A TRIBUTE TO CORA, JACK’S BIGGEST FAN

Psalm 119:105, Jeremiah 6:16

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. —Psalm 119:105 (KJV)

I remember the first time that I saw my dear friend, Cora. I was at my first Masters in 1973 when I was seventeen when I found out what a thrill it was to watch Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear, play golf for eighteen holes at Augusta. I decided to follow Jack on Saturday, but I didn’t know the best way to get around the course. As Jack approached the green on the third hole to enthusiastic applause, I heard a high-pitched woman’s voice. “Go get ’em, Jack!” Jack waved his hand in acknowledgment, and that’s when I saw Cora. She was about five feet tall and was wearing a gold Jack’s Pack pendant in the shape of a bear. Her beautiful silver hair was in a bun, and she wore sunglasses and a visor to shield her face from the sun. She also seemed to know everybody around her.

As I walked the course, I found out it was tough to get close to Jack. On some holes, I would fall behind no matter how fast I walked to keep up. I would miss the timing for the crosswalk and be forced to wait for the group behind Jack to come through. Then I would hurry (without running, of course) to the next hole.

I kept noticing how this charming little woman was always in the right place. She didn’t seem to be out of breath and chatted away until the next shot. So I got smart. I will follow her, and then I’ll be in the right place. On the back nine, I introduced myself to Cora because I was a huge Jack fan, and she sort of adopted me from that point forward.

Cora walked almost every round with Jack for almost forty years beginning in 1963. She would pick his group up on number one fairway and follow him through his final putt on eighteen. Cora would record his putts for each hole on her program, and she never sat in the bleachers. After Jack completed his round, she walked home to nearby Cherry Lane.

In 1986, I remember standing with her on seventeen when Seve Ballesteros hit his second shot in the water on fifteen, opening the door for Jack to win with a back nine thirty for his sixth green jacket. On seventeen came the putt when Jack lifts his putter in the air and Verne Lundquist screams, “Yes, sir!” I never saw anybody else at the Masters support Jack as loyally as Cora. She was indeed Jack’s biggest fan at Augusta.

That sun-kissed Saturday afternoon at Augusta National began a wonderful friendship of about thirty-five years. After Cora could no longer walk the course, our family would still park in her yard on Cherry Lane and visit with her husband, affectionately known as “her Jack,” and their daughter, Christy. When Cora passed away, Jack and Christy received a wonderful note from Barbara and Jack Nicklaus.

Cora had a specific path that she followed round after round (see Jeremiah 6:16) that put her in the best place to see the action. I wasted a lot of steps and energy trying to see the same action because of my lack of knowledge and experience. Psalm 119:105 says that the Word is a Lamp unto our feet and a Light unto our path. When we don’t follow the teachings of the Word, we cost ourselves a lot of steps and energy. But if we learn the Scriptures and follow the guidance provided there by God, we will be in the right place much more often. We will waste less energy in addressing the consequences that inevitably occur when we make bad decisions. Let’s study his Word so that we will know the path of righteousness. When we stay on the right path, God blesses us with untold riches.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the wonderful people we meet and the eternal relationships that we develop through sports. May I realize that sports are a wonderful gift that can be used to help people experience your mighty love. In the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Footnote: Cora never wanted anyone to tie Jack’s record of six Masters victories. When Tiger Woods came close to winning his fifth Masters one year, I found out why he lost when I got back to Cora’s house. When Tiger would putt, Cora would put her thumb over the hole on TV so that the ball wouldn’t go in.

USE THAT FIFTEENTH CLUB IN YOUR BAG

Romans 8:26; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 4:30, 6:10

Be strong in the Lord, and in his great power! —Ephesians 6:10

From 1992 through 1994, Ben Crenshaw’s game had been deteriorating as he slipped farther down the money list. To list him as a serious contender for the Masters green jacket in 1995 would have been purely a sentimental choice, even for his most ardent supporters. On Monday night of Masters week, Ben received distressing news that his longtime coach, Harvey Penick, had passed away in Austin, Texas. Crenshaw and his close friend, Tom Kite, who was another Penick student, flew from Augusta to Austin for Harvey’s memorial service. Ben arrived back in Augusta on Wednesday night, obviously feeling a deep sense of loss.

