Why Phil Mickelson’s Victory is so Important

In case you missed it, Phil Mickelson is the 2010 Master’s champion.  And if you did miss it, then you missed one of the most memorable and touching sports moments in recent history.  The Master’s is the annual golf tournament that makes all others pale in comparison; it is every pro golfer’s dream to wear the “green jacket”, the emblem of a Master’s champion.  Today that jacket is on the shoulders of Phil Mickelson – and rightfully so.

Mickelson’s victory comes in the midst of the ongoing sex scandal of Tiger Woods.  His own demons, most notably the continuing fight of his wife and his mother against the enemy of breast cancer, have been largely overshadowed with the darkened affairs of Woods.  As a friend of mine recently put it, “these problems were of no fault of his own.”  Here are a few points of observation and the reason why Mickelson’s victory is so important.

First, Christians should be ready and willing to forgive Tiger and accept his numerous apologies.  It is the epitome of hypocrisy for Christians, whose very name points to the fact of our own forgiveness, to ignore the command to forgive others.  Scripture is clear on our response to others who are in need of forgiveness:  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).  I a not suggesting that in our act of forgiveness we by default become huge Tiger Woods fans.  But accepting Tiger’s apology and forgiving him of his illegitimate behavior is not something we as Christians should simply consider.  It is something we should do.

Second, we should understand that our own forgiveness of Tiger will not change Tiger.  Nor will a world-wide sex scandal.  Ultimate change, lasting change, permanent change comes from the heart.  It never comes from humiliation.  It never comes from embarrassment.  It never comes from not wanting to be caught again.  It never even comes from intellectually wanting to change.  It always comes from the heart.  This is why in Scripture the heart is always referred to as the spiritual-spring of every person.  When people truly change, it means their heart has changed.  We have already seen evidence of this from Tiger’s first tournament back on the tour.  His temper, his attitude, his inability to truly be a good role model were once again on display by the time he reached his 42nd hole.  He managed to keep it together on will power alone for the first couple of days.  But eventually what is in anyone’s heart will rise again to the surface.

Thus, the victory of Mickelson is incredibly important at this time in golf history.  The battles that he is enduring far outweigh the self-inflicted wounds of Tiger.  We are talking about the life and death of the two people Phil loves most dearly.  Yet, in the midst of those battles and in the midst of shanking golf shots in the dead center of trees and bushes, Phil remained a role model.  Professional athletes will of course get upset at times because they want to win.  But even when tempers arise, we can tell a good deal about the heart of a person by the way they handle their frustration.  I just simply believe, after watching Phil play four days battling both the course at Augusta and the looming situation with his family, that this man has something special.  That makes this an important victory.  Our children need to learn that sheer talent, being the best in the world, and having all the world’s money will not always bring you success.  Sometimes the most difficult roads that are paved with concern and hurt bring us our greatest success. 

Just ask Phil.  He’ll tell you.       

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