Tiger Woods is a phenom because he can do things no one else
can, but there are some things I can do that Tiger can't, like
go to a mall, a movie or a barbershop without attracting a
crowd, even though I won last year's U.S. Open. I proved this
again last week during a 6 1/2-hour layover in Chicago on my way
to Scotland for the Loch Lomond World Invitational and this
week's British Open. With so much time to kill, I took a cab to
a driving range. I was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, sunglasses
and no hat and carried only a few clubs. I bought a big bucket
of balls and, hitting off a mat, knocked quite a few of them
over the fence. After a while, everybody was watching me and
saying, "Man, he's really hitting it good," but nobody
recognized me. I even gave a lesson to a guy who had no idea who
I was. Later, I went over to the putting green, and everyone
left me alone. It was great. Tiger couldn't have done that.
I prefer having a low Q rating, so the first few months after
winning the Open were pretty tough. All of a sudden I was the
one everybody wanted to interview, and I was asked to sign this
and do that. I wasn't used to being the center of attention, and
I let it eat into my practice time. Eventually, my game wore
down. But when Tiger turned pro last August, the spotlight
shifted to him, and I finally had a good stretch of golf from
then through February.
I'm not complaining. The hoopla that comes with winning the Open
may be exhausting, but I'd go through it again in a heartbeat.
I'm just glad I didn't let being the titleholder change how I
handled myself on the course. Friends told me, "Don't worry
about trying to play like the Open champion every time you tee
it up. You don't have to perform for anybody. Go out and do your
own thing." That's what I did, but I can see how trying to live
up to someone else's expectations could make you lose confidence
and think, Hey, I'm the U.S. Open champ. I'm better than this.
Why am I playing so badly?
Having a low profile helps keep everything in perspective. In
January I got my hair cut a couple of days after winning the
Phoenix Open by 12 shots. A woman in the salon told me all about
the tournament, how her boyfriend had bought her tickets and how
she saw Tiger make a hole in one. I said, "Oh, really? Who won
July 20, 1997
She said, "Hmmm, I'm not sure."
Thanks a lot, I thought, though I never told her who I was.
I get treated like that all the time, and I love it. By the way,
if you run into Tiger, tell him I'm at the mall.