|OR MOST OF his life, the big picture for Tiger Woods has been the No. 18. Yes, that's the number of holes in a golf round, but it's also the number of career majors won by Jack Nicklaus. It's the most all-time, and Tiger's highest professional goal is to reach and exceed that total.|
For the record, Tiger is at 12.
For Michael Jordan, the big picture was that gold ball. Upon winning his first NBA championship in 1991, Jordan could be seen hugging that trophy like it was his dearest long-lost love.
For the record, Jordan won six gold balls.
For Ted Williams, the big picture was immortality. He always said he wanted to be remembered as the greatest hitter who ever lived, investing his whole worth in the veracity of that statement. And upon his death, his head was preserved in the faint hope -- either his or his son's hope -- that Williams' baseball greatness could somehow be kept alive and maybe even recycled through some sort of future Frankensteinian process.
For the record, Williams is the greatest hitter of all-time, but Albert Pujols is still young.
What these three men have in common, besides their enormous athletic success, is that all three mistook something insignificant for something tremendously important. The little picture was stretched into a big picture in their minds. To paraphrase the NBA's slogan, they lived for this.
Athletic success is a fine and admirable pursuit, yes, but it seems the most successful are the most consumed by the pursuit. That wasn't always the case -- see Nicklaus -- but it is increasingly so in a culture defined by extreme competitiveness but declining perspective.
The commercial that shows Tiger hitting balls in the rain instead of lounging on his couch and watching TV or reading a book is a sad commentary. Achieving the highest goal excels every other priority, and people forget how to just live, or even take a well-deserved rest.
Hard work is good, but it can become an end unto itself if one isn't careful.
Someone like Woods can't possibly be seeing the big picture when his focus is so narrow. I hope marriage and children, if he has any someday, helps the real big picture to come into focus for Woods. But what is the big picture that Woods and Jordan and Williams have missed?
It's that God is so infinite, His creation so vast, that a single man's little self-centered pursuits are like a grain of sand at the bottom of the deepest ocean. They are so worthless and fruitless compared to what God has accomplished and what He can accomplish through man.
Jordan has those half-dozen championships attached to his legacy for years to come. Woods will likely become known as the all-time greatest golfer. Williams is the standard for all baseball hitters. But when such lofty dreams are realized, how permanent is the joy? You always hear the best athletes say that they won't be satisfied with just one championship, that they want to win again. As perhaps Jordan has found out, six won't satisfy you for long, either. A million wouldn't satisfy you.
There is only One who deserves the highest honor and praise. He doesn't care how many golf tournaments you've won or how keen a batting eye you had. He can see a much bigger picture than can man.
For the record, He's never been wrong.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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