April 15, 2016

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Golfer showed ‘grace in the face of hardship’ in losing 2016 Masters

Sean GallagherJordan Spieth had a “deer in the headlights” look on his face as he put a green jacket onto Danny Willett on April 10, minutes after Willett had won the 2016 Masters.

The jacket is, in a sense, the trophy for the winner of the tradition-laden golf tournament. It is put on the new champion by the winner of the previous year’s tournament.

Usually a simple task where the attention is fully on the winner, this year it was riven with hard emotions and where TV viewers around the world were surely watching Spieth as much as Willett.

That’s because the 22-year-old Spieth, the defending Masters champion and one of the world’s greatest golfers at such a young age, had a five-shot lead going into the final nine holes of this year’s tournament.

He had just birdied four holes in a row. Everything looked as if he would win his second consecutive Masters in dominating fashion.

As I watched the tournament with my sons, I told them as Spieth walked to the tee at the 10th hole, “He’ll win if the wheels don’t fall off on the back nine.”

But they started to fall off with an errant tee shot on that hole. Spieth bogeyed that hole and the 11th hole, too. Then he came to the famed par-3 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Ga., where the tournament has been played since 1932.

Spieth hit two shots into Rae’s Creek that runs in front of the green, en route to scoring a disastrous quadruple bogey seven.

In less than an hour, Spieth went from leading by five strokes to being behind by three. In the end, he finished tied for second, three shots behind Willett.

So it’s understandable that Spieth looked shocked as he put the green jacket on Willett. He surely expected just a couple of hours earlier to have that jacket put on him for the second year in a row after amazingly leading the tournament from start to finish in both years.

Those hopes sank into oblivion with the two balls Spieth deposited on the bottom of Rae’s Creek.

It might also have been understandable if Spieth would have let his emotions get the better of him when answering questions from reporters after his epic collapse.

But he didn’t. He was a consummate professional. He owned up to his mistakes on the course and expressed happiness for Willett, especially noting that the English golfer had celebrated the birth of his first child about two weeks earlier. That, Spieth said, “was more important than golf. He’s had a lot of really cool things happen in his life.”

Grace in the face of hardship. That’s how Jordan Spieth faced his loss at this year’s Masters.

This human virtue can be nurtured apart from faith. But placing one’s trust in Christ, who embodied this virtue in his own suffering and death, gives it added strength.

Spieth is a Catholic and a 2011 graduate of Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas. In a Catholic News Service article published after he won the 2015 Masters, the school’s athletic director said that the young golfer “is just very genuine. He says what he believes. He believes in supporting others, taking care of others before he takes care of himself.”

Sometimes, we can learn greater lessons from the loser of an athletic competition than from a winner. With all due respect to Danny Willett, that may just be the case with the 2016 Masters.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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