PAYNE STEWART (1965–1999)

2 Timothy 4:7

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.

Payne Stewart was one of the most colorful golfers of his era. He was known for his stylish knickers that he wore to set himself apart from the other golfers. Payne was also quite a practical joker. When Paul Azinger holed a bunker shot on the seventy-second hole to beat him by one at the 1993 Memorial Tournament, Payne was among the first people to congratulate his close friend. After the press conference Paul went back to the locker room to change into his street shoes, which were now full of mashed bananas, thanks to Payne!

Payne had come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ not long before his life on earth came to a stunning end. It was a tragedy that sent shockwaves around the world. On October 25, 1999, a small plane plummeted to the ground near Mina, South Dakota, killing everyone aboard. Among them was golfing great Payne Stewart.

Just a few months earlier, he had captured the US Open in storybook fashion after a devastating loss in the same tournament the year before. Payne was best known among his peers for his flamboyant knickers, rhythmic golf swing, and the pranks that he pulled as a practical joker. But Payne had made huge strides in his faith earlier that year. When he accepted the trophy, he surprised many people by saying, “First of all, I have to give thanks to the Lord. If it weren’t for the faith that I have in him, I wouldn’t have been able to have the faith that I had in myself on the golf course …I’m proud of the fact that my faith in God is so much stronger, and I’m so much more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Often we are led to believe that improved performance on the athletic field comes strictly from working harder and practicing more. But Payne Stewart showed us that the key to winning the Open was his growth in Christ that helped him keep his wits about him in golf ’s most pressure-packed event.

When Payne won the US Open on Father’s Day, he obviously had no idea that he would leave this life behind less than six months later. The good news is that his wife and two children found some comfort because they knew Payne’s final destination was the fairways of heaven. At Payne’s memorial service, in recognition of his distinctive knickers, Paul Azinger paused at the podium and stuffed his pants legs into his socks in a tribute to his brother in Christ.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the legacy of Payne Stewart, a man remembered not only for the joy with which he played the game of golf, but for the joy that he received from finishing his race with Christ as his Lord. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

ARNIE, YOU DON’T HAVE A CHANCE

John 3:16-17

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.

—John 3:17

After the third round of the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills Golf Club in Denver, Colorado, Arnold Palmer trailed by seven shots with a total of 215. As he glumly ate a sandwich before going out for the afternoon round to complete thirty-six holes on the final day, he asked his sportswriter friend, Bob Drum, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, what it would take to win the tournament. The Drummer told him that 280 wins the Open, and he implied that Palmer didn’t have it in him to shoot a 65, and, therefore, didn’t have a chance to win. Clearly miffed, Palmer finished his sandwich and stormed out of the clubhouse.

It might have been a psychological ploy to fire him up. Palmer threw caution to the wind and hit driver on the tight first hole instead of the iron he had laid up with the first three rounds. He burned a low scorcher through the rough up onto the first green almost 350 yards away. That was the first of six birdies that Arnie would make. With each birdie, his gallery grew larger, and word of the charge that Arnie was so famous for swept back to the clubhouse. When an out-of-breath Drum made his way to the ninth tee, Arnie saw him and smirked, as if to say, No chance? I’ll show you! Palmer shot 65 and won the Open by two shots over a young phenom named Jack Nicklaus and a fading superstar named Ben Hogan. Great stuff.

Speaking of Nicklaus, in 1986, the late Tom McCollister handicapped the Masters field in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the prior Sunday and essentially wrote that Jack was too old and didn’t have a chance to win at age forty-six. Nicklaus used the article as motivational fodder and fired a final-round 65 to win the Masters for a record sixth time.

Who has ever told that you can’t do something? You might have reacted angrily, with an “I’ll show them” attitude with added determination. But if your discouragement came at the wrong time from the wrong person, it could have had a tremendous negative impact on you and deterred you from being all that you could be.

On the other hand, who have we ever written off as not being able to do something? With respect to a person becoming a Christian, have you ever told someone verbally, or with body language, or with a lack of prayer that there is no way they can come to Christ? We must remember what sinners we were when Jesus cleansed us in the blood of the Lamb for the first time and that there were people who might have prayed for many years for us to come to Christ. “No matter the circumstance, there is no one on God’s unreachable list,” I once heard Mark Hall of Casting Crowns say. So we must keep praying for those who are, as far as we can tell, not walking with the Lord yet. Everybody has a chance to come to Christ, because God is constantly reaching out to them by placing people in their paths. You could be one of those people.

