Monday, April 12, 2010

Tiger v. Phil and My Masters Recap

This was a weird Masters for me.  Normally, I make arrangements so that I don’t have to preach on Masters Sunday.  But this week was different.  Being the second week of our new church, obviously I could not afford to take a few days off to watch the action.  In years past, I have taken vacation during Masters week, and I have grilled up my favorite foods to eat while watching my favorite sporting event of the year. 

But this year, I watched when I could, while I was working on other things.  I had up on my laptop and would check the scores every hour or so to see the highlights that they are now posting on the site.  The site is incredible, by the way.  They post video of every notable moment in any of the rounds of the leaders.  Amazing.

Of course there was a lot going on this week, but this Masters will remain a special memory for me.  Not just because my favorite golfer won, but because it is a little microcosm of how my own life has been shaping up for the past couple of years.  This week had a very clear, Phil vs. Tiger feeling all week.  If I had a chance to post my pre-Masters picks, Phil would have been my top pick.  It was wishful thinking, but I do know that he is always in contention here and plays the course as well as anyone.  I also would have chosen Anthony Kim, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker as my other top picks.  These were obvious picks because all of them have been playing great this year. 

I, of course, have loved Phil since his ASU days.  He was kind to me when I was just a nerdy fan.  In fact, I can say easily that he went out of his way to be kind to me, and even remembered me when I saw him at later times. 

Since he was in college, he was accused of being a manufactured personality.  Because of his college accomplishments (NCAA titles, US Amateur and even winning a PGA event as an amateur) he was in the local spot light often and was constantly doing interviews.  They were comparing his potential to Nicklaus and calling him the “next big thing” in golf.  He handled EVERY interview with a smile, looking people in the eye and calling the interviewer by name.  His persona was, for lack of a better term, “Magoo.”  He appeared to many to be trying too hard to be polished and professional.  Many reacted to him as they would a politician. 

People referred to him as a “know-it-all” and claimed that he was insincere.  There were stories of PGA pros talking about him behind his back and making fun of him.  I have often found myself defending Phil to other people.  I think that people worried that he was going to be like Don Johnson’s character on Tin Cup, a guy who sounds great in an interview but is rude when the cameras are not on him.  Of course, I will always be a loyal fan.  I have defended him when people have bad mouthed him, and I have loved him even when he made horrible on course decisions like in the 2006 US Open. 

But let me tell you why I can do this.  First of all, I have first hand experience of his kindness.  There were no cameras rolling when he allowed me to sit on the edge of a practice bunker watching him hit hundreds of sand shots, while he talked to me.  He gave a friend and I his table at an ASU burger place, and remembered us a couple of months later during a practice round at the Phoenix Open. 

Here is what else I know… He signs autographs after every round.  He does it for at least a half hour, every day of a tournament.  He does this rather than practice, rather than go out to eat or party.  It is part of his work day.  He schmoozes and thanks corporate sponsors and volunteers of the event.  He does this to the point of sounding like a kiss-up.  He is involved in charities all over SoCal.  There was a story a few years ago that Phil has never commented on, where Phil put the daughter of a former NFL player through college because the NFL refused to agree on an injury settlement with her father who was going bankrupt due to medical bills.  This story was a minor blip in the media that was not commented on by Phil.  He was completely behind the scenes. 

People still accuse him of being less than genuine.  But let me ask you this.  For the players that say this, do they sign autographs for a half hour daily?  Do they go out of their way to support charity and create their own?  Do they try to handle an interview with grace and class, thank the sponsors and schmooze the volunteers?  I’m not sure if there is ANY other pro who goes so far out of his way to do these things.  If you accuse him of doing this stuff for his own marketing purposes, you have to admit that:  HE STILL DOES THIS STUFF!  He could do half as much and still market himself as being a charitable athlete who cares about the fans.  As far as I am aware, there is no PGA pro who has cared about the fans this way since The King himself, Arnold Palmer. 

This Sunday, at one point in my message, I said something to the effect of: “For the most part: You can tell what a person’s core beliefs are based on their actions.”  Based on Phil’s actions, he appears to be a person who cares about others and who will go out of his way to be kind to them. 

This week, the spotlight was squarely on a person that I have seen quite clearly as Phil’s Foil for most of his career.  Certainly, like any Phil fan, it is clear Tiger has to be the antagonist to the Phil story.  I don’t say this in any judgmental way.  Taking Tiger’s indiscretions out of the discussions, you can see that Tiger for his entire career has veiled his life in a secrecy.  He does not sign autographs during his rounds.  He is always focused on winning a tournament and quite clearly sees the spectators as distractions on the golf course.  Their on-course demeanor could not be different.  Phil acknowledges the marshals and volunteers on the tee boxes and smiles and tips his hat to his fans throughout the round.  Tiger ignores them.  Obviously, he wants to be in his zone, he wants to focus on winning and hitting every shot perfectly.  When he hits a poor shot, he swears and throws clubs at times.  A few years ago, I actually had a tivo’d moment in a tournament where Tiger was walking off of a green and blurted out a four letter word.  In the background you can see this group of 3 10-12 year old boys who were shocked to hear the word and then glare at each other with silly grins. 

