The U.S. Open begins today at Bethpage Black just outside New York City. Tiger Woods seems to be the favorite by those who take the gamble and predict these things (predicting who will win any golf tournament is one of the hardest things to do as far as predicting goes).
Would I like to see Woods win his fifteenth career major? Sure I would. I’m a big Tiger fan. I’ve talked about it in the past. The only reason I got into golf was because of Tiger. The only reason I even make an attempt (though a feeble one) to play golf is because of Tiger. I have two Tiger hats. If I ever got the chance to go to a PGA event as a fan, I’d walk the course with Tiger.
But I won’t be rooting for him this week.
I will be rooting for Phil Mickelson.
I understand that it’s strange. Most golf fans are either a Tiger guy or a Phil guy. It’s not that they hate one or the other. It’s just that they have their guy, and that’s that.
I’ve been – and will continue to be – a Tiger guy. First of all, he’s a winner. Second of all, I admire the intensity the guy has. And lastly, he doesn’t accept anything less than winning. It doesn’t matter if it’s a major, or any other tournament. If Woods doesn’t win, he isn’t happy with himself. Anyone who is in a competitive business can understand that mentality. I can. Radio is a competitive business, and if I lost to my competition in any given ratings period (and to be up front I did), I was very hard on myself.
Mickelson – to me – was always a little soft. I didn’t have a problem with him saying he would leave the U.S. Open ten years ago if his ‘baby pager’ went off. In fact, I would have done the same thing. I know a lot of people who didn’t give Phil any crap for saying what he said at Pinehurst in ’99. That wasn’t the reason I considered ‘Lefty’ soft.
I thought he was soft because he had a knack for grabbing defeat out of the jaws of victory. I thought he was soft for taking chances he didn’t have to take (for instance – the Open at Winged Foot a few years ago). I considered him soft because of the way he looked (Tiger has always been in prime shape; Phil – that’s a different story).
But the biggest reason I thought Mickelson was soft was the way he handled defeat. It always seemed – at least publicly – that Phil wouldn’t mind losing. He’d crack a couple of jokes (the “I am such and idiot” line is particularly memorable), smile for the camera, and walk off into the sunset with his wife and kids.
Tiger has never been like that. if he loses a tournament, there is no smile. There’s no joking. Tiger just wants to fix what went wrong in time for the next tournament. I related more to Tiger than I ever did to Phil.
But, as I said before, I will root for Mickelson this weekend.
It’s not going to be easy for Mickelson. First of all, The Black Course at Bethpage isn’t a walk in the park. If you can’t keep it in the fairway, you’re screwed (I know – great analysis). It’s twice as hard when you have something weighing on your mind like Mickelson does.
By now, you know the story. Phil’s wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she is getting ready for surgery next month, and the treatment that is required after that. She will not be at Phil’s side this weekend. It will be a little strange to see Mickelson without his wife and kids waiting for him at the 18th green.
I know that I couldn’t do what Mickelson is about to do. You have to have a high degree of mental toughness to play while your wife – the woman you’ve built your life with – is in the fight of her life. No one would have been surprised if Mickelson had decided to skip the Open (as he will do next month when he bypasses the British Open). Many golfers in Mickelson’s position would have done the same thing.
I’m fortunate. I haven’t had anyone in my family who has had to deal with breast cancer. I worked with one woman – The Fabulous Sports Babe – who went through breast cancer over ten years ago. I cannot imagine what is going through Mickelson’s mind as he begins his round today.
But I am rooting for him. And I don’t think I’m the only ‘Tiger guy’ who is.