Prayer: Father God, may I not be quick to pass judgment on someone by remembering that at one time, I was a miserable sinner condemned by my past. But through your free gift of grace and my intercessory prayer, each of my friends and family members can come to know Christ. May I do my part in sharing the good news. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

CUTTING PHIL BY ONE SHOT

Isaiah 40:22, 25-26; John 3:30

It is He that sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers …

—Isaiah 40:22

Suppose you had an opportunity to play Pinehurst when it was in US Open condition. The course runs firm and fast, and some of the hole locations are almost impossible to access. Golf Digest holds a contest annually when several celebrities and a random golfer are drawn from thousands of entries to see if they can break 100. A 10-handicapper would probably break 90 during normal conditions, but in Open conditions, the golfer would be hard pressed to break 100.

Now suppose the 10-handicapper was paired with Phil Mickelson in the white-hot cauldron of Open pressure. Phil will most likely post a score that is two strokes on either side of par. But 10-handicapper Joe Golfer would do well to break 100. Joe Golfer would immediately recognize the difference in their abilities to play tournament golf and know that he’s fortunate to be on the same course with Phil. If you took the best score by Phil or Joe on each of the eighteen holes, Joe would likely play just one hole where his score was one stroke better than Phil’s. If Phil shot 71, their best ball would be 70.

It’s that same way with God when we think we’re doing it all or it’s all about us in bringing people to Christ. God chose completely fallible human beings to spread his gospel, but it doesn’t happen because of our grandiose plans and positioning. The Holy Spirit is used by God to bring new Christians into the kingdom, yet he chooses to use us as bit players and let us help him out with a shot here or there. Louis Giglio reminded us in his book I Am Not but I Know I AM that God is very, very big and that we are very, very small. Certainly it is a tremendous honor and privilege whenever someone comes to Christ through an effort we were involved in. But it’s the power of God, the saving blood of Jesus Christ, and the drawing of the Holy Spirit that gets the job done. It is the power of God working in us and through us.

Prayer: Father God, help me recognize that it’s not the oratory skills that help a person receive Christ, but it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that you use our feeble attempts to bring people to Jesus Christ. Thank you that you allow me to play a small role in the growth of your kingdom, which you and you alone create. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

SHOOTING PAST MY HEADLIGHTS

Psalm 119:105, Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:28

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

—Psalm 119:105 (KJV)

My mentor Jim delighted in the saying, “I’m shooting past my headlights.” What he meant was that he was guessing beyond what he could actually see or without having all of the facts. He was shooting in the dark beyond what he really understood.

It was the eve of the 112th US Open Championship in 2012 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Olympic is a picturesque, cypress-lined course that is often shrouded in thick fog off the Pacific. The excitement had grown that week because the top golfers included a rejuvenated Tiger Woods and the runaway 2011 US Open champion, Rory McIlroy, who was struggling to recapture his form. Tiger, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson— the popular 2012 Masters champion—were the featured threesome that attracted thousands of followers on Thursday and Friday. The heavyweight pairing reminded longtime golf fans of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer when they were known in the 1960s as the Big Three.

Speaking of Palmer, in 1966  Arnold  was  thrashing  the US Open field at Olympic by seven shots as he walked to the tenth tee on Sunday afternoon. But Arnie was thinking about more than his tee shot on ten. Palmer envisioned the clubhouse celebration where he would receive his second US Open trophy to the delight of his adoring army of fans. Arnie actually set his sights on breaking the US Open scoring record instead of taking care of business on each hole of the back nine. Clearly, he was shooting past his headlights.

Palmer made a couple of bogeys, and Casper made a couple of birdies. Arnie’s seemingly insurmountable lead of seven was down to three. Arnie left a six-footer hanging on the front lip on sixteen for another bogey, and he and Casper were now tied. Arnie blew up on the back nine with a forty. Casper fired an outstanding thirty-three and forced an eighteen-hole Monday playoff. In the playoff, Arnie again went out in front, but Casper rallied to beat him. Casper once remarked how tough it was to watch the Sunday back nine collapse by his good friend. The game’s most beloved figure not only failed to win his second US Open title, but he never won another major championship. That tournament arguably triggered the decline of Arnie’s career on the PGA Tour.

Have you ever been guilty of shooting past your headlights? How about when you are trying to work ahead of God? Psalm 119:105 reveals that God shines his light in a way that shows us as much as we are ready to see. It’s like a farmer with a lantern going to the barn before dawn. He only needs to see one step at a time on the well-worn path to arrive safely. It’s easy to be anxious to see the end result and not take care of the business of getting to the finish line. The passage, Romans 8:28 (TLB), teaches that “All things are working for our good when we love God and are fitting into his plans.” When I do my thing and stop fitting into God’s plan, my plan is pretty much toast. God doesn’t need me to grow his kingdom, but he would love to use me if I will just work where he is working.

