What sports stars can teach us about being in the rough
As I was driving early one morning to play golf at Massereene in Antrim, I listened to Archdeacon Stephen McBride on the BBC's Thought For The Day.
He gave a short account of his own recent experiences of the ups and downs of golf, and likened this to life itself. The point he was making is that God is with you during both the good and bad times in life.
On that particular day, my round of golf was so poor that had I prayed to God for help, I am sure that He would have doubled up with laughter at my antics on the course.
Happily, however, golf is only a game, but to some people it is almost a religion, like sport itself. There is no doubt that modern society is obsessed with sport, and this summer the British and Irish have had much to remember, including the Lions' triumph in Australia, Andy Murray at Wimbledon, and another Brit – this time Chris Froome – winning the Tour de France.
There were, of course, the bleak times including Rory McIlroy's implosion at the Open Golf championship at Muirfield, and the endless speculation about the future of the highly-paid Wayne Rooney. As a Manchester United fan, I could not care less what he does, because I am tired of the endless speculation about transfers in a game where the top stars are paid obscene wages, and in a world where one in eight people goes to bed hungry every night.
There are some sports – and particularly football – where people often behave badly, and it was sad this summer to observe a top Test cricketer refusing to walk from the wicket even though he should have done. Even worse was the attitude of those sports writers who refused to condemn an action which was clearly not cricket.
However, there were some encouraging examples of restraint, dignity and generosity in sport that were object lessons in good behaviour.
I think, for example, of Brian O'Driscoll who behaved with the utmost dignity when he was dropped from the Lions' team for the last, and vital, test against Australia.
To the amazement of most rugby fans and commentators including several former Lions, the chief coach Warren Gatland dropped O'Driscoll from the bench as well.
This decision will rankle among Irish rugby followers for many years to come. O'Driscoll's total exclusion from the final game was an insult to one of the great servants of rugby, but this true Lion of the game enhanced his reputation through commendable public restraint.
Another good example of grace under pressure was that of the tennis player Novak Djokovic who gave Andy Murray a tough fight on his way to the Wimbledon title, despite the huge pressure from the home crowd rooting loudly for the Scotsman. At the end the defeated Djokovic's speech was a model of sporting generosity, and charm, and the ability to say the right thing at the right time.
The same applies to the outstanding US golfer Phil Mickelson who deservedly won this year's Open with one of the best final rounds in its history. At the end he, too, spoke with grace and charm, as befits the gentleman he is.
Sport does provide us with many examples of good behaviour, as well as bad, and Archdeacon McBride was right to use a sporting example to illustrate his point in Thought For The Day. I wish there were more sporting clerics who were clearly 'on the ball' like him.