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The U.S. Open and facing life’s challenges

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Bubba Watson hits a drive on the 5th tee during round 1 at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, University Place, Washington, June 18, 2015 (Credit: AP/Cal Sport Media/George Holland)

Billy Graham once said: “The only time my prayers are never answered is on the golf course.” If you’ve ever picked up a club, you know the feeling. Few sports run the range of ecstasy and exasperation like golf, with the joy of a well-hit shot being completely overshadowed by your next one’s plunk into the water.

Summer is the season of golf’s major tournaments. April’s Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia kicks off the succession of majors that follow in June, July and August. The U.S. Open is this week, with the British Open coming in July and the PGA Championship rounding out the 2015 majors in August.  

The dominating storyline for the U.S. Open this year is the location of the course in the Pacific Northwest. Chamber’s Bay, a Robert Trent Jones designed course, has only existed since 2007. Previously a sand and gravel quarry, the links style course has nearly as much sand as maintained grass. Its location next to Puget Sound also provides dramatic vistas, as well as ever-shifting wind patterns. The natural elements make the course uniquely challenging. The following video highlights some of these key features:

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The players don’t choose the course. They have to play the U.S. Open wherever the U.S. G.A. (U.S. Golf Association) selects it for that year. Therefore, they have to adjust to the specific challenges of each year’s course in much the same way that you and I have to adjust to the various challenges that come to us that are outside our control. Let’s investigate how the idiosyncratic nature of Chamber’s Bay golf course sheds light on how we can learn to better face the difficult circumstances of our lives.

Employ Wisdom

The signature of a links style course like Chamber’s Bay is the absence of trees in favor of an abundance of sand traps and wild grass. Without trees, wind plays much more of a factor and wreaks havoc on players who like to try to “shape” their shots. Another key component of links style courses are their heavily-contoured greens. The undulation makes greens more like putting at a miniature golf course than a normal green. The presence of wind, the prevalence of sand traps, and the daunting nature of the greens all call for players to wisely select their shots. Whereas a traditional second shot from the fairway might call for a 9-iron, the wind coming off Puget Sound may cause the player to think about using a wood to keep the ball on the ground and out of the wind.

The predominant philosophy of life espoused in contemporary culture is embodied in the YOLO acronym: You Only Live Once. We live for the present, trying to enjoy as much as we can while we can. We mortgage the future in favor of the pleasures of the present. But just as a links-style courses require a more patient, adaptive attitude, so life’s challenges require a more balanced, wisdom-centered approach. It’s not that the Bible discourages us from present-tense living. It just tempers it with a long-term view. Psalm 90:12 is instructive, for it calls us to seek “to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Rely on Others

One thing you’ll notice as you watch the U.S. Open this year is how much talking occurs between players and their caddies. Most courses allow players to consult with their caddies merely about wind or shot distance, but links style courses force players to seek help from their caddies about everything from wind, distance, to what kind of shot to use. In a more controlled environment, players will rely more on themselves, but in the ever-changing elements of a links course, they are doomed if they do so.

You are I were not designed to go through life alone. We are social creatures, and we need each other. This is especially true in difficult circumstances. We tend to get so absorbed in our worlds that we have a hard time seeing anything beyond ourselves. Friends help us not only cope with the difficulty, but also remind us of God’s faithfulness and providence in the past and how it gives us strength to walk through the difficulty. A good caddie doesn’t just provide advice to their golfer, but also seeks to build up and encourage the player, especially when things get difficult on the course. Similarly, we need the wise counsel of friends (Proverbs 15:22) as well as the love and support they bring (Proverbs 17:17).

Expand your Vision

The last and final lesson we learn from Chamber’s Bay is a relatively simple one about perspective. The nature of the course means that more than likely every player will have at least one or two bad holes per round. When the ball goes deep into the wild grass, or finds itself in another bunker, it’s easy for the player to get lost in the frustration of the moment and forget about the rest of the round. Similarly, you and I can get so focused on the difficult patches of life that we lose sight of everything else. Gratitude is one of the most frequent admonitions in the Pauline epistles, and for good measure. If you were to find yourself playing Chamber’s Bay, it would be so easy to get so focused on the gnarled, wild grass where your ball just landed, that you’d miss the spectacular view of Puget Sound right in front of you. Golf has a funny way of reminding us of such simple truths.