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Rory McIlroy: professional golfer and…prophet?

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Tiger Woods (R) of the U.S. speaks with playing partner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland as they walk on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2013 U.S. Open golf championship at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania (Credit: Reuters/Adam Hunger)

In a recent New York Times article titled “Rory McIlroy has the Best Swing in Golf,” Charles Siebert details McIlroy’s rise from a child prodigy to the number one player in the world. Growing up in Northern Ireland, McIlroy’s father, Gerry, was a bar manager at the local golf club in Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland. Rory’s mother, Rosie, worked a night-shift at a nearby 3M plant so Gerry watched young Rory during the day so Rosie could sleep. He would bring the 18-month old to work and then, after his shift was over, go to the driving range where the young boy would sit transfixed, watching his dad hit buckets of golf balls.

Rory’s grandfather, Jimmy, was one of the best players at the Holywood Golf Club and that legacy was passed down to the later generations of McIlroy men. Rory grew up playing golf, able to hit a drive 60 yards by the age of 4. He even became the Holywood Golf Club’s youngest member when he was only 7 years old. He’d go to bed each night with a club in his hands to help reinforce the proper grip.

Rory’s early infatuation with the sport is reminiscent of another one of golf’s greats: Tiger Woods. An even more important and telling similarity is the absolute confidence each has displayed in their careers. That confidence is perhaps best seen in a letter a 9-year-old McIlroy sent to Tiger Woods following the young boy’s victory at the 1998 Doral-Publix Junior Golf Classic in Florida. While neither he nor his family can remember the exact wording, the basic gist of the letter, as Rory’s uncle Brian put it, was “I’m coming to get you. This is the beginning. Watch this space.” When Siebert asked McIlroy about the letter recently, he said, somewhat sheepishly, “A lot of those memories have kind of blurred together…But, yeah, it went something like that.”

While we don’t know if Woods ever received the letter, it has proved to be far more prophetic than anyone could have realistically imagined. McIlroy has joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win four majors by the age of 25, with victories in the British Open, U.S. Open, and two P.G.A. Championships. He is the odds-on favorite to win his first Masters when the tournament tees off on April 9th.

Tiger Woods may or may not be there. His recent struggles have left him a shell of his former self and he is currently working to recover from yet another injury. While his life seems to be getting better off the course, his health has been the primary detriment to any recent golf-related success.

Whether or not Tiger makes it to Augusta next weekend, it would appear that the torch has been passed, just as it will pass once again when the next young star comes on the scene. While there are several lessons we can take from the fleeting nature of success, today I’d like to focus on the need to enjoy it while it lasts. One of the greatest mistakes that we make in life is allowing worries over the future rob us of joy in the present. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”

Worry comes with a cost and, sadly, it is one that’s often unnecessary. In Matthew 6, Jesus commanded his disciples not to be anxious about their perceived future needs because God would provide. That command comes as part of Christ’s description of how a true disciple should live, with the implication being that we can’t fully realize God’s will for today if we are worried about tomorrow. While your happiness and joy are not the primary purposes of God’s will for your life, joy, true joy, the kind that transcends circumstance, will come from living in the midst of that will (Galatians 5:22).

Successes will come and go, but you can find peace and joy when you don’t allow the fleeting nature of those successes to distract you from living out God’s will for the present. So enjoy all that God has in store for you, working alongside him to accomplish his purposes. And don’t let the fears or concerns of tomorrow keep you from realizing the peace and joy of today. As Woodrow Kroll once said, “Concentrate on counting your blessings and you’ll have little time to count anything else.” How has God blessed you today?