SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Phil Mickelson received so many back slaps, fist bumps and hearty "ataboys" for his "sacrifice" at the Fry's Electronics Open that those unfamiliar with PGA Tour golf could be excused for thinking he'd just pulled a Pat Tillman and signed up for the Army Rangers.
Everywhere Mickelson went at Grayhawk Golf Club, the earnest praise flowed like rum at a Lohan family reunion.
"Thanks, Phil! Thanks, Phil! Thanks, Phil" a steady chorus of fans, tournament officials and Grayhawk workers repeated, often one after the other. Mickelson would smile and do that Phil head bob, the effect making him look like one happy, bloated bobblehead doll.
So what great feat of humanity did Mickelson perform to collect more love than Leonard Nimoy at a Trekkie convention? Surely, there's a cat rescued from a cactus who's forevermore a Lefty backer? Something?
Mickelson simply worked two whole days in late October, deigned to play a Fall Series golf tournament in Scottsdale - the most golf-friendly city in the world and one of the most celebrity friendly in the Western Hemisphere. Yes, the standards for "great deeds" have plummeted faster than Britney Spears' career trajectory.
This isn't a specific knock on Mickelson, who seemed plenty genuine in talking about his love for the people of Scottsdale. Rather, it's a reflection of just how unbelievably wimpy PGA Tour players have become in general and how easily the public's bought into it.
The idea that pro golfers need more time off than George W. Bush and a German banker put together is now pretty much accepted as fact. Call it the Tiger effect. Now most successful PGA players spend less time touring than Barbara Streisand.
This makes Mickelson playing in a (gasp!) fall event almost as noteworthy as LeBron James wearing a Yankees lid. He's only here because Grayhawk has been one of his longest-running sponsors, and still his presence is seen as some great show of character.
You don't need to look far to discover how ridiculous that is. Check out the LPGA Tour, where professional golfers still act like they actually want to play golf. The women pros play more events and whine much less about it than their richer male counterparts.
Women's No. 1 Lorena Ochoa will play anywhere anytime and often does. She's racing toward well over 25 tournaments played for 2007 at a time when Tiger Woods has already called it a year at 16.
This isn't all about Ochoa, a freak of competitive furor, and Woods, a freak of painstaking competitive planning, though. Take out the respective No. 1s and the gap between the men and women pros' time-off needs are still significant.
Paula Creamer's played 22 tournaments, and she's not planning a shutdown. Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia's sitting at 19 and seemingly very content.
Even more than the sheer numbers, the difference in attitude between the sexes on extended playing time reveals a huge gulf. Remember how the FedEx Cup schedule produced more kvetching from the PGA Tour guys than you get in an average episode of The Surreal Life?
Four weeks in a row? Good God, Timmy, you have to be kidding us!
The LPGA, on the other hand, crammed three of its majors into an eight-week summer span that included two other tournaments of note - and no one said a word. Heck, 44-year-old Laura Davies who, will never be confused for a middle-aged Suzanne Somers workout devotee, played six of those weeks and had no trouble with it.
"Sure, it'd be nice to have a bunch of time off between big tournaments," Davies said. "But we're all sort of used to it. It's golf. You just go out there and play."
There's no crying in women's golf. Because it's all on the men's side.
You'll find no shortage of opinions offered in tournament crowds for this sudden toughness gap. "Women are tougher when it comes to pregnancy, taking care of kids, dealing with pain," Arizona vacationer Theresa Bunch said, laughing as she strolled Grayhawk. "Why should golf be any different?"
Part of the difference in the PGA and LPGA players' attitudes toward their schedules can be traced to simple economics. The men make a lot more than the women in pro golf, and the smaller LPGA purses encourage golfers to keep playing to bolster their bank accounts.
Ochoa's enjoyed the most lucrative earnings season in LPGA Tour history, amassing more than $3.3 million in prize money. And still as often as she wins, as much as she plays, Ochoa trails Tiger by more $7 million in tournament earnings in 2007.
That - and Tiger's powerful example - have propelled the "wussification" of the PGA Tour. When you first hear Tiger talk about how he only wants to play tournaments when he feels he's at his best, when he knows he can win, it sounds almost noble.
In fact, it's anything but. Can you imagine a major league baseball pitcher saying he's only going to take the mound on nights when he has his best stuff? Or Tom Brady telling everyone he needs some Me Time in midseason?
Tiger's attitude goes against one of the basic tenants of sports: pushing yourself when you're not at your peak, overcoming fatigue and the long grind of a pro season. It's helped turn male pro golfers into a bunch of Stuart Smalleys on the fairways.
It even has fans still congratulating Mickelson for just having shown up after two uninspired days and a missed cut.
"I think it's just a mindset," world No. 8 Rory Sabbatini said. "Anyone could play more with no ill effects if they put their mind to it."
Of course they could. You only have to look across the golf world to the women's game to see golfers who understand what grinding it out means.
Toughness? Sorry, that doesn't live on the PGA Tour no more.
October 22, 2007