- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It has been a bad year for the Tiger Woods- Phil�Mickelson rivalry. Neither has won a major, there haven't been any notable head-to-head showdowns, and their antipathy, overstated to begin with, has thawed in the warm afterglow of the Ping-Pong table the Mickelsons sent baby Sam.
That won't do. So on the eve of the year's final major we've drilled down to mine off-course disparities between golf's two superstars. In the last year a few events have brought their differences concerning God, Country and Family into sharp relief.
God Neither Woods nor Mickelson goes to Tour Bible study or testifies after winning. Mickelson has always kept his beliefs to himself, and Woods had been equally silent about his worship until he was put on the spot last December at a corporate event in Los Angeles. He was asked if he had "accepted Jesus as [his] Lord and Savior." Woods's answer: "My father was a Christian, but my mother is Asian, and Buddhism was also part of my childhood, so I practice both faiths respectfully."
Country Both Woods, the son of a Green Beret, and Mickelson, the son of a Navy fighter pilot, steer big dollars toward military charities, Tiger through his foundation and Phil through programs like Birdies for the Brave. From there, however, their political roads part. Mickelson is chummy with the Bushes. In the fall of 2005 he hung in Kennebunkport with 41. Last month he showed his fondness for 43 by attending a White House dinner (along with three other players). Woods's palling around with Bush p�re at the AT&T National's pro-am was less significant than his nonattendance at that week's dinner with W. (If Tiger wasn't invited, it was only because the White House knew he wouldn't come.) Does that mean Tiger is a Democrat? Probably not. True, Bill Clinton was the keynote ex-Prez at last February's opening of the Tiger Woods Learning Center, but Tiger publicly dissed Clinton in 1997, when he refused the sitting President's invitation to a function honoring Jackie Robinson. If pressed about his party leanings, Woods would probably take the Fifth, saying, a�la pal Michael Jordan, that even Libertarians buy golf shirts.
Family Mickelson's family-first ethos was evident at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. His wife, Amy, was nearing her due date with their first child, and he swore he would leave town as soon as his baby beeper went off. At the 2007 U.S.�Open at Oakmont, Woods carried no beeper. (If he did, he didn't tell anyone about it.) That he played after wife Elin had been admitted to the hospital with (non-life-threatening) complications prompted some to question Tiger's commitment. Rick Maese of the Baltimore Sun wrote, "I'm guessing . . . most husbands wouldn't choose to remain on an out-of-town business trip knowing what was happening back home." Others, like blogger Geoff Shackelford, lauded Woods for having "the cojones to play the U.S. Open with [Elin and Sam's situation] on his plate," adding that childbirth has taken place "billions of times before--and not every father was there for the occasion."
How does this illuminate a potential face-off at Southern Hills? As always, when Tiger and Phil clash on the course, it's about birdies and bogeys. But it's also about divergent approaches to the game, and to life.
Chris Lewis is the author of The Scorecard Never Lies: A Year Behind the Scenes on the PGA Tour.