My wife and I sat before our televisions, utterly transfixed. Neither of us are particularly into golf, but we were into it that day. We had relegated Tiger Woods to the “golfing dead”-at least as far as ever winning anything in golf again-especially not a major tournament and especially-not the Masters.
Via text and over the phone, we pummeled our son (who is a golfer) with questions, “Who are those golfers that Tiger is trying to overtake to win the tournament? Are they any good? What happens if they hit the ball in the water?”
As a long-time sports fan, I am usually the one who is explaining-to my wife, and others- but, when it comes to golf, I only watch it a few times a year, so now, it is my turn to ask the questions.
The hook for my wife and me-and millions of other people who would not normally look at a golf tournament-was Tiger Woods. About 15-18 years ago, Tiger Woods completely dominated golf-in a way that no one had ever done before or was likely to ever do again. Back in those days, it was almost as if any golf tournament where Tiger Woods showed up, all the other golfers knew that they would probably be playing for second place. Entire golf courses were designed-“Tiger-proofed” was what they called it- to make things harder for Tiger Woods to win-not because he was black and the virtually all-white golf establishment wanted him not to win, but because he was so much better than everyone else.
You know how people used to say that black people had to be twice as good in order to be considered good enough? Tiger Woods was twice as good. And his brilliance attracted people to golf like no one before him.
That was particularly true of black people, who could not always afford the equipment to play golf and were frequently denied the opportunity to play golf-even if they could afford the equipment. So golf was not a sport that had wide-spread appeal to black people-until Tiger Woods came along.
The great irony is that while Tiger Woods connected black people to golf, I am not as sure that Tiger Woods feels connected to black people. He is of mixed descent; his mother is Asian and his father was black. Black people have-generally speaking-“claimed” Tiger Woods. I am not as certain that he “claims” to be black.
But none of that has ever really seemed to matter-especially not at the Masters. Black people, white people, brown people-it did not seem to matter that day; unless you were the relative of a golfer that was in the Masters Tournament or you were playing yourself, everyone in the known world, seemed to be rooting for Tiger Woods to win his first Master in nearly 15 years.
And win it, he did-in a brilliant comeback where he came from behind at almost the very end of the tournament, with a roaring crowd of supporters and his family cheering him on. It was described as the greatest comeback in sports history.
But the truth of the matter is one can only have a great comeback, if one first has a great comedown. And Tiger certainly had a spectacular fall-from being exposed as a serial adulterer-which cost him his marriage-to his body falling apart on him, requiring multiple surgeries and going on pain medication, which led to his arrest on charges of driving under the influence.
His multiple back surgeries jeopardized his ability to play golf, period, let alone at the super-elite level that he had played at one time. His multiple back surgeries meant that some of what should have been his best golf years were devoted to rehabbing rather than competing.
So now Tiger Woods moves into his 40’s; the beginning of middle age for a normal person-the beginning of the end for an athlete. Now Tiger Woods’ biggest opponent is no longer the upcoming, young, hungry golfers-but his biggest opponent that most implacable of foes-Time. Even as great an athlete as Tiger Woods has been, he has to begin seeing the same things that all middle-aged athletes-whether professional or not-begin to see as they cross over into their 40’s: The difference between what they used to be and who they now are. The first steps down that road that ultimately leads an athlete-no matter how great- to go from being a participator to a spectator.
The change is subtle at first-almost unnoticeable. It would be hard to see anyway, but what makes it almost impossible to see is the mind deceiving the body-telling it that it can still do what it always did. The mind continues to write checks that the body can no longer cash-until…that moment.
For a lot of athletes-professionals and the play-sports-just-because-you-still-like-to athlete, that moment involves an injury. Something breaks, something tears, something pulls, something sprains-and the pain and/or the recovery time makes the price of continuing to play too great.
For me, that moment came when my son was in his early teens. I taught him how to play basketball-but I could always beat him when we played. Until that moment; when we played each other and my son destroyed me. He had become too big, too quick and too strong for me. We never played against one another again. I retired to playing things that did not require covering large amounts of territory that one had to cover in order to play-like ping-pong (and I still can beat him in that!).
For years, it looked as if Tiger Woods had had that moment-years ago. But at the Masters, Tiger Woods seemed to be able to-if not, turn back the hands of time, at least make them stop for a little while. He came roaring back to take the lead and win the Masters Tournament. It was a great story-the story of Tiger Woods’ redemption.
Here is another great redemption story. The human race starts off great-with all kinds of great potential. But just like Tiger Woods, the human race made a series of poor choices and the human race had a spectacular fall. There seems to be no chance for a comeback.
But along comes Jesus. He takes our disgrace and gives us grace. He allows Himself to be humiliated so that we can be elevated. He took our shame so that we could receive God’s favor. And by so doing, He allowed us to have the greatest comeback ever. He allowed us to be able to come back to God.
And like Tiger Wood’s story, our story, is all about redemption.