A nice guy finishes first


They say it's just a game. But the 74th Masters golf tournament was something more — a tale, you could say, of two marriages.

It began as the umpteenth episode in the tiresome Tiger Woods sex scandal. Five months after the golfer's compulsive infidelities came to light, with a seemingly endless parade of mistresses continuing to surface, some 5 million viewers tuned in to ESPN to watch Woods take his first tee shot. The attraction was more schadenfreude than sporting interest: Would Woods' aggrieved wife make a surprise appearance on the course? Would he choke at the start of his much-hyped return to the majors? And if he did well, would anyone cheer?

In the end, Woods made a respectable fourth-place showing, the crowds politely applauded and the talented-but-petulant champ resumed his old habits of blaming Jesus Christ for failed shots and snapping at reporters who questioned his on-the-course cursing. His humdrum comeback concluded with the world's most famous cad speeding off in the back of an SUV, sullen and alone.

The contrast between that ending and the jubilant one enjoyed by Masters winner Phil Mickelson could not have been starker. A serial philanderer may have attracted the pre-tournament press, but it was a family man who stole the show.

The back-story of Mickelson's victory made it particularly sweet. In the past year, both his mother and wife have been battling breast cancer. Caring for his wife of 13 years took its toll on his golf game, forcing the 39-year-old father of three to take a hiatus from the PGA tour to shepherd her through chemotherapy. After grimly schlepping to recent tournaments alone, Mickelson was delighted when his entire family accompanied him to the Masters.

The week was not easy: His wife was too weak to come to the course. He spent the wee hours of Sunday morning caring for his 10-year-old daughter, who broke her wrist while roller-skating and needed an emergency X-ray and splint.

Yet it all seemed worthwhile Sunday afternoon when Mickelson looked up just before sinking the final putt to see his smiling wife, Amy Mickelson, who had dragged herself out of bed to celebrate at his side. After the two shared a tearful embrace, Mickelson hugged each of his children and dedicated his win to his family, praising his "incredible wife" who "has been an inspiration for me."

As the poignant scene unfolded, Mickelson's victory looked like a win for marriage, family and the everyday perseverance that gets short shrift in our scandal-fixated popular culture. For a moment there on Magnolia Lane, it seemed as if fans were cheering every devoted husband and father in America. We were celebrating every ordinary guy who volunteers for the 2 a.m. feeding instead of rolling over and falling back asleep, who works a job he does not love to support his family or scales back the work he loves to spend more time at home, who resists the temptation to numb himself to his family's needs by escaping into booze or bimbos or an Internet fantasy life.

Yet it all seemed worthwhile Sunday afternoon when Mickelson looked up just before sinking the final putt to see his smiling wife, Amy Mickelson, who had dragged herself out of bed to celebrate at his side.

That guy doesn't get a lot of credit these days. We don't see much of him in our movies, and when he shows up in sitcoms, it's usually as the butt of jokes. Compared to stars like Woods, whose vices even seem larger than life, the ordinary, faithful husband and father looks a little small, at least onscreen.

In real life, he looks like Mickelson: a winner showered with love by a family that admires him as a man, not only as a golfer. I don't know much about Mickelson's home life; his marriage probably has endured its share of rough patches. But I suspect his wife and children can be found standing with him on the bad days as well as the good, because they know he does the same for them.

That's the hidden reward that accompanies the hidden sacrifices millions of husbands and fathers make every day. Mickelson's victory nudged us to look away from the sordid Woods spectacle and focus on something worth watching for a change: a nice guy getting some well-deserved respect.

It felt so good, maybe we should do it more often.


Colleen Carroll Campbell. "A nice guy finishes first." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 15, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.


Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network.  Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell

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