The Loser Got the Trophy

The 2021 Memorial Tournament and Substitutionary Atonement

Guest Contributor / 6.10.21

This article comes to us from Matt Pearson.

Sunday afternoon, June 6th, PGA Tour golf professional Patrick Cantlay held up the trophy for the Memorial Golf Tournament. It was a memorable Memorial. He won a thriller over Collin Morikawa on the nineteenth hole (a playoff). It was his second victory at this event, on this course. He walked away a million and half dollars the richer.

And he knew someone else should have been standing in his place.

The night before (Saturday), after the third round, the then-leader — Jon Rahm — was told he had tested positive for Covid-19. He would be unable to compete in the final round and was forced to withdraw. That’s bad enough. But consider: Rahm was leading the tournament by six strokes. SIX. I don’t know your golf IQ, but that’s like being up five touchdowns going into the fourth quarter of a football game. It’s like being up seven or eight runs going into the ninth inning of a baseball game. It’s a hefty lead. Had Rahm been able to compete on Sunday, he practically could have won it with one arm tied behind his back. To offer a bit more perspective — Rahm’s 54-hole lead tied Tiger Woods’ record. He was in an extremely good spot to run away with the trophy on Sunday. Because he tested positive for Covid, however, he was forced to watch while Cantlay held up the trophy.

After the 73rd hole was played on Sunday and reporters put a microphone in Cantlay’s face asking about the Rahm situation, he said, “Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do. … I did everything I could with the cards I was dealt, and I really did a good job of focusing today on the task at hand and staying present. And that’s all you can do in this game. … It was such a weird situation, so unfortunate. Everyone, me included, knows it would be totally different today if that hadn’t happened. But there’s nothing I could do about it. I tried as hard as I could to reset and refocus. … There’s a little something I can’t quite put my finger on that makes it feel a little different.”

It was awkward. It was correct. It was a bit cringy. You cannot blame him. He won. But he won due to someone else’s misfortune. He won, and the victory was rightly his. He has the trophy. He has the money in the bank. He has another tour victory on his resume. He gets the FedEx points. Patrick Cantlay is the winner of the 2021 Memorial Tournament. But it was due to another’s suffering. The out-front leader was struck. Cantlay got the victory.

Some might say it’s unfair. Some might say it isn’t right. Some might say there should be an asterisk by Cantlay’s name. But there’s not. He won the tournament.


Situations like this force me think, and what immediately comes to mind is Barabbas. Yeah, that Barabbas. The one who got a “get out of jail free” card the afternoon of Jesus’s arrest. Barabbas got to go free. He got the victory. But it was all due to another who took his place. It was because another was struck. The One who deserved to be free was told He had to “withdraw.” The One who was way out in front, went to the back. The result? The one not in the lead — the one very far behind — got the win. I wonder if Barabbas thought, “There’s a little something I can’t quite put my finger on that makes it feel a little different”?

Barabbas got to go home with the trophy. He got to go to the bank. He got to do the interviews for the papers and the websites. Why? Because Jesus “withdrew,” if you will. Jesus suffered. Jesus was struck so Barabbas could “win.”

Some might say it’s unfair. Some might say it isn’t right. Some might say there should be an asterisk by Barabbas’s name. But there’s not. He got to go free.

It’s called grace. Cantlay holding up the trophy on Sunday because Rahm had to withdraw is us “in Christ.” Barabbas getting to go free because Jesus was punished in his place is us. Our freedom (victory) is due to Jesus’s withdrawal — His suffering, His death, His sickness, if you will. But here’s the thing: there is no asterisk. It’s not a fluke. It’s real. Cantlay is the actual winner of the 2021 Memorial tournament. Jon Rahm arguably “should” have won. But he withdrew. He suffered. He took a loss. Cantlay’s name will be recorded as the actual winner for a long, long time.

And there is no asterisk beside our name. In Christ, we are free. We are victorious. Our sins have been atoned for. Our record of obedience is spotless. How? Because another did it for us. We hold up the trophy because another allowed it to be so. And it really is so. Our names are in the Book of Life, forever.

I get it. I know this breaks down eventually. Jon Rahm didn’t want to give up his spot (Jesus joyfully and lovingly gave Himself up). And Patrick Cantlay did play hard and play well to defeat the other players (we contribute nothing to the work of Jesus). I get it. But there is something about seeing Cantlay hold up the trophy and hearing him speak of the situation that causes me to tremble a bit. Victory is mine. My future is much the richer. My resume looks really good. Cantlay said, “Everyone, me included, knows it would be totally different today if that hadn’t happened.”

Ain’t that the truth, Patrick. Ain’t that the truth.

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