April 19, 2019

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Seeing redemption on the golf course—and in life

Sean GallagherOn April 13, 1997, Tiger Woods walked off the 18th green at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., into the arms of his father, Earl Woods. Moments earlier, Tiger, then 21, became the youngest winner in the history of The Masters Tournament, one of golf’s most coveted prizes.

It was a poignant moment: a father rejoicing in the victory of his son, whom he taught the game of golf from his youngest days; a son putting love for his father far above the famed green jacket worn by all winners of The Masters.

Last Sunday, 22 years and a day later, Tiger walked off the same green into the arms of his son 10-year-old son Charlie and then his 11-year-old daughter Sam after winning The Masters for the fifth time.

The moment was touching in its own way, primarily because of the struggles that Woods has experienced over the past decade. That period witnessed various personal struggles, including the breakup of his marriage because of his own infidelities.

He also had serious back problems that made everyday life nearly impossible, let alone playing golf at a championship level. Just two years ago, Woods thought his golfing career was over.

But then he finally had the surgery that put him back on the road to being physically sound. By that point though, Tiger was ranked 1,199 on the World Golf Rankings, after having at one time been its top golfer for 638 consecutive weeks.

The last time he won a major championship was in 2008. It was his 14th victory in a major, and many thought then it was only a matter of time that the 33-year-old would break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.

In his golfing career, Tiger has now experienced a redemption that just a couple of years ago seemed impossible.

During the four days of The Masters last week, he kept his emotions in check most of the time, only rarely and in a measured way displaying his trademark fist pump after sinking a birdie putt.

But after sinking the last putt on the last hole to secure his victory, Tiger spread wide his arms, leaned back and let out a roar with a broad smile on his face. He had overcome the struggles of the past several years.

Sports fans the world over, even those who might not like Tiger, will remember this tremendous accomplishment on arguably golf’s biggest stage.

It can also remind people of faith that God’s redeeming grace can work wonders in the lives of people that we might instinctively think are too far gone for his mercy.

That might be the case in our view for ourselves or others we know. But the Gospel challenges us to broaden our faith in God, trusting that he will lead us who have strayed far from the path he set out for us to make a reality in our lives the beautiful vision he has for each one of us.

Whether or not Tiger has experienced a similar redemption in his personal life is not clear. His personal life in recent years has been, well, more personal and private. And maybe that’s for the best.

But the love he showed for his children last Sunday, and for his mother, who was also present, seemed to show that he’s trying to put his priorities in order.

God’s work of redemption can proceed at different paces in various aspects of our lives.

During this Holy Week, when we solemnly celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection which made redemption for all of us possible, let us encourage others when we see them trying to cooperate with God’s redeeming grace and allow that grace to flourish in our own lives as well.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.)

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