Tiger, Billy Payne, and Heroes

Even if, like me, you aren’t much of a golf fan, you are probably at least vaguely aware that today marks the beginning of the Masters and the return of Tiger Woods to the golf course. Woods fall from grace has been well documented and now that he has completed his rehab and conducted 2 press conferences he says he’s ready to resume his professional life. All eyes will be on him this weekend to see if he can maintain his dominance of the sport as well as to see if he has been changed by all he’s gone through.

Yesterday Billy Payne, the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Course, used his annual pre-tournament press conference to take a shot at Woods.

“Finally we are not unaware of the significance of this week to a very special player, Tiger Woods. A man who in a brief 13 years clearly and emphatically proclaimed and proved his game to be worthy of the likes of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. As (Tiger) ascended in our rankings of the world’s great golfers, he became an example to our kids that success is directly attributable to hard work and effort.

“But as he now says himself, he forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility. It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here; it is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”

A Couple of Thoughts…

1. Did Tiger disappoint you? Really? Disappointment is a feeling that comes when your expectations haven’t been met. If Tiger disappointed you, what expectations did he fail to fulfill? Did you think that because he hits the golf ball with amazing power and accuracy that he was a man of great character? Did you think that because he has made insane amounts of money through golf and endorsements that Tiger was a good husband and father? Billy Payne’s claim that Tiger “disappointed all of us” indicates that he thought that great athletic skills translated into the skill of living a great life.

In fact the opposite is more often true. In the Pensees Pascal discussed three realms of life: the physical, intellectual, and spiritual. It was Pascal’s contention that excellence in one realm usually stunted growth in the other realms. In one of his shortest phrases Pascal wrote, “Pious scholars are rare.” Or as Thomas Morris writes in the excellent book Making Sense Of It All, Pascal could have just as easily written, “Physically adept scholars are rare.” Of course there are exceptions to this (see Myron Rolle).

All the way back in 1993 Charles Barkley argued that athletes shouldn’t be role models. The Nike commercial in which he said, “I am not a role model” raised the ire of some. But Barkley had a point when he asked, “A million guys can dunk a basketball in jail; should they be role models?”

2. Are Billy Payne and the Augusta Golf Club really in any position to scold Tiger Woods? This is the same club that only allowed a token African American into its membership in the early 90s as a result of the Shoal Creek/PGA controversy. Augusta National still doesn’t allow women to become members. Now this is a private club so I favor their legal right to exclude whomever they want from their club. If you don’t like their policies, then don’t join. But their exclusion of people based on race and gender makes it a little difficult to listen to their moralizing about Tiger’s problems.

3. Billy Payne said about Tiger “…our hero did not live up to the expectations….” True but not surprising. I don’t know that I’m anyone’s hero but it’s still worth noting that I don’t live up to my own expectations much less anyone else’s. Does Mr. Payne live up to his own expectations? The only perfect heroes live in comic books and the television. In the real world all we have are flawed “heroes” who struggle with the same sins that the rest of us do.

Of course there is one hero who will never fail you. There is one role model who will not disappoint. His name is Jesus and he died for sinners like Tiger Woods, Billy Payne, you and me.

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