*This post was written before Tiger Woods won The Masters in 2019.
After almost a decade of battling injuries and the consequential fallout from decisions he made in his personal life, Tiger Woods finally seems to be turning a corner. His recent play on the course has many thinking he can surpass the dangling carrot of Jack Nicklaus’ major victories record.
While he is nowhere near his “old self,” he also appears much better than his more recent self.
And I will be cheering for him.
Is Tiger Woods a Christian? I have no idea. He has never given any indication that I am aware that we share the same faith. Does that mean I am not actively rooting for him to win and succeed in sports—and in life? Absolutely not.
I am stubbornly loyal to my Detroit teams, but when it comes to individuals, my rooting interest unashamedly falls into the bandwagon category. Steph Curry. Tom Brady. Kobe Bryant. And yes, Tiger Woods. As you can see, athletes I cheer for do not necessarily need to share my faith in order for me to actively hope they succeed.
I fully understand that it is rare for a fan to be neutral when it comes to great athletes. If they are not loved, they are hated. The rooting interest for fans who identify as Christians usually consists of great athletes who express a desire to glorify God, who have not had a “big” moral failure, and who have not spoken out negatively against the President or taken a controversial social stance that provokes one side or the other.
Maybe it’s my desire to be contrarian, but I have a tendency to look past an athlete’s personal life—especially if they don’t identify as a Christian—and just enjoy watching what they do best. And what they do best is dominate in the context of their sport. Let me add a quick disclaimer: I will not be wearing a red polo all weekend. I will not be chanting his name around my house and I will not be crushed when he doesn’t win. I just enjoy watching him succeed.
So, why will I be cheering for Tiger at The Masters? The simple answer is this: I love seeing all-time great athletes play great. I want Tiger to pass Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer ever for the same reason I cheered for Lebron to pass Jordan’s greatness (and yes, he did). I love seeing them surpass those that set the standard before them.
But it goes even beyond that.
What follows are two reasons you might expect a Christian writer to give, and then two others that more accurately reflect why I will be glued to the screen the next few days.
Christian Writer Reason 1: Redemption Narrative
Tiger winning would absolutely be redemptive. The biblical idea of redemption is that the owner of something (or someone) somehow lost possession of that object (or person). The act of getting back what was previously theirs to begin with is redemption. Hollywood borrows this biblical concept all of the time.
In The Natural, 19-year-old Roy Hobbs gets shot by a woman he fell for, ending his career. At the age of 35, Hobbs gets a second chance and becomes a star.
In Hoosiers, Norman Dale leads a high school basketball team to the Indiana state championship after losing a previous coaching position by striking a student.
In Spiderman, Peter Parker neglects to stop a robber, who later murders his Uncle. Parker captures the killer and realizes it’s the guy he neglected to stop. As a result, he becomes Spiderman, the vigilante trying to make up for his mistake.
Who doesn’t love a redemption storyline? If anyone should appreciate a story where someone appears to be down and out, yet comes back from seemingly impossible odds to conquer their own demons, it should be Christians, right?
Tiger winning would certainly fit the redemptive narrative. But this is not the reason I will be pulling for him to win.
Christian Writer Reason 2: Forgiveness Narrative
He has cheated on his wife. He has abused both alcohol and prescription drugs. Plus, he curses loudly on the golf course—which some golf fans may argue tops his list of mistakes! The apologetic argument here is that we need to forgive Tiger. Yes, forgiveness is a biblical idea. But I’m not sure I need to forgive Tiger. He didn’t sin against me. Or you. I can, however, get behind the idea of giving a guy a second chance.
In fact, the foundation of our faith rests on the idea that God has forgiven us through the work of Jesus on the cross—giving us a second chance, and a third, and a fourth…
Pulling for an athlete who is getting a second chance would be another good, Christian reason to cheer for Tiger. But that’s not why I am rooting for him.
Real Reason 1: I Love Great Stewardship
Here’s the thing—I have always cheered for Tiger Woods. I have a deep appreciation for his skill, work ethic, and competitiveness. I love it that he expects to sink 25-foot putts. Woods has always been one of the most physically fit golfers to walk the course.
Genesis 1:27 says that we are all created in God’s image. Everyone has unique attributes reflecting this image and no one’s imaging is more important than anyone else’s.
However, God gave Tiger Woods a body and skill set to steward in the subculture of sports that I find absolutely amazing.
Woods did not get to choose his genetics. God did. God determined how tall he was going to be, how much flexibility he would have in his hips, how quickly he could swing a club without losing control, and steady hands to make putts with majors on the line. The body that God gifted Tiger Woods with is a function of divine preplanning—and he has stewarded that to become one of the all-time greats.
But what if Tiger was lazy with it? What if he settled for just getting by and didn’t work to become better every day? What if he gave up at a young age and lost his mental edge? Woods took the body that God gifted him with and stewarded it to the best of his ability—he stewarded it with excellence. And he continues to strive towards excellence.
Do you know what’s crazy? We are the ones who benefit from Tiger’s endless drive to be the best. We are the ones who get to watch greatness (athletic, not moral) in our lifetime because of his work ethic. I will be cheering Tiger on because I love his drive to squeeze every ounce of talent from his God-given body.
The great irony about Tiger is that true stewardship must go beyond physical training and mental preparation. It must also flow from a personal life that is stewarded with excellence. Had he not neglected that, he would have surpassed Nicklaus by now. But that is another post for another day.
Real Reason 2: I Love the Great Moments that Great Athletes Provide
I love to watch great players play great. It is a beautiful thing seeing a uniquely gifted athlete go out and maximize his gift set when it matters. More excellent than simply being genetically gifted, Woods impressively executes on the biggest stage. And he does it consistently. You know you are watching someone special when you expect greatness, not merely hope for it. And Tiger has delivered time and time again. He has spoiled us with a golfing career marked by excellence.
Tiger’s career up to 2010 is essentially one big highlight real.
Just watch this:
Over the years, I have noticed a subtle shift in how I experience the great moments that sports provide us with. I have moved from the more superficial and generic “That was awesome!” to the more devotional, theological, and appreciative “Thank you God that I was able to see that moment of excellence.” Maybe I am getting sappy as I get older, but I truly am grateful for getting to witness the beautifully unique moments that sports provide.
Psalm 19:1 tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The point is simple: seeing beauty should lead us to attribute it to someone. The beauty of seeing Woods do the things he does—or of seeing any athlete do great things—should lead to an appreciation directed at God. It would be a shame to see the sunset over a mountain range and simply think “Well, that was cool.”
God created us for more! The purpose of every good gift that God has given us—like watching the beauty of a 40-foot putt or a towering drive that goes exactly where it was planned to go—should cause our minds to go beyond the gift and toward the Giver.
I will be cheering for Tiger because he consistently delivers moments that make me ask “Did that just happen?” while reigniting in me a desire for perfection that only God can provide.