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Faith and Golf

Crane Wins on Faith

Ben Crane won the McGladrey Classic this week in a playoff and who knew he was a devout Christian? As I watched the interview while he awaited the finish of his fellow competitors he offered thanks to God for his performance this week and especially that day citing a passage from the Bible. I don’t recall the Bible passage because the reference came out too quickly to catch. He shot a 7-under 63 Sunday coming from 5 shots back to tie the leaders. One of the competitors he was waiting for was Web Simpson, another devout Christian who had won twice already this year and is currently the leading PGA money winner. He also professed profound thanks to God for his success each time he has won. On this day he was tied both with Crane and Michael Thompson at 15 under par coming down the stretch. As it turns out, it was these two Christians, Crane and Simpson, who ended up competing in a playoff to determine the winner of the McGladrey Classic. Thompson bogeyed on the 72nd hole to take him out of the tie and playoff. On the second hole of the playoff, Simpson missed a short putt for par to lose to Crane who by the way was also to become a father again today, the day after the tournament.

A New Breed?

I have a view of past players and champions, those of the very early years, as being less than saintly hell raisers. Like the cowboys of the old west, the early professionals of this sport were individuals not tethered to a professional standard of conduct. There are legendary stories of partying and womanizing amongst this group of pioneering golfers who by any standard were nomads continuously operating on a thin shoestring of income. Some were married, but even some of those were extra-marital in their play time when out on the tour. Tiger demonstrated this kind of life-style until recently, partaking of the “benefits” of stardom through sexual conquests around the country. But, now since his outing, he professes to be a changed man. Is he the last of the “un-holy?” Has the talent pool and the need to be ready for the competition superseded the temptations to hell-raise in the off hours?

Tom Lehman, a major winner, has been on tour many, many years and he is a devout Christian. He’s now dominating on the Champions Tour (50 and older). There are others, but he particularly stands out because of his openness in referencing his beliefs and giving credit to God for his achievements. But I thought him to be in a great minority on the tour. Have I been wrong? Is there something to the clean living and discipline of devout Christian life that is particularly good for playing golf at that level? I think the answer may be yes. In a sport where belief in one’s abilities is paramount, would it not be helpful to be able to unload personal transgressions, failures, and fears onto a benevolent God? If you believe with all your heart in your God, doesn’t that make it easier to also believe in yourself? Perhaps that is part of Tiger’s problem as he tries to come back from his fall, perhaps he still believes in only himself. Who does he unload on?

Faith is a powerful thing. In chapter 10 of one of my favorite books, “The Book of Virtues,” the author describes faith:

“Faith is a source of discipline and power and meaning in the lives of the faithful of any major religious creed. It is a potent force in human experience (emphasis added). A shared faith binds people together in ways that cannot be duplicated by other means…Faith contributes to the form and the content of the ideals that guide the aspirations we harbor for our own lives, and it affects the way we regard and behave with respect to others.”

Perhaps faith in something larger than ourselves allows us to put into context the worldly things that occur day to day. Perhaps those who follow a life of faith in God have a firmer foundation from which to work, the rest of us living out the reality of chaos theory by comparison. Ben Crane has entertained us with his silly videos, showing a side of a professional golfer many of us never thought we’d see. Far from being the stoic, slow, self-absorbed golfer he might appear to be on the course, he is showing us another side now. Not so in your face and out there as the videos, but in action and accomplishment.