Seven years ago I had a brief interaction with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and that has been my only meeting with the two golfing greats. Sure, I’ve watched them from outside the ropes, walking in the galleries as they have played and fed off their energy and aura. But, this was a shaking of hands, and then some small talk.
I was part of a media group at the 2015 Open Championship at the Old Course at St Andrews where the sponsor, Rolex, introduced a couple of its global ambassadors to a handful of world media.
Tiger, Phil, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and us gathered upstairs at the Old Course overlooking the 17th green that completes the Road Hole.
We had been told that a meeting was possible, but the time wasn’t confirmed. Rolex sent us off for an hour-long session with Claude Harmon III, who was at The Open as coach of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka. We played a round of golf at the Castle Course, which forms one of the seven public links courses of St Andrews, and is about 3km from the Old Course itself.
Having just finished the round, a sponsor’s representative rushed into the clubhouse at the Castle Course and said we must hurry, no time to shower, ‘Tiger, Phil, Gary and Arnold’ were ready to meet us. We jumped into the waiting car and hurried back to the Old Course.
Minutes after arriving, Tiger and Phil came up the stairs into the room.
It was Wednesday, the day before the tournament started. Both had their caps on, which they took off as they entered the room. Never having seen either that close, I was struck that Tiger seemed shorter than I thought he was from seeing him from outside the ropes. Or was it taller? Basically I felt probably a centimetre taller than him and I’m 1.84m. His bio says he’s 1.85m, so that confused me.
He stretched out his hand. ‘Mornin’! Did you enjoy your round at Castle Course? Man, that’s a tough course!’ Then, to a playing partner in colourful, chequered trousers, ‘Did you have such an early tee time, you didn’t have time to change out of your pyjamas?’ A bit of banter. Tiger was relaxed, friendly, didn’t seem to mind being there.
As Tiger moved down the line to chat with others, Phil stepped forward. He said to the person to my right, exactly what he said to me and what he said to the playing partner on my left in the ‘pyjama’ trousers as he shook hands.
‘I’m Phil. Thank you for everything you do for Rolex and for golf.’
And that was it. Not that there needed to be much more. But it was as if it was programmed into him, which might be understandable given he had been winning pro tournaments since 1993, and in the 22 years since would have attended thousands of such sponsor commitments.
This is not a criticism of Mickelson at all. But there was an overriding sense that he would rather be anywhere other than thanking anonymous people in a corporate room. Which probably goes for most pro golfers. But, for Tiger, it seemed that he was happy to ‘small talk’ golf.
I’ve been thinking of the 2015 experience as we approach the 150th Open Championship to be held at the same venue in July. I have also been thinking of it as the LIV Golf Series continues to divide opinion. And mostly because I can imagine Phil Mickelson meeting another thousand faceless people, saying, ‘I’m Phil, thank you for everything you do for the LIV Series and for golf.’
Maybe he doesn’t want to be there, but he knows who is writing the cheques and for him that’s the only thing worth talking about.
– This column first appeared in the July 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!