A golfer once led the final round of a major for the first time and found a note in his locker on Sunday. The note was from a fellow pro and it read, “Fairways and greens, cuz.” His friend’s advice was to play one shot at a time. Hit the fairway then hit the green. Don’t get ahead of yourself out there. That’s good advice for life. Take it one day at a time with God, and trust God with the end result. Let’s focus on him daily with an active prayer life and frequent reading and study of the Bible, and seek his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).

Prayer: Most merciful and gracious God, if I could just learn to be patient and not run ahead of you, I know that I could help you more. Remind me when I shoot past my headlights and try to do it on my own without you. In the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.

 

WEBB’S PRAYER

Luke 18:1, Philippians 4:6, Romans 12:12,

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Be patient in trouble and prayerful always.

—Romans 12:12 (TLB)

Webb Simpson won the 2012 US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Simpson shot 68–68 on the weekend and waited in the clubhouse with his wife, Dowd, as veteran  Jim Furyk bogeyed sixteen and eighteen to lose by one shot. The win was especially sweet for Webb, a former recipient of the Arnold Palmer scholarship at Wake Forest University, because Olympic was the site of Arnold Palmer’s most heartbreaking loss in the 1966 US Open. Billy Casper, who was the golfer that beat Palmer in the 1966 playoff, was present for the awards ceremony on the eighteenth green that evening. How is that for irony!

A few fun facts about Webb, who was probably an unknown to all but the most avid golf fans. He won two PGA Tour tournaments in 2011 and led the tour in All-Around statistics, which reflects his consistent play. Webb bears a startling resemblance to a young Matthew Perry, the actor from Friends. He is a father of two young children, and his wife Dowd was seven months pregnant as she followed him for all seventy-two holes at Olympic. Last but not least, Simpson is a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, believers swept the first two majors of 2012, Bubba Watson being the Masters winner.

Webb has been known to tweet Bible verses to his followers on Twitter. Earlier in 2012 at New Orleans, he sported a Titleist cap with Isaiah 63 sewn in the back. At  Augusta, he  wrote down verses from 1 Corinthians to help him stay focused. He commented after the Sunday US Open round that “I’ve never prayed as much as I did over the last three holes.” Webb prayed that he would remain calm under pressure. The calm that he received from praying helped  him  handle  the  pressure  down the stretch, particularly when he got up and down from a very difficult lie near the eighteenth green.

What do you think about Webb, praying down the stretch? Did Simpson have an advantage over other players who didn’t pray? Did God help him win his first major because he prayed? Let’s see what the Bible says about prayer. Luke 18:1 says that “men ought to pray and not to lose heart.” It would have been easy to lose heart on that tough course where not one golfer shot even par for seventy-two holes! Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Simpson was not praying to win or to not make bogeys, but he prayed to stay calm and receive help in handling the intense pressure. The passage, Romans 12:12 (TLB), says, “Be patient in trouble and prayerful always.” The US Open is the ultimate test of patience in golf. Certainly, there was plenty of trouble to contend with. Simpson even said he was so amped up that he could not feel his legs at times.

How do you feel about praying before and during a competition? I say go for it because it pleases God when we involve him in all aspects of our lives. If we only go to him after we’ve just made a mess of things or suffered a defeat, he isn’t nearly as pleased. God loves it when we involve him in the little stuff and when things are going well. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are to “pray without ceasing.”

Prayer: Most  wonderful  Holy  Father,  it  is  so  great  and so reassuring that you are always there for me, regardless of circumstance. Thank you for your mercies that are new every day. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

HOGAN’S ONE IRON

Psalm 139, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Hebrews 13:5

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

—Psalm 139:14

I was on business in New Jersey and had a couple of free hours before dinner, so I drove to the USGA Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey. What an amazing place with so many historical golf artifacts, pieces of memorabilia, and books. I wished that I could get snowed in there for a weekend!

As I came around a corner, there was Ben Hogan’s one iron enclosed in a glass case! Sure enough, there was a worn spot about the size of a quarter in the middle of the clubface, just as I had heard.

This one iron is significant because Hogan used it to strike a memorable shot on the 72nd hole of the 1950 US Open at Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia. He made an amazing comeback even to play golf again after a horrific car accident in February 1949. Hogan came to the final hole tied for the lead at the end of a grueling 36-hole final that had taken its toll on his weary and painful legs. His tee shot was 220 yards from the green, and he needed a par to force a playoff. Hogan struck a perfect one-iron to the middle of the green as the gallery collectively gasped at the beauty of the shot played with the most difficult club in the bag. He got down in 2 putts and won the US Open in a playoff the following day.

