Open Mic

Love in the Ruins: Tiger, Mickelson, and The Masters

Chuck Ross Posted April 12, 2010 at 2:58 AM

A few weeks ago, soon after Tiger Woods announced that he was returning to golf by playing The Masters at Augusta National, I wrote a piece invoking a lot of quotes from America’s favorite Southern son, William Faulkner, about what redemption really is, and how one can obtain it.

It concluded by talking about how Tiger could obtain greatness in life and perhaps, one day, become the person many of us thought he was. Not someone who was flawless, but someone who was able to inspire us by being able to excel through those most old-fashioned of American values: talent and hard work, along with an ability to push himself to his absolute limit, both physically and mentally, no matter what the obstacle.

As we’ve seen in the intervening weeks, it’s going to be a struggle for Woods, both on the golf course and off it. One example: The press conference where he seemed forthcoming one moment and then, oddly, not the next moment, such as when he refused to say why he was in rehab.

As the events of the last few weeks have unfolded, culminating with the playing of The Masters itself, my thoughts have drifted from Faulkner to another Southern writer who is less familiar, Walker Percy.

Percy was trained as a medical doctor who then became a novelist, essayist and philosopher. He was very much influenced by the Dane Soren Kierkegaard. That means Percy—who died 20 years ago next month at age 74—was concerned about issues relating to our existence in terms of things like free will and the choices we make and why and how we make those choices. In other words, the general bailiwick of concepts falling under the term existentialism.

Back in 1971 Percy wrote a very funny, accessible, biting, satirical novel called “Love in the Ruins.” It took place “at a time near the end of the world,” and is set, physically, in and around a golf course.

Much of the action in the book revolves around the main character’s invention of a device he calls a lapsometer. As a reader on the internet, Penn Jacobs, aptly describes it, “the lapsometer measures the degree to which a soul has fallen, the degree of estrangement and alienation it has obtained.” Not only that, but the lapsometer can then heal this lapse.

In other words, a lapsometer can diagnose what most hurts your soul and can then heal you.

One condition it can diagnose is called angelism-bestialism. Now, this’ll blow you away: Percy writes, in “Love in the Ruins” (published almost 40 years ago), “It is not uncommon nowadays to see patients suffering from angelism-bestialism. A man, for example, can feel at one and the same time extremely abstracted and inordinately lustful toward lovely young women who may be perfect strangers.”

Whoa--a name for what Woods was doing before he was even born.

Ultimately, it turns out the lapsometer is not the cure-all it was intended to be.

In other words, there really are no easy answers, no shortcuts in life.

And that was the lesson of The Masters, with Phil Mickelson’s victory.

Mickelson, the man who struggled early in his career with a 0-for-41 record in winning major tournaments before he finally came out on top—which he did when he won his first Masters in 2004.

Then, last year he quit the tour for awhile when his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she is still fighting. Soon after his wife was diagnosed with the disease, his mother, Mary, was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mickelson rarely wins with the ease or domination that Tiger has exhibited in his career. But Mickelson has been someone who has been able to inspire us by being able to excel through those most old-fashioned of American values: talent and hard work, along with an ability to push himself to his absolute limit, both physically and mentally, no matter what the obstacle. And he’s done this by being true to his core values.

What a joy it was to watch this Masters over the weekend, and how Mickelson crafted his victory, starting with his eagle, eagle, birdie on Saturday.

And ending as the golden light of Sunday’s dusk lit that single tear running down Mickelson’s face as he embraced Amy after his victory.

It turns out that the man—and golfer—who we should have been most admiring has been standing in front of us the entire time. It’s just that too many of us hadn’t been looking at the right man.#