Chuck Ross

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

Apr 12, 2010

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.#


  1. Bravo…for Phil. Tiger was…but may never again be that man he once passed off to us as squeaky clean and bright. Some day he may catch the Nicklaus golf record…but he will never catch the man…Jack or Phil…even as Don Corleone once said…”…you can never be a real man if you don’t spend time with your family”…Phil continues to immpress with his game and his values.

  2. I am very impressed by an author writing about TV who quotes Faulkner and Walker Percy. As a book review editor for a church publication years ago, I assigned the Percy book for review. If you write about human nature, it doesn’t go out of date.

  3. May I respectfully disagree? Ross’s writing is pretentious, self absorbed and master of the obvious. Read his two articles back to back and you will see that he a non-golfer who just loves to hear himself spout about a subject with which he is most unfamiliar.

  4. I loved – LOVED – this essay. I feel the same way about Phil Mickelson. I wanted him to win the Masters with every fiber of my being. Then I cried when he did. It seemed like a morality play being staged at Augusta, and the only proper ending was that Mickelson would win.
    I know, golf is not morality, it’s a sport. But I would have felt utter repugnance if Tiger Woods had won.
    I had never been particularly interested in Phil Mickelson in the past – he’s not mesmerizing like Tiger is, and he doesn’t seem to have that gritty resolve in the clinch. Too often, it seems his talent exceeds his drive to win.
    Maybe I was wrong about that!
    So many quiet heroes have emerged in golf in the past couple of years – Tom Watson at the Open in 2009, Rocco Mediate at the US Open in 2008, etc etc.
    I don’t think Tiger Woods will EVER rise above this scandal. I mean, he may well regain his stature as a celebrity, if he continues to dazzle on the greens, as we are a forgiving society. But I think at his core, he has to be lacking some fundamental “right stuff” to have ever gone so far astray. His behavior was so far beyond the pale, I think you could describe him as a sociopath. Someone actually incapable of true empathy – but who learns to simulate it because he knows it’s expected of him. Had he just not gotten married, and enjoyed himself being sexually promiscuous, nobody would think ill of him. But he was a complete hypocrite.
    I think the proof of the pudding will be when/if his wife divorces him. My guess is, the second he is divorced, he will go right back to that promiscuous lifestyle.

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  7. I absolutely agree with the article.Phil Mickelson definately deserved to win. Tiger Woods, eh, well there was that.

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