How to deal with fame? Listen to your elders

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Webb Simpson (left) and Bubba Watson have won the last two majors and must handle the increased attention.
June 26, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

Since their victories in the 2012 Masters and U.S. Open, the first two of the season's four major championships, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson have had some time to see both sides of the Platinum Wild Card issued to the winners of golf's most prestigious titles.

Call it the Fame Card. It comes without instructions, carries only a self-imposed expiration date and gives the bearer entree to just about anyplace he wants to go. The couch on Letterman? Done. Throw out the first pitch from the mound at Major League Baseball games? No problem. There's a seat at the corporate boardroom to go over the new Fall line of shoes, clubs and balls. Take your pick of a wide, leather recliner on that Gulfstream-V over there. Courtside seats at the NBA Finals, maybe Wimbledon later this summer. Don't forget the piles of cash for exhibitions and appearances at tournaments all over the world. And that's just for openers.

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Watson, 33, and Simpson, 26, have thus far approached the Fame Card's limitless line of credit with restraint. When the two good friends and Presidents Cup partners exchanged texts after Simpson won the Open at The Olympic Club two weeks ago, Webb asked Bubba what to expect and Watson replied, "You are going to have a lot more fans."

That seemingly bland answer is layered with caution. The short translation would be: get ready for the deluge. Watson should know. He experienced two sea-change events within a week in April when he and wife Angie adopted their first son, Caleb, just before Bubba went and won the Masters with a shot for the ages. He then embarked on a week of fun with a whirlwind media blitz, took a few weeks off, practiced three days in three weeks, signed hundreds of autographs, missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance and the U.S. Open, and bounced back with a second-place finish at the Travelers Championship.

Simpson is learning fast. Last week before the Travelers, he demonstrated he already had grasped one of the most important lessons of a new major winner: listen to your elders.

"I got some emails from older guys who I've looked up to my whole life," Simpson said. "A couple of emails from older golfers that I'm probably going to print out and frame, (from) guys that I've respected so much in so many areas of life."

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Then he named just a few Hall of Fame writers: Arnold Palmer, winner of 62 PGA TOUR events, seven major championships; Tom Watson, 39 TOUR wins including eight majors; Greg Norman, 20 TOUR wins, two majors, 68 other worldwide wins; Hale Irwin, 20 TOUR wins and three majors, all of them U.S. Opens.

This whole informal, pro-bono mentoring program -- whereby a host of golf legends pass on invaluable amounts of experience, encouragement, advice and counsel to their younger peers -- is another of the special things about the TOUR. Jack Nicklaus counsels Rory McIlroy after McIlroy's back-nine collapse costs him the 2011 Masters, and the youngster from Northern Ireland wins the U.S. Open two months later. Back in the '90s, Nick Price told Tom Lehman, winner of the 1996 British Open, to "keep the main thing the main thing -- and the main thing is working on your game and playing golf." Lehman passes this and other thoughts on to players from this generation.

"I think everybody reaches out to guys that they care about to warn them about the things you can fall prey to," Lehman said, pointing out that he avoided chasing the fast, easy money but loaded up on free speaking engagements and charity tournament invitations.

"I was really bad about taking opportunities where you really feel like you're doing some good," he said.

The good news is that young players are recognizing the value of the old wisdom.

"Just guys that are legends of the game that have told me some things that I would have paid for," Simpson said, describing what the priceless messages contained. He singled out Irwin for mention as a golfer he had admired but had never met and did not expect to hear from. And it is noteworthy that one of the game's fiercest competitors and hardest workers enjoys encouraging up-and-coming players.

Irwin, 67 years old and still a viable competitor on the Champions Tour where he holds the record for 45 career wins, discussed the link between old and new on Sunday night. He was between events, a few hours after finishing T-15 at the Montreal Championship and a few hours from leaving for he start of this week's Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship at Fox Chapel Club in Pittsburgh.

He didn't offer Simpson any advice -- "I would never want to counsel someone without their asking," he said -- but just pointed out some similarities in his and Simpson's career and family path.

"It was more of a congratulatory note," Irwin said. "He had won two tournaments prior to his winning the Open and I had won two tournaments prior to my win at my first Open in 1974. His wife is due in August, my wife was due in August. He's a Wake Forest graduate, my daughter was a Wake Forest graduate, and my son went there for a year."

The main point of that message, he said, was "welcome to the U.S. Open club." But Irwin isn't shy about sharing his thoughts about how he maintained a focus and desire that was so laser-like that -- in 1990 when he won his third U.S. Open at the age of 45 -- he didn't merely play the week after his win, he won the Buick Classic at Westchester.

In brief, he stayed balanced in his life, attending to family first, not accepting any opportunities that exceeded what he could "properly handle." His definition of properly handling something was "to keep your game in order and your personal life in order because the two go hand in hand."

It pays to be careful how you play the Fame Card. It comes with some hidden costs.

Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.