For years it seemed Tiger Woods wasn't human. No flesh-and-blood mortal could be so focused, so driven, so talented, so much better than everyone else.
Phil Mickelson? He was plenty human. Talented as he was, he constantly found a way to self-destruct at the most important time as we all have.
These days the opposite is true, on the course and off.
Suddenly, the formerly machine-like Woods seems more like someone most of us can relate to, plenty mistake-prone in golf and life, while Mickelson has set the bar so high as a golfer, husband and father that most of us can't even see it.
Woods curses on the golf course. Most people I know do, too.
Woods slams his club to the ground in petulant fits. Ditto for many of the golfers I know.
Woods lied and cheated and caused his life to bottom out. Sadly, I know a few who've done all of that as well.
On the other hand, I know no one who walks around the golf course with a permanent grin, looking in awe of all the good going on around him.
I know no one who says, "it was my fault" when a seemingly perfect shot goes wrong.
And I certainly know no one who flies from New York to Arizona and back on the eve of the most important (not to mention most physically and mentally challenging) event of his or her professional year just to attend a child's school event.
Wish I did. But who does any of that?
Every time you turn around Mickelson is caring for his sick wife and mother or taking his kids for a dream vacation or sneaking a hundred-dollar bill into a glove he's signing for a fan or saying something nice about (and never blaming) his caddie or being candid, charming, funny and honest during interviews, and simply being the greatest ambassador a sport could possibly have.
Oh, yeah, and also fashioning a resume that's arguably among the top 10 in the history of a very old sport.
You think it's tough trying to be the greatest golfer ever, trying living up to all of that. Tiger might one day catch Jack Nicklaus' record for majors. He'll never catch Phil in categories that mean a lot more.
It isn't just Tiger who can't live up to Phil. Who among us can?
I feel pretty good about myself as a husband and a father and a human being when I compare myself to Tiger.
But compared to Phil? As someone who can't even get home from work on time with a five-minute commute, as someone who has zero ability to hide (at various times) frustration, anger or contempt, and as someone who has never once handed a hundred-dollar bill to a stranger, Mickelson makes me feel pretty inadequate indeed.
We've all learned that just because we watch athletes on the diamond or gridiron or court or course, we don't really know them as people. But Mickelson certainly seems skeleton-free. About the worst thing you ever hear about him is that he's a know-it-all. (Finally, something about him I can relate to.)
In the week since Mickelson shot his Sunday 66 to win the British Open I've heard him interviewed many times and he's said the same things repeatedly, including how much more special his triumph was made because he could share it with his family and his longtime caddie/friend "Bones."
Don't let anyone convince you Woods will never win another major. He will. But he probably won't have any family or his longtime caddie/friend "Stevie" waiting for him near the 18th green.
Woods seems very much human these days. Yet the only thing anyone should want to emulate is his drive to be the best (providing it's kept in a healthy perspective).
Mickelson doesn't seem human at all, on or off the course. Don't try to pull of his otherworldly flop shots or his 300-yard 3-wood.
But everything else? Yeah, try to emulate everything else. And good luck with that.