This week at the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods will play for the first time since his historic victory at the Masters, Phil Mickelson will tip his cap until he wears out the brim and John Daly will ride in a cart.
The New Yorkers at Bethpage Black will welcome them as heroes. What is wrong with golf fans?
Woods, Mickelson and Daly are as talented a golf threesome as you’ll find. They’ve combined to win 22 majors, although in much the same way that Ken Griffey and his son combined to hit 782 home runs.
Woods, Mickelson and Daly also could combine to fill out the Seven Deadly Sins punch-card.
Lost in the glowing coverage of Woods’ stunning victory at Augusta National last month was the fact that Woods required a comeback because of his own misbehavior, including a divorce that made public too many prurient details and a DUI arrest in which he was accused of having a variety of drugs in his system.
Aside from jurisprudence, Woods delighted in treating all manner of people poorly when he was the world’s most popular athlete. He had to execute one of the most embarrassing career swan dives in modern American sports history to become anything close to a sympathetic figure.
This week, he arrived in New York for the PGA on his yacht.
New Yorkers love Mickelson because for all their street-wise, world-weary savvy, New Yorkers love to be played to, and Mickelson knows how to play the crowd. Mickelson has finished second in the two previous majors held at Bethpage.
Woods won the U.S. Open in 2002 by three shots over Phil, who graciously waited by the clubhouse to shake Woods’ hand. In 2009, Mickelson finished in a tie for second, two shots behind Lucas Glover.
Mickelson will be feted for smiling at the crowd and making brash game-management decisions. He’ll have the crowd eating out of his golf glove. Fans won’t care at all that he gambles away more money than they’ll ever earn, has been credibly accused of insider trading and putted a moving ball in frustration at least year’s U.S. Open, violating both the letter and spirit of a game that reveres its most important rules.
Like Woods, Mickelson is a man of very few people.
Then there is Daly, who received permission from the PGA Championship to ride in a cart during the tournament because he has osteoarthritis in his right knee. Maybe Dalvin Cook could use that logic if he injures a leg — just ride a cart through the line of scrimmage.
The PGA is making a mistake in allowing a cart to a 53-year-old former champion who has not taken care of himself. Golf is damaging its long-argued reputation as a sport rather than a game of privilege when it offers this privilege.
Woods’ successes are the result of blended talent and obsessiveness. Whatever his flaws, no one outworked Woods during his prime.
Daly is more talented — Woods has told him so. No one has ever combined such prodigious length with such soft hands. Daly won two majors in four years, and then repeatedly embarrassed himself on the course, tapping moving balls, walking off mid-round and devolving into a character who signs autographs outside Augusta National every year instead of having earned his way into the Champions Dinner.
Daly also was once charged with assaulting his wife, in 1992.
As a golfer, even Woods envied (one of the seven deadly sins) Daly’s talent.
Daly has told the story of sitting in the clubhouse at the 2004 Target World Challenge. drinking with friends. Woods was wearing workout clothes.
Daly told Woods he didn’t need to work out. According to Daly, Woods replied, “If I had your talent, I’d be doing the same thing you’re doing.”
Cheer them at your own risk. You might as well cheer Daly’s scooter, too.