Yesterday marked the opening of the famed Masters golf tournament at Augusta National and, more precisely, the official return of Tiger Woods to the PGA Tour.
Augusta National is a beautiful slice of the American South, but for lovers of the game, it’s more than just a picturesque course. In fact, it’s been called golf’s Garden of Eden. “If there’s a golf course in heaven,” Gary Player once remarked, “I hope it’s like Augusta National.” But then he added dryly, “I just don’t want an early tee time.”
How four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods will ultimately fare against the competition is anyone’s guess. (He shot a first round 68.) Given the personal drama and dysfunction of this past winter surrounding his marriage and family, I can only wish him well. Regardless of how he plays, you can be sure that his return to the game will spell big ratings for ESPN and CBS this weekend. Americans love a good story, and a comeback of this size and scope should generate plenty of interest.
It’s my sense that most fans, though disappointed and saddened to see a star fall from favor for marital infidelity, really do believe in giving Tiger Woods a second chance. Billy Payne, the Chairman of Augusta National, is one of them. But to read some reports, you’d think Mr. Payne was the one guilty of personal transgressions.
During a press conference Wednesday, Mr. Payne read a prepared statement and addressed the matter of Tiger’s heralded return to the game:
“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 he 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.
“Is there a way forward? I hope yes. I think yes. But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change. I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing, but would settle for his smile.
“I hope he can come to understand that life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who bring joy to the lives of other people. We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here tomorrow in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner, but this time, with a significant difference from the past. This year, it will not be just for him, but for all of us, who believe in second chances.”
Journalists have labeled these comments as “mean-spirited” and in “bad taste,” even going so far as to derogatorily qualify Mr. Payne as the “moral voice of the Masters.” In response, I’d like to ask a simple question: Have we gone absolutely and completely mad as a culture?
I find Mr. Payne’s comments to be both gracious and realistic. Since when is it in bad taste to encourage responsibility and hold stars to respectable and widely held moral standards? Billy Payne spoke with an empathetic and compassionate tone, and I applaud him for doing so.
In some ways, the response to Payne’s comments reminds me of the visceral reaction we received to our Pam and Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad and subsequent print advertisement campaign. In one we were celebrating a mother’s choice to carry her baby to term. In the other we were suggesting that every child is deserving of good parents. For promoting these respective messages we received considerable criticism—criticism that even went so far as to convince the NCAA to pull the ad itself.
I’d like to add my voice to Billy Payne’s endorsement of second chances. Why? Not because we’re deserving or good enough—but because our Lord is the God of second chances and a Savior who first forgave us.