Would you rather be Phil or Tiger?

 

Generally speaking, most golf fans fall into two categories -- Phil fans and Tiger fans.

If asked to pick a side, you reveal something about yourself by your choice.

But instead of rooting interest, here's a different question: which person would you rather be; whose life would you rather have?

Given the choice, would you choose to be a Tiger or a Phil?

Both stand out as the best of their profession. Both have fame and fortune. Both are in the midst of dealing with difficult family crises.

Beyond that, the two finest modern champions couldn't be more different. One is driven by a singular purpose that accepts nothing short of perfection. The other is grounded by a sense of balance that keeps his successes and failures in perspective.

For me, the answer to this question is simple. Tiger can have the 10 extra majors and the surplus millions in his bank account, and I'd take Phil every day. Give me the guy who spends mornings playing chess with his kids in a coffee shop or going to the Krispy Kreme drive-thru wearing his green jacket over the guy who hides from the world on his yacht and broods about the horror of finishing in fourth place after a five-month layoff.

It's not even close, in my book. And that was the case even before cancer intruded on the Mickelsons' lives and scandal shook the foundation of the Woods'.

Just watch the two of them interact with the public or deal with their professional responsibilities and the difference is clear. Everything is a burden to Woods, from the media to the fans.

Trying to be more giving of himself in a effort to rebuild his shattered reputation revealed his discomfort with the whole concept of human interaction.

Mickelson, on the other hand, has a gift for it. The smiles and acknowledgments come naturally to a player who understands the source of his blessed lifestyle. He spends hours of every tournament week signing autographs -- whether he wants to or not -- and he engages his fans while he does it.

Mickelson is also famously generous with his good fortune, whether it's contributing to his various foundations, giving to strangers in need or peeling off hundreds to tip the wait staff or locker room attendants. Woods' miserly ways -- beyond his chosen charitable foundation -- are equally as well known.

But what distinguishes them most is their approach to the game.

Woods made it clear long ago that he harbors an inner Lombardi. To him, winning is the only thing. As he famously said early in his career, "second place sucks." He's lived by that credo ever since. Seldom does he offer congratulations to those who happen to beat him, instead bemoaning the things that cost him instead.

Mickelson has endured much more disappointment then Woods. He was runner-up five times in the U.S. Open alone. Yet each time he handles the emotional crush with dignity, poise and generously kind words for the victor. Even last summer at Bethpage Black, when his latest disappointment was augmented by the reality that a few days later his wife would be undergoing breast cancer surgery, Mickelson stuck around to sign autographs before going home to his family.

There was a time when Mickelson used to get ripped for these traits. His smiling in defeat was mistaken for not caring enough. His daring attempts that have at times cost him championships were defined as reckless. His critics often dragged out the silly accusation that Phil's public persona was phony.

We've since learned who the real phony is.

The true faces of each competitor were presented side by side a year ago at Augusta National -- before each encountered their "new normals." Playing together on Sunday and trying to mount furious comeback charges, they each ultimately fell short.

In the immediate aftermath, Woods remained his unyielding self -- expressing disappointment in terse bursts much like he did the year before and the year before that and again last weekend. He spoke of "almost" winning the tournament "on a Band-aid swing." Then he disappeared into the cover of the champions locker room.

Mickelson, however, was almost buoyant on the fumes of the day. He lingered for nearly an hour talking to media and friends, calling the experience "fun" before eventually leaving arm and arm with his wife, Amy.

Before that final round, Mickelson told his wife, "Whatever happens, it's my favorite day of the year."

Give me that mentality every time. Tiger will certainly achieve much more in his career and likely be remembered as the greatest of all time. But at what cost?

Mickelson will happily accept whatever place he carves out for himself among the game's greats with performances like last week's, even if they might come a little less often.

Which life will be more fulfilling? I'd choose Phil.

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Thu, 02/23/2017 - 22:18

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