Monday, April 12, 2010

Mickelson: The Bizzaro Tiger

I was talking on the phone with my father this past Sunday night, and we spent a few minutes discussing The Masters, which had ended just a few hours prior to our conversation. Arguably the most prestigious of professional golf’s four major championships, The Masters is essentially the pinnacle of the sport in general. Plus, this year it was the site of Tiger Woods’ dramatic return to golf, following the exposure of his double-life as a sex-crazed adulterer. You may have heard or read something about it over the past few months.

Anyways, considering all of that, and the fact that my father and I are both big sports fans, we had been following the tournament all weekend, and had both watched a good deal of the closing round on Sunday afternoon (although I’d bet my left arm that my dad dozed off at some point). But when talking with him, he brought up an interesting point. Phil Mickelson, who had just won the tournament for a third time, was in many ways the “anti-Tiger”…or as I like to say, The Bizzaro Tiger.

My father's comment got me thinking. After everything we have learned about Tiger since he played bumper cars with a fire hydrant last Thanksgiving, and everything we had learned prior to that, it is amazing to examine how different he and Mickelson truly are.

Before I dive in, I will state the obvious in saying that the two aren’t completely different. They are probably the two best golfers in the world. They have both won a bunch of tournaments and a bunch of money, gained a lot of fame and a lot of sponsors. But in the context of their profession as pro golfers, and the lives they live off the course, the differences separating them are both numerous and distinctive.

The initial difference can simply be seen with the "eye test". Tiger is right-handed. Phil is a lefty. Tiger is very athletic and muscular, looking more like a strong safety than your average middle-aged golfer. Phil, on the other hand, is kind of portly and all-around average in appearance. He looks like he could be a high school science teacher or a realtor or the guy in the cubicle next to you.

Phil has big puffy cheeks that swell up when he smiles, while Tiger walks around looking as stern as a Secret Service agent, smiling only enough to prove that he isn’t actually a robot. Oh, and Phil is white, while Tiger is bi-racial. And while this really has no barring on why the two are so different, it is yet another difference, and therefore serves as strengthening my argument.

But even when you move beyond their physical appearance, it is still obvious how dissimilar Tiger and Phil prove to be. When Phil does interviews, he is constantly smiling, maybe making a joke or two, and always treating the reporters like they are regular, normal people that he might go to Applebee’s and share a meal with. When Tiger does interviews, he is usually monotone, answering questions in an extremely stoic and businesslike way. Tiger never really seems to lighten up or have fun in these situations, and has always been that way…even before he was getting asked how many strippers he slept with.

On the golf course, the differences become glaring. They aren’t necessarily seen in how the two play, but rather in how they act in general. Phil is always jovial, talking to the fans, shaking hands, and signing autographs. Phil appears to appreciate each and every person that cheers for him and watches him play, basking in the unique privilege of being a famous and successful athlete. Conversely, Tiger is always wearing blinders on the course, concerning himself only with his golf game. He barely acknowledges the crowd, engaging long enough to either tip his cap after a hole or glare at someone for sneezing while he’s reading a putt.

It’s deeper than the trivial stuff, too. For instance, I can recall an incident a few years ago when an errant shot by Mickelson struck the wrist of someone in the gallery, breaking the onlooker’s watch in the process. Phil proceeded to walk over to the guy, shake his hand, and apologize. Then, when most guys would probably walk away, Phil pulled out his wallet, grabbed a couple hundred dollars cash, and handed it to the guy, along with a golfing glove he had signed. Do you think the guy asked Phil to pay for the watch? No. Do you think the watch even cost as much as Mickelson gave the guy? Doubtful. Do you think the dude would have been just as happy with a smile, a handshake, and an apology? Most likely. But Phil went the extra mile. Tiger probably would have snapped at him for standing in the way of his ball.

Mickelson smiles for the cameras. Tiger flips his freaking lid when the cameras click during his backswing.

When Tiger hits a bad shot, he flings his clubs, contorts his face to look like he’s in an elevator after someone farted, and then drops “f-bombs” and “GD-bombs”. When Phil hits a bad shot, he shakes his head and drops “shucks”-bombs and “doggonit”-bombs. And yes, Tiger has recently said that he will do his best to curb his negative outburst, but if this past Masters is any indication, that’s a lot easier for him to say than it is for him to do.

There are plenty of other stories and anecdotes about how different these two men seem to be. Rick Reilly, one of the most well-known sports journalists in the country, once told a story about Phil Mickelson tipping a young valet driver $100 at a particular golf tournament. When asked if the valet driver had ever been tipped that much, the young man said that he had…by Phil Mickelson, at the same tournament the year before. Tiger, conversely, barely tipped the card dealers in the sleazy VIP casinos he frequented in Vegas. In fact, it has long been rumored that Phil is a very generous tipper, while Tiger is notorious for his cheapness (despite being a billion dollar enterprise). In all honesty, Tiger’s frugal spending may have helped lead to the spotlight shining on his numerous infidelities. Many of Woods’ mistresses that have come forward have commented on the fact that Tiger never took care of them financially, bought them anything, or helped them with debt. And he obviously didn’t pay to keep them quiet.

The differences carry over into their home lives as well, with both Tiger and Phil experiencing family problems in the past year. In May of 2009, it was announced that Amy Mickelson, Phil’s wife, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Phil took an indefinite leave, helping his wife cope with the necessary major surgery and treatment. And as if that wasn’t enough, it was announced in July that Phil’s mother also had breast cancer. Tiger’s problems started a few months later, in November of 2009, when it was revealed that he had problems controlling his main reproductive organs, as well as an addiction to skanky cocktail waitresses. Through everything, Phil stuck beside his wife and mother, taking time off to be with his kids and loved ones. Tiger’s wife chased him with a 5-iron.

Unfortunately, with Phil’s victory coming on the heels of the Tiger scandal, there is probably just a smidgeon of uncertainty and reservation in the minds of many. There are no doubt media and fans who might be thinking, “Hey, if Tiger can have a secret sex life, then so can Phil.” True, but do you really believe that? Will you really buy in to whatever crazy rumor is sure to be started about Phil after his triumphant win, even if it sounds like it originated in a middle school girl’s bathroom? I mean, let’s be honest – if it’s divulged that Phil has a secret sex life, we might as well break out the Bibles and start reading Revelations too see what will happen next. Is it so hard for us to accept and believe that Phil and Tiger really are just completely different people?

What should truly be embraced now is the image that came directly after Mickelson sank his final putt, the image of Phil and his wife (who had been absent most of the week due to the impact of the cancer treatment) sharing an emotional embrace, their three kids in tow. The tears streaming down both of their faces really told the story of everything they had been through and how much the victory meant for Phil and his family.

Meanwhile, as the gallery was hollering with admiration for Phil – a down-to-earth family man who had survived a great amount of stress, anxiety and hours next to a hospital bed – Tiger quietly walked away. His wife (who had been absent all week, for very different and public reasons) was nowhere to be found. His kids were not there to greet him. A man, once bulletproof and unflappable and always the proverbial favorite to win The Masters, walked away alone, mired in controversy, surrounded only by the memory of risqué tabloid stories and salacious text messages.

In the end, the biggest difference between the two, the most obvious distinction between Tiger and Phil, was that Phil won and Tiger lost. The Bizzaro Tiger stood alone atop the leaderboard, draped by his loving family and that ever-elusive green jacket.

The real Tiger just stood alone.

Thanks for reading


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