When the world's top golfers tee off Thursday at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY, in the last major tournament of the year, many television viewers will be looking forward not only to the excitement of another close finish - like the British Open last month - but to another display of courtesy and fairness among the players.
After 20 years of covering the professional circuit as a broadcaster, I can confirm that the pro golfers I've met really are thoughtful guys. Despite the prize money and the endorsements they strive for in major tournaments, they wouldn't even think of taking advantage of another player or breaking the rules.
This was to some extent confirmed during the British Open - so fearlessly won by a PGA tour rookie, Ben Curtis. Englishman Mark Roe, a European tour veteran, who hadn't won a tournament in nine years, was in the lead as he completed his third round. With a good final round, he'd be in a position to win more money in four days than he'd earned in most of the 18 years he'd spent on the circuit. But he and his playing partner, Jesper Parnevik, mixed up their scorecards, unintentionally signed the wrong ones, and were both disqualified. No appeal.
More amazing even than the circumstances that led to this innocent mistake was the way Roe responded to his disqualification. Called to the microphone before he'd wiped the sweat from his brow, he announced calmly: "That's what rules are there for. To protect the game. I learned a lot about myself today. I had a great day. It was a real thrill. And I'm going to think about that rather than the disqualification. I'm not going to walk away with a negative, because it's been a great week. I'll sit and watch [the final round] tomorrow, but I'll be with my family." Talk about priorities! - and grace.
As I heard those remarks, I couldn't help thinking of some challenging and incisive words in the New Testament of the Bible that grow more special to me with each disappointment I face. God said: "My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness." Then the Apostle Paul wrote: "Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness" (II Cor. 12:9, Eugene Peterson, "The Message").
For me, Roe's graciousness showed that when you recognize your limitations or acknowledge your mistakes, you don't have to leave it at that. A humble admission of your weaknesses can lead to a heartening affirmation of God's strength. It can deepen your worship and your reliance on God for pathways to effectiveness, never relying on your own energy, effort, or talent.
I've found that in the measure that people understand God's purpose for their lives, they gain fresh perspectives on the ordinary - and extraordinary - experiences of life. Every occasion presents them with an opportunity to grow closer to God and to draw upon His strength and wisdom.
The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote: "Every trial of our faith in God makes us stronger. The more difficult seems the material condition to be overcome by Spirit, the stronger should be our faith and the purer our love" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 410).
I believe this includes the reassurance that when disappointments come along, there is a way anyone can avoid being knocked off balance, and instead see clearly what's really important and what's not. It is by trusting God's authority implicitly, and by making sure that our love for God is so pure that we retain not even a glimmer of doubt about His constancy, goodness, and effective activity in our lives.
This approach brings with it the ability to be gracious in victory and defeat. No one has to win a contest to prove he or she is worthy to be named a son or daughter of God, a joy to be with, or, in Mark Roe's case, an unprotesting loser and good father. There is extraordinary freedom along the fairways of faithfulness and purity - whether or not there's prize money at stake, whether or not anyone is keeping score.