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The British Open, bunkers, and bogs

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland plays a shot out of the bunker on the second hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the final round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, July 22, 2012 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Golf is an incredibly demanding sport. It’s hard enough, physically, to hit a tiny ball into a small cup several hundred yards away with trees, sand, or water in the way. But mentally it’s even harder. It takes roughly 3 hours to finish the traditional 18 holes, and most of that time is spent in an internal war. You hit a good shot, and your confidence is high. But then you hit a bad shot and you question why you are paying so much to go through so much pain. Isn’t this supposed to be fun? But then you hit another good shot and your confidence is back. It’s this roller-coaster of emotion that makes golf such a challenging sport for both amateurs and pros.

This week the best male golfers in the world are playing the British Open.While there are 4 major tournaments each year, the British Open is unique among the majors because of the difficult conditions of the British courses. Watch for just five minutes (long enough, for some, to induce them into a nice nap!) and you’ll see the difference in the British courses versus American courses. The British courses are much more wide open, with less trees. That means that the wind plays a much bigger role. Also, you’ll notice vast swathes of tall, unkempt grass right next to the closely cropped fairways, along with 6-8 foot deep bunkers.

These obstacles provide many embarrassing moments for the world’s elite golfers. It’s fun, as an average golfer, to be able to watch the world’s best go through the same struggles you go through in your rounds. It makes them seem a bit more human. I remember one of the most iconic moments in British Open history, when Jean van de Velde, who needed only a double-bogey result on the final hole to become the first Frenchman to win the Open since 1907, proceeded to hit errant shot after errant shot. He ended up in a waterlogged bog, where he famously took his socks and shoes off in order to go down to find his ball and see if he could hit it out. He took a drop instead, finished the hole with a triple bogey, and lost the tournament in a playoff.

Whether it’s deep bunkers, gnarly grass, or ominous bogs, the British Open provides many blood-pressure-rising opportunities for golfers. I think it’s interesting to watch how each golfer approaches their ball after they’ve hit it into one of these traps, though. The good ones will slowly take in the scene, calmly assess their options, and find the best way forward. On the other hand, the more inexperienced players often rush these difficult shots in an effort to just get out of their tricky spot that they wind up, like van de Velde, in increasingly difficult positions.

So often when I’m in a difficult place in my life, the first thing I want to do is just get out of it. I don’t want to go through the pain and struggle of whatever particular trial it may be, so I look for the easiest way out. Maybe you’re like me. Nobody wants to go through hard times. We’d rather spend our lives in the fairway than in the rough. It’s only human nature to want to flee from whatever pain we’re going through.

But sometimes our human nature gets in the way of what God wants to teach us. Sometimes, in our rush to just get rid of the pain, we miss out on what God is trying to show us. I don’t know about you, but my darkest moments have been the times when God has taught me the most. In every single difficulty, God has constantly revealed His love, His grace, and His goodness to me in ways that I could never have imagined if I had merely been in an easy place in life. That doesn’t mean that those times weren’t incredibly painful and that I always felt God’s presence, but as I trusted more of myself to God, He continually proved Himself faithful.

I saw a tweet this week that perfectly summarized how God can use difficult times in our lives to reveal His love, grace, and mercy to us the most. Christian rapper Lecrae tweeted: “A friend once told me that in hard times instead of trying to get out of them, see what God wants you to get out of them.” I started thinking about how so often my focus is getting out of difficult times instead of digging deeper into God and asking Him to teach me and show me more of Himself. When it really comes down to it, it’s about surrender. Am I ready to trust God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s plan for my life instead of trusting in my own faulty wisdom? Am I ready to fully surrender to God?