Tiger Woods is a phenom because he can do things no one else can, but there are some things I can do that Tiger can't, like go to a mall, a movie or a barbershop without attracting a crowd, even though I won last year's U.S. Open. I proved this again last week during a 6�-hour layover in Chicago on my way to Scotland for the Loch Lomond World Invitational and this week's British Open. With so much time to kill, I took a cab to a driving range. I was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, sunglasses and no hat and carried only a few clubs. I bought a big bucket of balls and, hitting off a mat, knocked quite a few of them over the fence. After a while, everybody was watching me and saying, "Man, he's really hitting it good," but nobody recognized me. I even gave a lesson to a guy who had no idea who I was. Later, I went over to the putting green, and everyone left me alone. It was great. Tiger couldn't have done that.
I prefer having a low Q rating, so the first few months after winning the Open were pretty tough. All of a sudden I was the one everybody wanted to interview, and I was asked to sign this and do that. I wasn't used to being the center of attention, and I let it eat into my practice time. Eventually, my game wore down. But when Tiger turned pro last August, the spotlight shifted to him, and I finally had a good stretch of golf from then through February.
I'm not complaining. The hoopla that comes with winning the Open may be exhausting, but I'd go through it again in a heartbeat. I'm just glad I didn't let being the title-holder change how I handled myself on the course. Friends told me, "Don't worry about trying to play like the Open champion every time you tee it up. You don't have to perform for anybody. Go out and do your own thing." That's what I did, but I can see how trying to live up to someone else's expectations could make you lose confidence and think, Hey, I'm the U.S. Open champ. I'm better than this. Why am I playing so badly?
Having a low profile helps keep everything in perspective. In January I got my hair cut a couple of days after winning the Phoenix Open by 12 shots. A woman in the salon told me all about the tournament, how her boyfriend had bought her tickets and how she saw Tiger make a hole in one. I said, "Oh, really? Who won the tournament?"
She said, "Hmmm, I'm not sure."
Thanks a lot, I thought, though I never told her who I was.
I get treated like that all the time, and I love it. By the way, if you run into Tiger, tell him I'm at the mall.