Jesus, Tiger Woods and Winning

Verla--head onSports reporters are already in overdrive in advance of Thursday’s 2011 PGA Championship tournament in Johns Creek, Georgia, speculating whether Tiger Woods has any chance of winning his 15th major title.

Americans seem to have an obsession with winning—constantly measuring who’s on top and who’s not, who’s in and who’s out?  We worship position.

Woods hasn’t won a major title since the 2008 U.S. Open, so his prospects are uncertain, given how his own position has changed dramatically in the last three years.

First, there was the shocking sex scandal and the subsequent loss of his family in a $750 million divorce. Then there were the unrelenting injuries, followed by nine straight tournament losses and a three-month sabbatical, in an effort to regroup and heal. Recently, there was the ugly breakup with his long-time caddy.

A far different Woods commanded headlines in 2008. He entered the 2008 U.S. Open ranked #1 in the world and was an expected shoo-in for his 14th major title. Then the unimaginable happened. In the last round of regular play, he found himself tied for the lead with a genial 45-year old golfer named Rocco Mediate, who had played the PGA circuit for 20 years without ever winning a single major. The tie forced a playoff round the next day, followed by another round of sudden death play, which Woods finally won.

What I found interesting was not how Woods managed to win, but rather how Mediate handled the loss. A sportscaster shoved a microphone in Mediate’s face and asked how it felt to have come so close, only to lose…again. The smiling Mediate looked incredulous. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “It was the greatest experience of my life! I ‘held my own’ for 91 holes against the best golfer in the world!”

Mediate would love to have been the guy who beat Tiger Woods in a sudden death playoff at the U.S. Open, but he was no Tiger Woods and he knew it. Finishing second to his idol was about as good as it gets.

There was another golfer at the 2008 U.S. Open who understood a thing or two about position. It was Jimmy Henderson, an AstroTurf salesman from Ohio, positioned #156 out of the 156 players in the tournament. When the San Diego Herald-Tribune asked Henderson how he felt about being dead last, he said matter-of-factly, “That’s where I belong.”

He landed in the tournament because of luck. He shot a hole-in-one in a qualifying round, earning the last coveted slot. Henderson knew he didn’t belong in the tournament at all, but if you’re invited to participate in something beyond your wildest dreams, you don’t worry about your position. You’re just glad to be included.

That’s how it is when you have a relationship with Jesus. It changes your mind about winning and position.

You may have spent your whole life trying to be # 1. Then Jesus comes along and says, “Follow me.”  It’s hard giving up that top spot. Inevitably, people will say, “How does it feel to be no longer calling the shots in your life?” You may be tempted to believe somehow that makes you a loser, to which I say, Are you kidding me? Tell them with confidence, “I get to hang close to the Son of God, the Savior of the world! It’s the greatest experience of my life!”

Today Tiger Woods is ranked # 30 in the world of golf, Rocco Mediate ranks # 324 and Jimmy Henderson isn’t even on the list. Me? I’m still hanging close to Jesus and it’s the best position in the world.

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