Last year, he hit a poor shot at a tournament overseas and threw his driver 30 yards, almost hitting a group of spectators.  Certainly, he didn’t mean to hit anyone, and he doesn’t mean to insult anyone; he just is very passionate and does not care enough to control his temper.

This week was the supposed week of the beginning of Tiger’s redemption.  It was his first press conference with real questions and his first tournament.  Of course, Elin and the kids were not there, and whether things are being healed in that relationship, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to subject Elin or the kids to the spotlight that would be on them at a tournament right now. 

Here is what I saw from Tiger this week.   I still have not heard anyone say it, but… In his press conference, when he was asked what the most difficult thing about the past 5 months has been, his reply was not: “the crap that I put Elin and the kids and my mom though.”  What he did say was: “it has been difficult to take a good look at myself.”  and “the harassment of me and my family” from the paparazzi and media.  At least, a half dozen times he referred to:  “all that I have had to go through.”  There were separate mentions to him being sorry for putting Elin and the kids through the media ringer, but never did he say anything about what he put them through by being so blatantly unfaithful to them. 

He also talked about toning down his emotions on the course.  He even made it sound like a big bummer to his fans that because he would not have the fire of anger, he also would not be as exuberant with his displays of victory.  If you watch that interview, you may notice that this comes off as a slap in the face to Nicklaus, Watson and Palmer who have all said that Tiger needs to control his swearing and club throwing on the course.  He never said that he believed that those things were wrong, what he did say what that he would not do them anymore. 

Tiger does not owe me anything.  He can be as big of a jerk on the course as he wants, and it does not really make a difference to me.  There are golfers who are worse on the course than Tiger.  But is it interesting to you that Tiger keeps referring to the man that his parents raised him to be, and the man that Nicklaus and Watson think he should be; but never does he refer to the man that he should be because of himself or his faith.  “Buddhism was the faith that my mother instilled in me.”  What about you Tiger? 

Tiger, did not tone himself down on the course this week. He was caught at least 3 times swearing on camera. 

It was great that Tiger was warmly received.  Fans obviously want to be fans of his redemption too, as do I, by the way.  I would love to see him get his family back and be able to show that he is changing by acknowledging the fans and controlling his temper.  Certainly he is not there yet, and that makes it a bit sad and pathetic to see Tiger back on the course.  I’d love to know that when he wins next, it will be with a life that he has worked back into order rather than a game that he had forged into shape.  But oh well. This is the difference between Tiger and Phil in my mind anyway.

This past year for me has been a journey of walking from the fake to the real, from the passionless to the meaningful.  I have been learning what really matters.  I left a place that valued appearances, and am now forging a place of our own that values people.  I was in a place where people “spun” their own truth to make themselves and their ministry to look better than they might have otherwise.  I now feel like I am in a naked place, a place where the things that do matter are the things that should matter.  People and their stories matter.  I was in a place where good things were done, more so that we could talk about them than for any other reason, and now here I am in a place where doing good things is the point, not just the appearance. 

I don’t know why, but when I saw the camera shot of Phil’s wife Amy, who is so weak from her cancer medication that she can barely make it out of bed to the course, arrive near the 18th green.  Phil didn’t know if she would be strong enough to be there.  For me seeing her emotions and tears as her husband drained a birdie putt on the final hole to finish with a three shot lead was a scene of perspective.  Seeing them hug after he finished his round summed up, not only a great tournament, but Phil’s career and TIger’s struggle.  It also was a great bookend for my last couple of weeks and really couple of years.  It seems like the fake, took a backseat to what was really important.  For once, in media, in sports, family and perseverance was a bigger deal than soundbytes and hype. 

Very cool Masters. 



Some side notes:  did you notice that Jim Nantz was almost silent as they showed most of Tiger’s shots?  In my opinion Nantz is a great sportscaster because he tells the best story, he points out what is really important and pivotal, whether it is the big star or the little guy.  Even though they showed almost every shot that Tiger hit during the round, Tiger was not the story yesterday, and I wonder if Nantz didn’t want to make him the big deal when Anthony Kim and Choi were the real challengers for most of the round. 

did you see Tiger’s post round interview?  Pretty weak stuff.  “I came here to win, so I am disappointed.”  No acknowledgment that Phil played great and was a great champion?  No acknowledgement that Phil’s victory might mean a lot to Amy and his mom who are battling cancer?  huh?

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