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Monday, February 22, 2016

A Champion Losing Friends

It’s February. As in Feb-BREW-ary. Football fans are now in withdrawal. Baseball players are reporting to spring training. The NBA and NHL seasons are getting more serious. The NCAA Basketball Tournament is just weeks away. NASCAR is ramping up. Oh, did I forget golf?

Didn’t mean to. Golf is my Sunday “go to” sport, especially during the winter months when scenes from Hawaii, Arizona, and California make me wonder why any of us live in cold climates. Yesterday was no exception.

Watching the final round of PGA tournament at the Riviera Country Club in the gorgeous southern California sunshine was almost too much to take. Just saying “Pacific Palisades” oozed with warmth. It’s the country club of many Hollywood stars.

However temperamental the reports of those who work on stage or screen, few could top the reputation of yesterday’s champion at the Northern Trust Open. Bubba Watson. And I was cheering for him all the way until the final winning putt dropped.

It seems like Mr. Watson is gaining on a nagging problem. His oft-out-of-control temper. It has cost him in more than one way.

A most telling report on the complexity of this man came out last summer. It was an excerpt from the book Slaying the Tiger by Shane Ryan. Even the title of the piece made me wince, “How Bubba Watson’s Temper, Religion, and Exquisite Game Made Him the Most Divisive Player in Golf.”

The opening sentences set the stage: “Anti-Bubba sentiment has been around as long as Bubba Watson himself, but until 2014, it had largely simmered below the surface. There are very few outlaws in golf, and the players enjoy certain protections from the media, especially on the television side.” But an incident in 2014 drew the most criticism in the golf star’s young career.

It happened at the 2014 PGA Championship. In a practice round, the PGA of America held a long-drive contest. Most golfers enjoyed the moment and even goofed off a bit for the crowd. Not Bubba. When Watson showed up at the 10th tee, he cursed the event as “ridiculous” not just to himself, but to the PGA staff assembled around the hole. And in his anger, he impishly avoided trying to hit a long drive—something he is very good at.

Those who follow golf may not know the details of that story, but they are certainly aware that Bubba has a temper. He is not above caustic words to his caddy. Or criticisms about a golf course. His foul mouth has gotten the best of him while in these moods.

So why do people like him? For a number of reasons. He’s been a very generous man. In his moments of victory, sensing what he has overcome in life, he weeps—genuinely. He treasures his family, including a wife who, while dating, told hm she could not bear children. He offered to adopt—which they have.

Additionally, with a name like “Bubba” and an unorthodox golf method derived from NO lessons, he’s a champion to those of us who golf with all of our imperfections. He’s passionate. And, at times, quite personable.

What admittedly makes him difficult to embrace in the faith community is his stated Christian beliefs. At the same PGA Championship event, Bubba was asked if he cared what people thought about him. He retorted, “Truthfully, no. Because the way I’m trying to live my life, read the Bible, follow the Bible…no matter what I do, no matter if I win every single tournament, half the world is going to love me and half the world is going to hate me no matter what. You can’t impress everybody and you can’t make everybody happy.”

Shane Ryan wrote in response in his book, “It was classic Bubba—reverting to religion, scolding anyone who questioned him, and placing himself above those with the temerity to criticize a man of God. All of which leads to a familiar question: Does he practice what he preaches?”

Does he practice what he preaches? Isn’t that the question by which all Christ-followers seem to get measured? It’s one of the most biting descriptors we fear: hypocrite!

You should read the article I referenced if you want a much clearer sense of how our “walk” impacts our “talk.” And vice versa. Bubba, like many of us, uses Scripture to admonish others. But Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5, ESV)

Christ followers, like golfers, should take this message to heart.

We all need to work harder on our game.

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Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here

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