Just keep on pressing on

Published 9:44 pm Friday, April 15, 2016

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

For those of us who watch sports, there are some moments you just never forget. Sometimes the moments are exhilarating, and sometimes they are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, the latter applies to the final round of the 2016 Masters.

Twenty-two-year-old Jordan Spieth had a commanding, five-shot lead. He was making putt after putt and appeared to be cruising to his second straight victory in the world’s most prestigious golf tournament.

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As Spieth got ready to tee off on the 10th hole, someone said to me, “There is no chance he doesn’t win this.” To which I replied, “I don’t know about that.”

I’ve watched too much golf in my life. It only takes a few bad shots for the wheels to come off.

For Spieth, the wheels began to come off on the 10th hole, which he bogeyed. Then he bogeyed the 11th hole. But hey, he still had a commanding lead. No one imagined the horror that would unfold on the 12th hole.

Hole number twelve at Augusta National is a lovely little par three. It has stunningly beautiful azaleas as a backdrop, and a creek running in front of it. It doesn’t look difficult, but it is. There is just something about that water.

On Sunday, Spieth’s tee shot hit the bank and rolled back into that water. That was bad enough, but then he had to drop his ball in a designated area and hit again.

And then the unthinkable happened: This player, the consensus choice as the best golfer in the world, “chunked” his pitch and hit a second ball into the water.

Just as a caring human being, you had to feel for the guy. I almost felt sick to my stomach. Spieth’s dream of back-to-back Masters victories was over, but forget about who wins a golf tournament.

This was a person who was suffering profound humiliation and failure, in front of millions of people. It was very, very uncomfortable to watch.

But there are lots of life lessons to learn in golf, and especially from failure. What could we take away from this epic collapse?

After the round, Jordan courageously met the press for questions. He admitted that as he stood on the 10th tee with a five-shot lead, he was thinking, “All I have to do is play par golf on the back nine to win.”

He admitted that he got conservative with his swing. Because he was in a protective mode, he wasn’t following through like he normally would. He was making the classic mistake of playing “not to lose” instead of “playing to win.”

Instead of thinking, “I just want to escape by playing par the rest of the way,” he should have been thinking, “I’m winning by five. I’m going to try to win by more than that.”

Spiritually, we can’t put our lives on “cruise control.” We can’t rest on past victories, or dwell on past defeats. We have to keep pressing forward.

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Press on, friend. And know that God can turn your trials into gold.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.