Working with his veteran caddie, Carl Jackson, Ben found a swing key on the range before his Thursday round. After three days of driving the ball consistently and making his usual bushel basket of putts, Ben found himself in contention on Sunday. He so desperately wanted to win the tournament in memory of Harvey Penick that he could have allowed his emotions to get the best of him.

However, Gentle Ben fired a great final round and left himself the luxury of being able to make bogey on the last hole. After cleaning up a one-foot putt, he buried his face in his hands and wept uncontrollably as Carl gave him a hug.

After the green jacket ceremony, Ben spoke of the peace that he felt during the madness of a frantic Augusta back nine finish. Crenshaw was quoted that he felt like Harvey was there with him during the round and how that memory gave him strength, almost like having a fifteenth club in his bag. Perhaps the spirit of Harvey Penick was right there with Ben, whispering in Ben’s ear to take dead aim. It was one of the great final round finishes in Masters history.

You and I have a fifteenth club in our bags that we rarely use, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit. Recall that Jesus said to the disciples just before he ascended into heaven that you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and that you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit resides within us to help us with our daily problems, just as Harvey’s memory kept Ben focused. Let’s take advantage of the power of the Holy Spirit, which God sealed us with at our redemption (Ephesians 4:30). In times of turmoil and stress, let’s be strong in the Lord and in his great power (Ephesians 6:10).

Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, may I remember that I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me to do great things for your kingdom. May you receive every bit of the glory. In Jesus’s name, amen.

GOT AN AMEN CORNER?

Matthew 26:34-49

Sit here while I go and pray over there. —Matthew 26:36

Even at ninety-eight years old, my dad could still recount stories from his youth in north Alabama. It is amazing to think that he knew people who lived during the Civil War, and yet here he is, living in the age of blogs and Twitter in the twenty-first century. One of my favorite stories is to hear him describe the amen corner of his boyhood church. He told me that the women and children would sit in the center pews in front of the preacher, and the men folk would sit on the side pews. When the preacher made a good point as judged by one of the men, the man would say, “Amen.” Dad said that the louder the men said, “Amen,” the louder the preacher would get, feeding off the congregation.

Another type of amen corner was named in 1958 by Herbert Warren Wind, the famous golf historian and writer. Amen Corner at the Augusta National Golf Club consisted of the dangerous second shot to the eleventh green, the par-3 twelfth, and the daring drive on thirteen with Rae’s Creek lurking to the left. Seeking to capture the excitement of Palmer’s first Masters win in 1958 where Amen Corner played such a huge role, Wind made reference in his Masters article to “Shouting in the Amen Corner,” a popular big band jazz tune.

According to masters.org, Palmer embedded his tee shot in mud on the twelfth hole in the final round. He was allowed by the rules official to play two balls, the original ball with which he made a double bogey, and a second ball as a free drop with which he made a par. Palmer eagled the thirteenth hole, and when he was on the fifteenth hole, word came that his free drop had been honored. Immediately, he took the lead and held on for his green jacket.

There is another type of amen corner that each of us needs. It is that quiet corner or place that each believer should go to start each day with God. My time consists of a couple of devotionals, including My Utmost for His Highest, prayer time, and meditation. In the solitude of the early morning, so often God speaks to us through quiet utterances in our minds. My amen corner has varied from place to place, but my recent amen corner is the corner of our sofa in the living room.

It is with even more certainty that you can meet God in your amen corner compared to seeing the top golfers in the world at Augusta National’s Amen Corner each April. How can I be so sure? Because Augusta National became a pasture for four years during World War II. God didn’t take days off from anyone’s amen corner during that time.

Prayer: Father God, most precious Lord, may I realize that the precious time that I spend with you each day in my amen corner keeps me from making bogeys and double bogeys during my day. Thank you for the blessing and the privilege to make a tee time with you any time that I wish. In Jesus’s name, amen.

BUBBA GOLF

1 Thessalonians 5:11, Romans 12:10

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. —1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

America discovered a new golf hero in 2012. His name is Bubba Watson, and he hails from the little town of Bagdad, Florida. Prior to his Masters win, he was best known as a left-handed, lanky, long-ball hitting, and flamboyant golfer. After he won the 2012 Masters on Easter Sunday, he tearfully thanked his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the green jacket ceremony on the putting green.

The Masters patrons and all of America were cheering for this new hero. He made just enough putts to win, and he blasted 350-yard tee shots and carved unbelievable slices and hooks. Bubba is the American version of the great Spanish golfer, the late Severiano Ballesteros.

