Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Consolation and Desolation of the Masters

Sports fans everywhere had strong reactions to the 2016 Masters. Insert given headline here: 
  • Colossal defeat by Jordan Spieth
  • Donald Trump calls out Jordan Spieth for choking at the Masters (you can't be serious, right?). 
  • Jordan Spieth's Reflection after Historic Masters Defeat
But that's not how I see it. As a Catholic, I aim to view life—especially sports—through a different lens. One that is referred to at the Catholic Imagination. It upholds the understanding that there is more to life than meets the eye. With that vision, here is my first of a few posts to come on what is my favorite sporting event.

Catholic spirituality is characterized as a both/and worldview of the sacred. It is not "either/or." God's presence can be encountered both in church and on the field. Christ is not either in the poor or the marginalized. The Lord hears the cries of the poor and those of the number one golfer in the world. With this outlook, my take away from the Masters is no different. I think it's fair to say that Danny Willet won the Masters and Jordan Spieth lost it. It's not an either/or proposition.

Willet, the number twelve player in the world going into the 80th Masters, didn't have a single bogey on Sunday. Spieth essentially had four of them on one hole. Willet finished five under par, and Spieth actually tied for second with Lee Westwood, shooting two under.
It wasn't hard to see Spieth struggling—emotionally—as he put the jacket all golfers covet onto this year's winner. It was different than the Spieth we saw on the 18th green of the PGA Championship; Jason Day out and out won that match. Spieth conceded this truth when Day nearly plotted a 20 foot putt into the hole for birdie. Spieth saw it and gave the thumbs up. That's a wonderful sports moment: to witness two athletes battling it out only to see the opponent on the losing end recognize and appreciate the greatness before him or her. We saw shades of that greatness on Sunday in Spieth, but we saw more of them in Willet. Both/And.

Catholic spirituality is also rooted in the principle of sacramentality; that is "Finding God in all things." For St. Ignatius, this included the good and the bad; God is with us, not separate from us in consolation and desolation. I saw both on Sunday. My students wanted to know the top three moments of the Masters. Appropriately so, each one serves as an example of Ignatian spirituality.

Consolation: My friends and I decided that we would sit in the stands alongside the 16th hole for most of the final round. This commitment allowed us to see the field come through. These stands served as perch above the green of the 15th hole, known as "Firethorn." The second hardest hole on the course, it was interesting to see how golfers approached this bad boy. Those same seats provided a fun line of vision of the 16th hole—par 3—known as "Redbud."

I have always heard that Sunday's pin placements are more favorable to golfers to make Sunday at the Masters that much more exciting. The placement of this 170 yard hole didn't disappoint. We never saw a bogey on it. However, we saw a whole lot of birdies and pars and two eagles. How's that? Shane Lowry hit a hole in one. 

I've written about it before, but when a golfer hits a hole in one, everyone wins. It is an incredible feeling. You feel as though the golf gods have given you this precious gift. The joy is more than audible, it's palpable. It's electric. Golfers, caddies, fans—all are high fiving one another.

One of my favorite parts about the Masters is the echo of the crowds. When a golfer nails a hole in one, it has its own cadence that rings at a volume that is noticeably louder and stronger. It has to! As Lowry approached the green, the fans stood to clap and cheer. When he went to the pin to remove his ball, another round of cheers followed. 

Lowry held the ball as though he were about to throw it into the crowd, only to place it in his pocket, head down and shaking "no way." If he were in fifth grade, he might have yelled "psyche!" He kept the ball. He should: a hole in one at the Masters, it's not as good as it gets, but it's pretty close.
But an hour later, my friends and I decided it was time to follow the last group: Jordan Spieth and Smylie Kaufmann. My friends were getting concessions and using the restroom; I decided I would stand by the tee box of the 16th hole. Personally, this is where I prefer to be. I like to watch the flight of the ball and on a par 3, you can see it's entire path. I wanted to see the 2012 US Open winner Webb Simpson tee off. A devout Christian, Simpson's story has come up in my course. For some reason, I decided I might as well stay to watch Davis Love III, Simpson's partner hit too. Wouldn't you know it: another hole in one. I am fairly convinced I will never see two holes in one in the same day. I hope I am wrong.

Ignatian states that 
Spiritual consolation is an experience of being so on fire with God’s love that we feel impelled to praise, love, and serve God and help others as best as we can. Spiritual consolation encourages and facilitates a deep sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness, mercy, and companionship in our life. In consolation, we feel more alive and connected to others
Is it a stretch to say that a hole one can facilitate consolation? I think not. If we are to believe in sacramentality—finding God in all things—then an amazing golf feat is a good place to start. In that moment, all were one. I felt so fortunate to be a part of that experience. In a tourney of intense competition, at this moment, everybody who shared in that experience won.

Desolation. I only saw Jordan Spieth play on the 7th hole. We watched his second shot, from the rough onto the green and then followed him up to that green to see him nail his birdie putt. We decided to leave because we wanted to watch the back nine on television. I remember thinking "He's got this one in the bag. I'm so happy he's the winner." But a hour later, I heard someone say "he hit it in the water again." I didn't understand. I thought to myself, "they are probably seeing a replay of the same shot." That wasn't true. I wanted the bleeding to stop; it didn't. Into the bunker. He holed out; a quadruple bogey.
It's nearly impossible to recover from a shot like that—mentally, emotionally and mathematically. I had some faith in him, we all did. But I also saw the struggle first hand that he had carried all day. 

When Spieth failed to birdie on 16, the momentum changed. He didn't on 17 either. In fact, he shot for bogey. As he carried himself to the final hole, the cameras were already showing an ecstatic Danny Willet hugging his caddie. He had been on his phone with his wife, who had given birth to their first born son but 8 days prior. In the face of Spieth's desolation was Willet's consolation. Doesn't seem fair does it.

Ignatian also states that 
Spiritual desolation, in contrast, is an experience of the soul in heavy darkness or turmoil. We are assaulted by all sorts of doubts, bombarded by temptations, and mired in self-preoccupations. We are excessively restless and anxious and feel cut off from others. Such feelings, in Ignatius’s words, “move one toward lack of faith and leave one without hope and without love." 
It's not a stretch to say that Spieth carried doubt and self-preoccupation in his ability on Masters Sunday. The real test will be to recognize the desolation, seek help and grace and work towards consolation. 

The moment of true defeat, at the conclusion of the 18th hole, I saw the only moment that brought a tear to my eye on the Masters Sunday. Jordan shook Kaufmann's hand; the round was complete. He and Michael Greller had to make the long walk through the fans into the to submit his scorecard. Greller who was walking behind Spieth, extended his hand onto the back of his shoulder and pulled him close to him. 
I've always believed that physical intimacy—a hug, touch, kiss, etc. has great power because it says what words do not. I've replayed many times why this moment got to me....and I know it's because of the coach in me. I walked beside my athletes and shared in their defeat. I've wanted to take responsibility for it! I've felt as though I have failed; I have been rendered speechless. What can you say to an athlete you believe in at a moment like that?  What should you say? There is nothing to say. But that gesture, far from an awkward hug or false embrace said it all. To me, it said, I know what you are carrying right now. And I know it's different for you because the team is you. But I've got your back (and your bag!). The secret to life is walking with people who have your back...and carry your bag.

Reading more about consolation, I realized what Ignatian writes is true. It says,"spiritual consolation is experienced when our hearts are drawn toward God, even if this happens in circumstances that the world regards as negative." The 2016 Masters proved that and much more. It never disappoints. 

Photo Credts
Spieth loses

Willet wins
Davis Love III
Quadruple Bogey

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