Tiger and Phil - A Study in Reversal of Fortune Images
Being an avid golfer, I follow the PGA tour closely, especially the four Majors: The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Although the 2013 PGA season is far from over, with the PGA Championship completed on Sunday, the top story line of the year continues to be when, and even if, Tiger will win another major event. Although Tiger has already won five times on the tour this year and is only three behind the all time number of 82 by Sam Snead, the question that keeps dogging Tiger is will he be able to win five more majors to pass Jack Nicklaus?
In 2008 Tiger won the last of his 14 major championships. Since then he's endured injuries, retooled his swing and seen his image of perfection blown to smithereens over Thanksgiving 2009 when his wife discovered his long hidden philandering. Cue the downward PR spiral. Thanks to the multiplier effect of social media, Tiger's image quickly fell out of his control as he lost sponsors, fans and friends as a result. Never considered the most approachable or friendly pro on the tour before these developments, Tiger's image sank deeper. Since then, for the people who never particularly liked how he conducted himself on the course, seeing him fall from the pedestal has been enjoyable. And even though he appears to have gotten his life together and his game has come a long way back, he is no longer the "Invincible Tiger" we knew.
The Yin to the Yang of this story has been the elevation of Phil Mickelson in the public's eye. The lefty has always been the Avis to Tiger's Hertz. He tries hard but has always been number two. It's been Phil's bad luck to play in the Tiger era. Phil has over 40 wins on the PGA tour and five major championships on his resume, but he also has six agonizing 2nd place finishes in the U.S. Open. No other player comes even remotely close to his record. During the time that Tiger was racking up championships, Phil was building a reputation as a talented but flawed player who took too many chances and blew too many opportunities. Like Tiger, his style created an emotional response from golf fans. They either loved him or they didn't like him (hate is a bit strong) because he couldn't come through in the clutch. He was the player everyone wanted to latch on to as a fan favorite, but couldn't fully invest in emotionally with his hot and cold style.
Around the time Tiger was winning his last major, Phil started proving the doubters wrong and rewrote his own image with some positive PR and favorable scorecards. He won a couple more majors, including this year's British open when virtually everyone, including Phil himself, doubted he had the right style to win. At the same time, Phil revealed a more private side of his personality - the good huband and father counterweight to Tiger. When his wife (and college sweetheart) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 he took a leave from the PGA tour to be with her through her treatments. Phil did the same thing later that year when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. More recently, during the week of this year's U.S. Open, Phil flew back home to see his daughter's graduation from 8th grade and then flew back overnight to make his Thursday morning tee time. And so when he was tied for the lead on the final day of the tournament, golf fans everywhere were pulling for him. And they felt his pain when he finished an agonizing 2nd FOR THE 6TH TIME. After that crushing defeat Phil handled himself as he always has, answering reporters' questions with patience and grace. But in a storybook ending, when Phil won the British Open in July and was immediately engulfed by his family in a group hug, golf fans cheered, smiled and many wiped away a tear. His victory and good guy persona brought his image to a new level of acceptance and positive perception across the golf fanbase and beyond.
As a golfer you often hear stories about somebody who played with somebody famous. And every story I've ever heard about Phil is that he is one of the nicest guys on the tour and that his commitment to his family is how it appears on television - real.
So what's the message to this story? Maybe it's if you work hard enough and you're a good person that eventually you will be rewarded. Or, it could be when everyone tells you, "you are the greatest," you begin to believe you are invincible and can do what you like. But for me it's about understanding your image isn't based solely on who you are or what you do, but that it's how you conduct yourself and treat others just as much. Perception is reality. The only thing you can control is what you say and how you behave. If you can do this honestly and with integrity, the rest will take care of itself.