Golf had reason to believe it had purged itself of country-club racism – and made some long strides away from those days when the only black men you saw at Augusta were carrying golf bags or trays laden with cocktails or cleaning pails.
But then, clumping along with a bag filled not with golf clubs but breathtaking self-importance, comes Steve Williams, the caddie who it appears not only lost the biggest job in golf but also any faint contact with the reality of his place in the world.
His extraordinary outburst in Shanghai has conjured ugly memories of the time when the black golfer belonged to an embattled minority.
That concept seemed to be consigned to history in 1997 when Tiger Woods won his first US Masters title and then angrily refused the apology of former champion Fuzzy Zoeller after he had joked feebly about the kind of menu he might produce for the traditional champions' dinner.
Now, though, the episode has been made to seem like some fleeting indelicacy by the appaling performance of Woods' former caddie Williams at a sponsors' dinner at the HSBC WGC World Champions event.
Williams, plainly still fuming over his sacking by Woods earlier this year, explained to the MC that his embarrassing "victory speech" after he carried the bag of his new boss, Australian Adam Scott, at the Bridgestone International tournament was intended to "stick it right up that black arsehole Tiger Woods".
There are now two charges against the New Zealand bagman that, quite separately, would be enough to end his career. One concerns a most crass example of racism. The other is of astonishing, self-destructive arrogance.
Williams, who proudly claims to be New Zealand's best paid "sportsman" has long produced quite spectacular form in the latter category. He greeted his new boss's triumph in Ohio as his own "greatest victory" – and said that one day he hoped the slumping Woods would be able to win back the confidence and pride of his former caddie.
It was a staggering example of mislaid reality but still hardly prepared golf for the scale of his latest public relations disaster.
Williams' fellow workers, the men who know the value of patient support for the employing class who feel the pressure, play the shots and provide their most valued bagmen with an enviable lifestyle, are now cringing in embarrassment.
It is, though, a development that will surprise few witnesses of Williams' personality development since Woods handed him the assignment that until the last year or so was the most coveted in the business.
Plainly he has now crossed the line between natural-born arrogance and an untenable belief in his ability to behave as bizarrely as he chooses. Racism, as course as any known in the bad old days, is the killing charge. The cause is rather more mundane. It is the consequence of unchecked stupidity.Reuse content