The one iron shot is memorable because of the black-and-white photo that was taken from behind Hogan. His balance is perfect as he poses at the top of his follow through. Hundreds of people are seen lining each side of the fairway and several thousand encircle the back of the eighteenth green. The photo remains one of the most instantly  recognizable  pictures  in golf history.

The amazing story behind Hogan’s one iron is that the club disappeared for many years. The one iron was discovered in a used club barrel at a pro shop. Apparently someone saw the club and thought, Only Hogan could have worn that spot in the face of a one iron. Upon further inspection, the club was determined to be authentic and found its resting place in the USGA Museum. How incredible that a club of such value and significance would have been found in the midst of used clubs with very little value and subsequently restored to prominence.

Perhaps you feel like one of the used clubs in the barrel. Society has given you message after message that you are no longer of great value. Perhaps you feel unwanted. You’ve just been beaten down by the lies of the enemy, job layoffs, sickness, bad financial decisions, misfortune, illness, divorce, peer pressure, rejection, or financial pressure. Your self-esteem has been worn down and you feel that you aren’t worth much.

Be comforted that God still believes you are of infinite value. The psalmist assures you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God knew you long before he made you in the womb. God considers you to be so valuable that even if you were the only person on earth, he would have allowed Jesus to be crucified so that you could spend eternity with him. Our God is the God of second chances, and he will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). God will never stop tracking down his lost sheep.

More than anything, he wants a personal relationship with you through his Son, Jesus Christ. That relationship requires repentance in godly sorrow of any sins that have separated you from God. You must believe and receive. If you truly believe that Christ died for your sins, you can receive Christ as your Savior and Lord, and God will give you a new life. “When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a new person inside; he is not the same anymore, a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB). Won’t you give him your life, as he reminds you that you are of great value to him?

Prayer: Most Holy God, I praise you that no matter how badly I may have failed in my eyes, you still love me the same, unconditionally and infinitely. I am so grateful that you are and always will be there for me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

“RORS” LIKE A LION

Psalm 51:1–10, Romans 7:18–19, 1 Peter 5:8–10

My sin is ever before me.

—Psalm 51:3

The world of golf celebrated the brilliant play of 22-year-old Irishman Rory “Rors” McIlroy, who dismantled the strongest field of the year at the 2011 US Open played just outside the nation’s capital at Congressional Country Club. Rory played almost perfect golf for 72 holes and broke the Open scoring record by 4 shots with a scintillating 16-under total of 268. He was serenaded on the back nine with a Big East basketball style cheer of “Let’s go, Ror-ee!” His bushy hairdo, his boyish, upbeat personality, the confident hop in his stride, and his stellar performance endeared him to Open fans all week. But it was this startling performance on the heels of his 2011 Masters back nine disaster, when he shot 43 and blew a 4-stroke lead in the final round, that caused golf fans to cheer the loudest. On Sunday night, many people believed that they had just seen the next golf superstar that comes along once a decade.

Rors set a US Open record for most greens in regulation (sixty-one), and his ball-striking was unparalleled in Open history. The only flaw that surfaced in his game was a tendency to hit pull hooks, which meant that occasionally his tee shots would finish in the heavy rough well left of the fairway or green. On Friday, he made double bogey on eighteen after pulling his drive left and hooking his approach shot into the water left of the green.

No matter how good the best players in golf history have been, they have all fought a fundamental flaw in their games. For some players, it’s a bad temper ( Jones), putting (Watson), chipping (Nicklaus), hooked tee shots (Hogan and McIlroy), blocked tee shots (Woods) or sliced tee shots (Mickelson). For others it has been the mental side of the game (Norman and Weiskopf ).

Each person has at least one primary flaw or sin such as pride, anger, greed, lust, or judging others that he or she constantly fights. Satan prowls like a lion (1 Peter 5:8), and he constantly “roars” at us, especially during our weakest moments. No matter how well things are going, our ugly self will pop up from time to time, even when we just sensed that we were close to God. King David acknowledged in Psalm 51:3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” Paul penned in Romans 7:18–19, “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”

No matter how much Rory practices to keep from hitting a pull hook, he is destined to do it again, and sometimes it will happen at the worst possible moment. The same thing is true with  sinful  flaws. But  you  can  keep  the  monster  in  check  by striving daily to be obedient to the Lord through prayer, Bible study, and  being  accountable  to  other  Christians. Know  your limitations and when the evil one applies the pressure, ask the Lord to help you resist him (1 Peter 5:9), and to strengthen and settle you (1 Peter 5:10). Because you know it’s coming sooner or later! Righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ, not from anything you can ever do. When you do slip up, ask God for forgiveness and pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).”

Prayer: Father God, when I fall short and make a double bogey, please forgive me and assure me that you are the God of perfect love, forgiveness, and the giver of more second chances than I can ever deserve. In the precious name of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

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