Golf and Christianity

Posted on September 24, 2017


I know a lot of you out there are golfers, or indulge in one sport or another. And I know a lot of readers are Christians.

The other day as I tweaked my golf swing in preparation for a tournament, I thought of my faith, which I seem to be always tweaking as well.

Maybe there is some overlap here, lessons learned on the golf course applied to lessons learned from Scripture, or vice versa.

What are we talking about? Basically, you will never be satisfied with either your Christian walk or your golf, if you are honest.

I asked a good friend of mine, he’s a respected golf professional, “Does anyone ever stop tweaking their swing?”

He answered, and I must assume honestly since he is a man of integrity, “Well, yes, Jack Nicklaus once said he stopped tweaking his swing when he had it just right.”

That may be true for Jack, but it’s not true for most, perhaps the rest of us, in the world of golf. We are always tinkering with every aspect of our swing — from stance, grip, backswing and follow through — to make it better.

I can hit the ball as well as any golfer in the world on one shot, and then on the next one I hit it “fat” or “thin,” or hook it into the trees on the left, or slice it into a cow pasture on the right, or dribble it to the left or right as I finish a full beautiful swing.

What happened here? Swing outside the arc? Lost my balance (in spite of what I thought?) Reverse pivot? There are dozens, scores, hundreds and thousands of lessons and tips on how to swing and play the game “just like the pros.”

There are also hundreds of “how to” YouTube videos. How to keep your right arm tucked in nicely on your backswing to prevent the dreaded “chicken wing,” inflatable balls to put between your lower arms to keep your swing nice and tight, dozens of new clubs to buy, which — if you do — will solve all your problems because of their new and improved “dynamics” and shapes.

And golf vacations abound at beaches and desert resorts, where pros with limey accents are ready to do an entire makeover of your golf. And there’s a nice spa for the spouses to improve their looks and temper while you are turned into a pro.

If you believe all the above you are a true golf nut. Golf, in fact, is a game largely of tomorrow. Tomorrow I will get it right.

And don’t forget the chipping and putting. Never mind the swing that takes you off the tee for 200 yards or more. You’re dead meat if you can’t chip and putt around and on the green. Golf is a game, but it has solid (unlike some of my hybrid shots) resonances with my faith.

Christianity is about a lot of things — grace, redemption, and salvation for starters. What has Christianity to do with golf?

Both golfers and Christians need to practice their strokes and their faith all the time. In a little book I wrote a few years ago, “Cleared for Landing: On Living a Christian Life,” I approached Christianity as a pilot is supposed to approach flying: practice, practice, practice.

I learned a lot about flying in the 30 years since my first lessons. I have also learned a lot about my Christian walk since I married Louise about the same time as I was learning to fly. My wife — ordained and licensed — taught me about the Holy Spirit and faith, two areas that I had somehow missed in my old denomination.

My flight instructors taught me that there is no substitute for practice. You must know the dynamics of flight, the FAA rules, etc., but without plunging into real weather on instruments and trusting your instruments and your skill — from constant practice of course — you will not make it or you will always be a timid, fine weather pilot.

Louise, and new pastors I met through her, confirm the same thing about my faith. A few passages and a Sunday sermon once a week produces little. You must read Scripture often; daily is best.

Do it with discipline and, secondly, just like flying, and even golf, practice what it teaches or what it preaches.

Try Romans 10:17 and follow it with James 1:22 and don’t forget to keep your left arm straight and your eye on the ball.

Published as “Like Golf, Christianity Requires a Lot of Practice” in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday Sept. 24, 2017.