Often thwarted by being too hard on himself, Bubba kept his composure throughout the back
nine and birdied four consecutive holes. On the second playoff hole, he played the most amazing shot after he drove into the trees to the right of the tenth fairway. Through a small opening Bubba hooked his fifty-two-degree wedge forty yards to the right and wound up ten feet from the hole. The gallery lining the entire right side of the fairway went crazy. Bubba two-putted for the win and tearfully hugged his mother on the tenth green as they remembered Bubba’s father, who passed away in 2011.

What was especially touching to me was how Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane, and Aaron Baddeley congratulated their brother in Christ with hugs on the tenth green! My wife, Becca, asked me if it was unusual for other players to follow their peers during a playoff. I responded that it was much more common for the European players to do so, and I pointed out that those were Bubba’s brothers in Christ.

Not only did Bubba win on Easter Sunday, but he won just two weeks after he and his wife Angie adopted a baby boy!

As Christian brothers and sisters we are supposed to support each other in good times and
bad. We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV) that we are “to encourage one another and build each other up.” Receiving support from Christian brothers or sisters is one of the tremendous blessings of being a Christian.

Update: Rickie Fowler notched his first PGA Tour victory in Charlotte just four weeks after the Masters by making birdie on the first playoff hole. Surely, the encouragement that Rickie received from his tour brothers in Christ helped him down the stretch.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for every brother or sister in Christ who ever gave me encouragement when I needed it most. May I return the same support to them and always look for ways to build them up as the evil one seeks to tear them down. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, amen.

THE MARKER

Acts 20:24, Romans 8:28

But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus. —Acts 20:24

Every Masters participant is hopeful of winning when he enters the fabled grounds on Monday morning. The first three days of practice are full of anticipation as the players hone their games before the first big tee shot on Thursday. Reality quickly sets in when the golfer makes his first bogey or two. When a golfer is three or four over par, the elation goes from visions of the green jacket to surviving to play on the weekend.

On Friday afternoon, there is one person who has a perspective different from any player in the field. That person is the marker. A marker is a non-competing golfer who plays with a Masters participant on Saturday and Sunday if the number of players who make the cut is an odd number. The marker is hoping for an odd number! The marker helps the participant, who otherwise would have played alone, maintain a normal pace of play.

For instance, in the 2011 Masters, fifty-one players made the cut. A marker went out with Ernie Els early Saturday morning. Undoubtedly, the marker was thrilled to play and had probably practiced for weeks with the hope that he would play. The marker probably felt a sense of elation getting to tee off on a beautiful Saturday morning and Sunday morning. Many patrons may not have realized the marker was not a participant. He enjoyed the applause of the patrons for his birdies and pars. He didn’t even play out the hole if he messed up, because he didn’t want to slow down the player whose score in the tournament counts. The marker has no risk. He enjoys the play, but in the end, he’s not really in the game.

Bobby Clampett was a rising young star in golf. Early in his career, he played in the 1979 US Open but missed the cut after the first two days. On Saturday morning, he went out to play as a marker with another competitor. He entertained the fans by hitting a couple of tee shots off his knees. The fans loved it! However, the news filtered back to
USGA chairman P.J. Boatwright, who yanked Bobby off the course.

A good marker does not call attention to himself. He quietly goes about his business and allows his playing partner to have the best conditions under which to play. The marker allows his playing partner to receive the glory and always puts the other player ahead of himself.

Christians need to prepare like the marker. Be where we are supposed to be and do what we are supposed to do by following God’s plan for our lives (see Romans 8:28). Practice daily with the hope that there will be an opportunity to play in the field for God. Stay ready to perform. Enjoy and appreciate the opportunity. Follow God’s lead and don’t draw attention to ourselves because it’s not about us. Put others first, and give God the glory.

I wouldn’t call Jesus a marker, but his work for his Father had some parallels. He was all about doing his Father’s work, and doing it in a humble way that would not draw undue attention to himself. Often he performed miracles for people and told them not to say anything. He followed his Father’s pace of play and his plan. Jesus allowed his Father to receive the glory, and he was present solely to fulfill the mission for which his Father sent him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may I be true to you and perform my deeds in a way that draws attention to you, my Savior and Lord, and gives our Father the glory. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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