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Lessons From the Masters

Humans — particularly of the American variety — will knock you for a loop now and then. They seem down; they seem out — licked, run over, beaten to a pulp.

Then lo! Then behold! They pull off something big and improbable, of who’d have-thunk-it dimensions — just the way Tiger Woods did in Augusta, Ga., to the world’s ongoing, and well-merited, acclaim.

You’re never licked until you think you’re licked, and maybe not even then. That’s our lesson for today, if not for the entirety of our time on the planet. It’s a huge and timely lesson. And we shouldn’t shrink from thanking two modern cultural encumbrances, big-time sports and big-time television, from conveying the message.

A seemingly down-and-out champion, celebrated as maybe the best golfer ever (a bit of a stretch, I think), showed he wasn’t by any means washed up. No, sir! It was, for Tiger, a matter of keeping on keeping on: working, working, working; trying, trying, trying. Victory ensued at last. Concerning Woods’ Palm Sunday triumph, an exuberant newscaster used the word “redemption” — giving the feat some unexpected theological coloration.

Let us not push this redemption parallel unduly far. Still, we can do with regular reminders that defeat and humiliation are not the inevitable ends of life. We only think they are, in these times of immense, sometimes overwhelming, pessimism and emotional disarray. The melting of the glaciers! The collapse of democracy! The opioid crisis! The rise and rule of China! Aaarrgggh! Lemme outta here!

The winning of major golf championships is not, and should not be regarded as, one of Life’s Supreme Goals. Did Aristotle play golf? Did George Washington break away from Valley Forge for a restorative round or two? Hmmmpff!

Yet golf is the milieu Tiger Woods has chosen for the display of his abilities and ambitions. What he overcomes in the doing of his job, and what strength of character he brings to the doing — these are the relevant features in our narrative.

One response to bad circumstances is whining and moaning. A more prepossessing response, long characteristic of a people famous for coping with fires, floods, starvation, wars, and bankruptcies, is to keep acomin’, however uncertain the footing. As Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire sang it: “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again!”

Americans, it goes without saying, are good at starting all over again. Or anyway once were. War, and slavery, split the country asunder and physically ruined an entire region. “Gone With the Wind” — no sentimental paean to lost causes of any kind, never mind what non-readers of the book might imagine — magnifies the gumption and effrontery whereby Scarlett and Rhett, living up the track a piece from the future site of the Masters, survived and overcame. The Great Depression knocked Americans off their feet. They arose to rescue the world from dictatorship.

In life, as my sainted mother was fond of observing, wryly: “It’s just one ‘D’ thing after another.” Accordingly, you take whatever it is and deal with it. It’s the American way — the Woods way. I never regarded Tiger, in his golf machine days, as made from the finest steel over forged. There is no way, nonetheless, not to recognize the steel as high-grade American. Woods strove, he worked, he fought for what he wasn’t going to let someone else take from him. He kept acomin’.

We are currently enmeshed in one of those cycles of pessimism that seem part of the human condition. Nothing, as many Americans see it, goes right during the Age of Trump. As other Americans see it, nothing could possibly go right without Trump, whom, good golly, we could lose in two years’ time to Miz Warren or Pete Boot-edge-edge.

Whoever runs this place after 2020, Americans of all stripes will do well to look around, consider the challenges and the materials at hand — and get on with it: no whining, no sniveling. It’s not the end of the world to lose. It’s the end of the world, surely, not to care.

William Murchison is writing a book on moral restoration in the 21st century.

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