Michael Phelps created a stir at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte on Thursday, partly because he’s the most decorated Olympian of all-time, but also because fans couldn’t resist the opportunity to rib him about That Shark.
The 32-year-old swimmer, who holds the all-time record for Olympic gold medals with 23, was the focus of one of the biggest pop-culture moments of the year so far in July, when he lost a simulated race to a computer-generated shark during a Shark Week special on The Discovery Channel.
So it came up more than once Thursday. At the 13th hole, Phelps laughed when fans asked why he didn’t beat the shark.
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But there were also some signs that his sense of humor about the subject was wearing rather thin over the course of the day.
“Michael, it wasn’t a real shark but it’s awesome,” one fan told him. “I like it.”
Phelps’ response: “Yes, it was. If you watch the video, it is real.”
After the much-hyped race aired on July 23, many viewers expressed disappointment and/or irritation about the fact that the advertising campaign for the broadcast seemed to suggest that Phelps would actually be in the water with the shark at the same time.
He subsequently informed critics that they only had themselves to blame.
“You can believe whatever you want,” Phelps said during a length Facebook Live session where he answered questions from the public. “Everything was either presented on air, during multiple interviews that I did throughout Shark Week or the beginning of the show. Sorry you feel that way. For me, this was something I always wanted to do. I was honored to be able to do it.”
At one point Thursday, a fan captured a video of him after someone in the gallery said “That shark crushed you” as Phelps passed. The swimmer seemed less than amused when quickly whipped around to reply, “You should try to swim him.”
Phelps was walking the course with his wife, former beauty queen Nicole Johnson, as they followed the group featuring the last three major winners: Sergio Garcia (Masters), Brooks Koepka (U.S. Open) and Jordan Spieth (British Open.)
It made sense that he’d show up at some point this week: Phelps and Garcia are both brand ambassadors for Omega, the luxury sports watch maker that has been a sponsor of the PGA Championship for seven years now.
The Olympian isn’t the first A-lister to show up at Quail Hollow this week, by the way. On Tuesday, pop star Justin Bieber stole the limelight when he surprised fans by showing up to hang with his pal Bubba Watson and other pros. He also was spotted later that afternoon at SouthPark Mall, and that night at Topgolf.
Meanwhile, if you’re lucky, you might also catch country singer Darius Rucker out and about; he showed up somewhere in Charlotte (it’s not clear exactly where) to do a little singing with pro golfer John Daly, who’s competing this week.