Scott Fowler: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson play the fame game differently

Fans surround golfer Tiger Woods after he leaves the 18th green on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 during the Pro Am at the Quail Hollow Championship at the Quail Hollow Club. JEFF SINER – jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Editor’s note: This story originally published in the Charlotte Observer on May 5, 2005.

For once, put yourself on the other side of the binoculars.

What if everyone was watching you? Dissecting your every word for hidden meaning? Craning their necks to see you? Pushing through people to get to you?

There’s something to be said for being rich and famous. There’s also a lot to be said for being rich and anonymous. You can be very good at some things – computer programming or songwriting or banking – and still go to dinner without fear of interruption.

Golf can be one of those things. If you’re a top-30 player on the PGA Tour, you can comfortably win a couple of million each year without a great deal of unwelcome intrusions.

But if you’re Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, it’s different.

The two biggest draws at today’s Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow Club will be scrutinized every minute they are on the course. Fans will gape and gawk. And the two will handle the gallery quite differently, as befits their different personalities.

Mickelson will make eye contact with fans and occasionally toss a word or two (or sometimes even a golf ball) in their direction. His favorite move is the nod. He looks at someone, smiles briefly and keeps going toward his ball.

Woods doesn’t mess with the nod. He walks like a man playing the course alone. His head is down. Depending on his previous shot, his mouth is set somewhere between neutrality and full scowl.

The reason why, Woods said Wednesday, is he has never really grown comfortable with some aspects of his celebrity.

“It still feels a little awkward when everyone is looking at you,” Woods said at his pre-tournament news conference. “That’s something you never really feel comfortable with, at least in my case. I guess it’s one of the reasons why I put my head down a lot. So many eyes are looking at you. I mean, why? I’m just walking.”

It is an odd thing. Celebrities often want to be treated like normal people and normal people often want to be treated like celebrities.

Phil Mickelson stops to sign autographs for fans following his Pro-Am round at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. JEFF SINER – jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Mickelson, though, seems to embrace celebrity more than Woods does. He and Woods took a 3 1/2-week break between the Masters and the Wachovia Championship.

Woods spent much of his spear fishing, scuba diving and staying in the shadows. Mickelson had some down time, but also made the television rounds on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and CNBC. That was partly to promote his new book, “One Magical Sunday,” about the 2004 Masters that gave Mickelson his first major championship.

Mickelson doesn’t like thinking of himself as famous. That somehow helps him deal with all the stares he will get today in Charlotte, next month in Pinehurst and everywhere else.

“When I think of a celebrity, I think of guys who are in movies and in Hollywood, ” Mickelson said Wednesday. “I play golf for a living and I’ve got a wonderful family, and we have a lot of time away where we’re able to just be ourselves and not be interrupted. I don’t consider myself at that level yet.”

Neither man’s way of coping with their fame is wrong.

The wrong way to do it is to go get a couple of DUIs or beat somebody up and then blame the media for causing all the turmoil in your life. Woods and Mickelson appear to be model citizens and folks who would be just fine as next-door neighbors – if you could afford the neighborhood.

But it’s a strange thought, isn’t it?

If you were on the other side of the binoculars, how would you act?

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