Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Choosing the prize over popularity

One had more fans, but the best player got the trophy
It’s not the norm that a sporting event makes headlines not for who won, but for who almost won. Yet that was the case for this year’s PGA Golf Championship.

For the first decade of this century, Tiger Woods was THE golfer. He was racking up victories at a record pace until injuries and personal problems derailed his historic career. It had been nearly a decade since he won a tournament and many fans as well as experts had serious doubts as to whether he would be able to contend, let alone win, a professional tournament.  Earlier this month Woods almost broke through at the PGA Golf Championship coming in second place, and it was this surprising performance that made headlines. In fact, his runner-up finish seemed to get more press than the actual winner of the event.

Watching golf in person is a lot different than most sporting events. Some spectators hunker down at one location and watch as the various players play through, but many choose instead to follow a particular player from hole to hole. Also, the typical golf tournament is played through four days, Thursday to Sunday. On the first two days the players tee-off in more or less a random order.  But on the weekend, the order of play is determined by the player’s score, meaning the players at the top of the leaderboard tee off last and, naturally, finish last.  On Sunday, the final round, Woods’ group was the next-to-last group while the final group consisted of those players ahead of Tiger. The eventual winner came from that final group.

Normally the final group would have the most travelling fans following them, especially if one of the golfers in that group is in contention (which was the case in this tournament. In fact, the leader going into the final round never relinquished his lead). The odd thing about this tournament is that the vast majority of fans were following Tiger, not the leader. The runner-up clearly had more fans than the winner. Despite having fewer fans Brooks Koepka held on to win the championship by two strokes.

As the trophy was being presented to Koepka an irrefutable fact dawned on me – the trophy always goes to the best player, not to the player with the most fans. And that’s true not only in golf but in just about every pursuit.

I think too often we make choices based on how many “likes” or “followers” we’ll get.  We confuse popularity with success. We crave fans more than victory.

Jesus was appalled by those who put their morality on display to be seen by others. Religious people who do what they do to attract more fans, Jesus said, may get a lot of followers but they won’t receive the trophy from God.  The great missionary Paul made it a point to focus on pleasing God, and not people. Paul said the servants of Christ can’t be in the business of people-pleasing.

As Brooks Koepka hoisted that trophy I was reminded of that irrefutable fact that even applies to our spiritual lives - the trophy always goes to the best player, not to the player with the most fans.

Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

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