something as remarkable, and it makes him my 2007 Sportsman of the Year.

Williams and his wife, Kirsty, through the Steve Williams Foundation, made a gift of over $750,000 to Starship Hospital in Auckland. The money was earmarked for the cancer ward. The actual amount is not known, but on his foundation's web site, Williams described the donation as being over one million New Zealand dollars. He probably would not have mentioned the amount except that he wants to encourage others to make gifts. (His web site is kiwicaddie.com.)

The caddie as philanthropist. Very new and very cool.

Yes, Williams has made a fortune during his long career with Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd and Woods. He has endorsement deals with Nike and Valvoline. His career earnings are very likely well north of $20 million. That's not the point.

The point is that Williams was in a position to make a contribution to the healing of the world and he did it. There's no cultural expectation for a caddie to be a philanthropist, but Williams, in part because he works for Woods, is breaking new ground. He's been giving to junior golf for years, just as Woods has. But the big hospital gift was out of the Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer playbook. Cancer claimed the life of Tiger's father, Earl.

Williams didn't respond to an interview request from SI.com. He's comfortable with his life on the sidelines, except when he's behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang on a dirt track. On his web site, he wrote, "We are very honored to have been able to help such a worthy cause and hope this encourages others to donate to this cause. The overwhelming response we have had has surprised us and touched our hearts."

If he didn't have heart, Williams wouldn't be on Tiger's bag in the first place.

The caddie as philanthropist. Very new and very cool.

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