I never thought I’d say this, but I’m beginning to think that we will see another Tiger Woods before we come across another Phil Mickelson.
There will be tweaks and slight modifications, obviously, as each generation yields its own test tube prodigy. Eventually, the new mold will spit out 6’7″ 295 small forwards disguised as golfers. Evolution will eventually set in, as it always does. Clubs will change, balls will change and courses will change. 320 yard drives will eventually become obsolete, replaced with consistent 375 yard moon shots.
But it’s less about physical appearance. It’s about expressions and mannerisms, a willingness to be fallible with the entire world breathing down your neck, hoping to catch perhaps one final fling with greatness.
An understanding that even in the invasive new world of social media, packaged answers and rhetoric only go so far.
Clearly, based on diversity issues alone, Tiger Woods will forever reside in his own unique file, regardless of whether or not he catches Jack. The day Tiger showed up hunting pins and launching lasers at unsuspecting fairways, everything changed. Golf, forever viewed as as stuffy sport that once excluded so many, finally exhaled. It was finally cool. Quite frankly, that will never be matched. Advantage, Tiger. In a big and very important way.
Yet Phil Mickselon, with all of his ill-advised experiments on the tee box and around the greens does something that Tiger Woods has yet to truly do for so many: he touches your soul.
His ability to connect with the blue collar fan is amazing, considering his seemingly perfect life of private jets and mega-million endorsements.
During my career, I’ve been lucky enough to walk Shinnecock, Bethpage, Winged Foot, Olympic Club and most recently, Merion. I’ve followed Phil and Tiger, studying body language and gauging the varying degrees of interaction with throngs of fans. Fans that are chasing one brief glance or exchange from players so many of us try to emulate on Saturdays with our friends.
If Phil is a party, Woods remains a business seminar. Great when you’re knocking courses to its knees, not so much when double bogeys appear with increasing frequency.
It’s almost as if we’re not allowed to breathe when Woods lines up a putt, and quite frankly, it became paralyzing long ago.
You’re working, I get it. I respect that. That’s why the cell phone stays in the pocket and conversations halt. But a sneeze? A cough? Sometimes, God, you know, intervenes. Good luck fending off the death glare sure to follow.
Compare Mickelson to some of the largely faceless and expressionless players currently on tour. Decent men I’m sure, but robotic in preparation and unwaveringly resolute between the ropes, fixated on the next shot, the next lie, the next read of a green. For the most part, they all have the same swing. Nothing unique. Nobody jabs at the ball with a putter like Jack, or unloads with a fairway wood like Daly.
I’m sure Johnny Miller would challenge this statement, but to my untrained eye, it’s like watching the old Pink Floyd video, with the conveyor belt. All from the same factory of angles and pace and finish.
Next. Next. Next.
Pretty boring, actually. And I absolutely LOVE the sport. What about the fringe fans, the ones who ultimately determine ratings?
Today’s golfer thinks bright Puma and Nike shirts provides substance. It does not. Style? yes. But that’s it.
Maybe I’m naive, but I truly feel as if we matter to Mickelson, and if not, he does a hell of a job making us feel as if we do.
He’s an old-school cowboy, still chasing and pursuing perfection in a sport based on imperfection.
When he fails, a small part of us fails.
When it comes to Phil or Tiger, I’ve always boiled things down to its simplest form. Of the two, who I would enjoy having a scotch with more?
Hey Phil, this one’s on me brother.