Did Spieth lose the Masters or did Willett win it?
There is something mystically magnificent about the Masters. The history and tradition echo through the course. Even the most casual of golf fans are swept into the excitement hanging on every stroke of Sunday afternoon. Year after year it produces sports history and 2016 was certainly no different.
Jordan Spieth, who Robbie, Todd and I talked about in this week’s Weekly Wisdom, had a 5 stroke lead as he came to the tee box for the 10th hole Sunday. Unfortunately for Spieth, who had been leading the pack the entire tournament, the lead evaporated as his play deteriorated and Danny Willet came on strong. Eventually Willet won the 2016 Masters, but Spieth’s fall is how the 80th Masters will be remembered.
In an article that appeared on golf.com Alan Shipnuck wrote, “Upstart Englishman Danny Willett slipped on the green jacket with a flawless final round, but the 80th Masters will be remembered as the tournament that Jordan Spieth threw away.“ He’s right. I mean, honestly, when I sat down to write this blog post on Friday morning after the Masters I couldn’t even remember Willet’s name, but I did clearly remember that Spieth had blown a 5 shot lead.
Competitors, whether they are athletes or coaches, can’t choose the way the world will remember them. Like it or not, we are all at the mercy of the media. Willett played the round of his life shooting a bogey free 67. Shipnuck describes his 8-iron approach shot on the 16th and putt to that followed as “the shots of the tournament” but it seems like no one is talking about those shots. I’ve heard a lot more people discussing Spieth’s shot into the drink on the 12th hole than I have Willett’s shots on the 16th.
Why we enjoyed watching Spieth fail
For the Christian competitor the implications of the media’s fascination with Spieth’s demise is twofold. First, we’ve grown into a society that enjoys watching the demise of others more than we enjoy watching others succeed. This is pretty sick and twisted of us, but I think there is a biblical reason for it. We’ve become a people that struggle to celebrate the success of others because we have become a people who are extremely insecure. Generally speaking, we’ve placed our hope, value, and dignity in what we can accomplish or acquire in this life.
When our hope, value, and dignity are found in the things of this life we are building the foundation of our lives on sandy ground. Jesus warns us in Matthew 7 that when we do that the storms of this life, like blowing a 5 stroke lead on the back 9 in the Masters, will destroy our life. When our lives are built on shifting sands and the foundation we have built is constantly cracking and breaking we begin to relish in watching the same thing happen to others. Why? Because it brings the “great” ones back down to our level. Spieth’s demise on the back 9 makes us all feel better about ourselves because it shows his life isn’t immune to the shifting sands anymore than ours.
The Gospel frees us to celebrate the success of others
The believer in Christ, whose hope, value, and dignity, are not wrapped up in the things of this life, but in the finished work of Jesus Christ has no problem celebrating the success of others because someone else’s success has no impact on the believers hope, value, or dignity. The believer can finish first or second or tenth place and rest assured it has zero impact on his eternity or standing with God. Not only that, but the believer is quick to empathize or sympathize with competitors like Spieth who have experienced a great fall.
We aim to please God rather than man
Second, it’s a good reminder that our ultimate audience as Christian competitors isn’t the media and fans nor are we striving for human approval. One of my favorite verses in this regard is Galatians 1:10:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant Christ.
To understand the concept Paul is teaching the Galatian church we need to take a minute to put ourselves in the shoes of both Spieth and Willett. If you’re Spieth and you’re serving God rather than man all of the negatively publicity you’re getting this week doesn’t impact your identity. You know that you are who God says you are and not what the media is saying about you. Do you have some swing issues to work through? Yes. Do you need to work on the mental aspect of your game? It would appear so. But you’re not the guy who gave away the 80th Masters. That’s who the media says you are, but it’s not what God says you are.
What if your Danny Willett? If you’re identity is rooted in who the media says you are than you’re just the guy who shouldn’t have won. You’re nothing more than the lucky one who Spieth handed the Masters to. Again, that’s not who God says you are that’s who the media says you are.
Who does God say Spieth and Willett are?
So who does God say Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett are? I don’t know either of them personally so I can’t speak to their faith or lack of faith in Christ, but I do know that before God all of us are members of one of two types of people. The first type of person is the image bearer living in a fallen world whose heart is wicked and filled with sin who has never received Christ as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for their sin. That type of person is destined for Hell no matter what they do or don’t accomplish in competition unless he or she receives Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The second type of person is the image bearer living in a fallen world whose heart is wicked and filled with sin who has received Christ as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for their sin. That person is destined for Heaven no matter what they do or don’t accomplish in competition because they have received Christ as their Lord and Savior. Do you see how similar and drastically different those statements were? Your identity before God isn’t defined by who the media says you are it’s defined by your faith in Christ.
We have the same problem Spieth and Willett do
Finally, it’s important to recognize that most of us don’t have a national media following. Most of us compete in front of dozens or hundreds not thousands or millions. But we all know that we can get as wrapped up in the opinions of those dozens or hundreds as much as the pros can get caught up in the opinions of their thousands or millions. It would be a mistake to say, “Man I’m glad I don’t have to deal with all that stuff like the pros do.” We all face these issues and it’s only through the Gospel that we can truly be set free.