“The Return to Glory”Jim Nantz on Tiger Woods’ resurrected game and victory at the 2019 Masters.
When Tiger Woods stood yesterday over that last three-foot putt, I think the whole world held its breath. In some way, shape, or form, we have all been there.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was in the final round of a golf club championship. I’d only advanced to that level because of the luck of “match play” format, which forgave my regular blowups. On the seventeenth hole, I stood over my own three-foot putt, poised to win against a woman much better than I was. Then, this ran on loop through my head: “I can’t be the club champion. I’m not good enough.” Needless to say, I missed. On the next hole, same putt, same thoughts. This time worse: “When you dribble off the tee, people are going to say ‘She’s the club champion’?” Guess what happened? I missed again. On to sudden death and a concession (on my tenth sand trap shot) to the woman who deserved it.
Looking at Tiger yesterday, I felt empathy. I had been there in golf, and, with much less at stake, in life. I texted with a feminist friend, someone unlikely to be in Tiger’s camp. “I’m rooting for Tiger,” she said. #metoo.
But why? Is it that we all want a comeback story? After winning 79 tour titles in his first 18 years as a pro, Tiger had hit a proverbial leaderboard desert, and had gone without winning a major since 2008. He had spent much of the last three and a half years struggling with pain, recovering from multiple unsuccessful surgeries. Pride and personal shame had taken their toll after deviant behavior and public scandal defined his world. Some of these things were within his control, some were not. Given the magnitude of his transgressions, we might suspect he had a complex of superiority and invincibility after realized wealth and power had gone to his head. (Hard to feel sorry for a billionaire. But we did.)
So what made yesterday one of the biggest moments in the history of golf? Possibly the fact that golf is more of a game of concentration than coordination. It is about the human psyche, involving much more than perseverance and prowess. Mostly, it’s a game about respect: for tradition, for nature, for the opponent, and, as we saw today, for our human nature, in all its imperfections.
After the downturn in his personal life, Tiger connected most deeply with Buddhism, the religion on which he was raised. He had a meditation practice, and probably could not have come back without it. His Thai mother taught him self-reliance and independence and took him to the temple growing up. His strong, military-trained father pushed him hard. This unique combination helped shape him, as did the faith he came to have in himself.
“I don’t believe that human beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws,” said Tiger.
“Buddhism teaches that a craving of things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught,” he said.
That’s the true nature of compassion and forgiveness, isn’t it? Letting go of our anger to see the light in another human being, and in ourselves. We often miss that last part. I am not suggesting all Tiger’s behaviors were okay or that others weren’t hurt in the process. But these facts and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive.
Mindfulness is forgiveness, and non-judgment, too. And whether the letting go of anger and letting a guy find his way back is more a gift to Tiger or to the rest of us, we don’t know, just that it is right. And it feels good. Thank God for grace.
With many a doubt, and much anticipation of how he’d finish up, the world waited and watched and breathed yesterday as Tiger took things one step at a time. It was almost a parable, befitting this Holy Week. In the end, after trips to the top of the world and plummets to the bottom of a pit, Tiger persevered and found himself back on top, thanks to his faith in himself and his presence of mind.
After he sunk that last putt on 18, and there had been a bit of celebration, Tiger slipped on his fifth Master green jacket. “It fits,” he said. And the whole world exhaled.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”