Living for God in a “Major” Way – Christians in the PGA – Kevin Streelman

Kevin Streelman

We have reached the weekend at the U.S. Open – and the Olympic Course in the San Fran area is proving to be very challenging for the best golfers in the world.  158 golfers have played 2 rounds and exactly 3 of them sit with scores under par – and all three are at -1.  The cut sits at +8 and right there at the cut line is Kevin Streelman – our subject for the day.

Streelman has been on the PGA tour in 2007.  Since then, he has finished 3rd on three separate occasions.  Although he did with the 2009 Kodak Challenge(a cool sounding idea that didn’t really catch

Streelman, with wife Courtney, upon winning the Kodak Challenge

on, and now is no more).  He  currently sits at 149 in the world golf rankings.  The odds are very strongly against the 2012 U.S. Open being his first PGA tournament win, but he will play through the weekend and see if he can improve from his position (currently T59th).

But there is more to Streelman’s game than concern about results.  The Chicago-land native and Duke University alumni uses golf as a platform to share his faith with others, and has taken a special interest in youth who are passionate about the game of golf.  As you can read in this discussion Streelman had with Chad Bonham at Inspiring Athletes, Streelman noticed that the headlines from the pro golf circuit in 2010 was filled with a lot of negativity.  He wanted to create something positive and so he came up with the idea of “GAMEDAY” which Fellowship of Christian Athletes got behind.  Gameday provides an opportunity for junior golfers to meet and interact with pros and allow those pros an opportunity to share their faith.

Streelman also has a chance in this interview to talk about integrity on the golf course.  Something came to me as I was reading this article.  Golf is the only sport that I could immediately think of where the onus is on the player to police him/herself.  You never see a basketball player calling him/herself for traveling, or for a foul.  A hockey player never stops play to go to the penalty box for a hook or a high stick.  Baseball players never turn to an ump on a close pitch or a bang-bang play and say “Nah – he got me!”  It just doesn’t happen.  In fact, there are

FCA Gameday = a Streelman Idea

many opportunities to cover up your guilt and hope that you “get away with it”.  Golf doesn’t work that way.  In many cases, infractions are to be noticed and reported by the golfer him/herself.  We are prone to the same thing in our life.  We are good at justifying and trying to “get away” with our missteps and errors.  I can’t imagine how this could work in any other sport, but in golf, that’s the way it is.  I pray that we would all be so honest with ourselves and with others.  When we make a mistake, or mess up – that we would own up to it, and learn from it.  Such an important lesson. Also, another great golf term that fits as an analogy for our Christian walk is the Mulligan.  You can check out the Mulligan Society blog by FCA here.  A Mulligan is a redo, as if the first shot, that went so drastically awry didn’t happen.  God offers us many mulligans.  A redo on our life – we can’t mess up so much that all hope is lost.  There may be consequences for our mess up, but God always offers us forgiveness.

Streelman is looking for that first PGA tournament win, and I hope it comes for him soon.  He has shown a great perspective on the earnings that he wins, and on the trophies and standings.  For his PGA career, these things hold some importance but for the grand scheme of life, they matter little. I appreciate the perspective and challenge from Streelman.  I trust and pray that God will afford him more opportunities to share what a relationship with Jesus is all about and wish him success, in whatever form that takes.

Living for God in a “Major” Way – Christians in the PGA – Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson Leads the US Open by 3 strokes after day One

Day one is in the books at the U.S. Open being played this year at the Olympic Club in San Francisco CA.  Interest is high because Tiger is prowling.  He is currently in second, 3 shots behind the day one leader – Michael Thompson. He was the 2 time High School player of the year in High School.  He then went to New Orleans where he played at Tulane University until  Hurricane Katrina forced the team to disband.  He transferred to University of Alabama where he was the 2008 SEC player of the year.  After college, he turned pro, and was named the 2010 player of the year in the Hooters tour, where he won 2 events and later, would earn his tour card. He joined the PGA for the 2011 season.  His best ever showing at a Major tournament was in 2008  where he was the low amateur (shooting a +9) tied for 28th.

For Thompson, the cushion that he has after day one is nice, but there is still a lot of

Thompson and wife Rachel

golf to go.  Last season, though, he had an “epiphany” as the website ThompsonTides.com says (it is a website that tracks Thompson’s pro career).  In November of 2011, the website put together their top 5 moments from Thompson’s season last year.  #4 was a tweet that Thompson shared about “better golf to come”.  The reason for the change in his game – a renewed focus on God and a surrendering of control to Him.   With this focus, he can be found participating in Bible Studies or actively supporting  College Golf Fellowship, and a game that is turning some heads.   If you want a little more insight on Michael Thompson and his life and  faith, you can also check out his wife’s blog.

Their is still 54 holes to go (barring a playoff) to crown a champion, but Michael Thompson is in a good spot after round 1.  I’d like to see him do well.  We do have many things  in common – a relationship with God, blogging wives, time spent living in New Orleans, and  we even cheer on the same NFL team (geaux Saints).  Tune in again tomorrow for another feature on a golfer at the U.S. Open, and an update on where the golfers I blog about this week find themselves on the leaderboard.

(After round 1, K.J. Choi is tied for 40th – in good shape for the cut, but with some work to do as he is 7 shots back)

Living for God in a “Major” way – Christians in the PGA – K.J. Choi

Choi Kyung-Ju

The second major of the PGA season starts tomorrow and so it is time to take a look at some of the stories of the Christ-followers on tour.  I must admit that as I checked out the story of Choi, I learned some unexpected things about him.  Did you know that he is the first South Korean to earn a tour card?  Did you know that he is an 8 time PGA winner?  Or the most unexpected, did you know K.J. Choi was a power-lifter as a teenager, lifting 350 lbs as a 90 pound 13 year old – according to the official K.J. Choi fan site,

Choi didn’t even start playing golf until he was 16 years old.  He spent time reading Jack Nicklaus’ “Golf My Way” and watching instructional Golf videos.  His highest profile win to date was the 2011 Players  Championship at Sawgrass (The so-called “fifth major”) .  After last years win at Sawgrass, he donated a large portion of the winnings to victims of tornadoes that had ravaged Texas, where he makes his home.

Choi’s relationship with God is what stirs him to generosity.  Check out this quote in a CNN article from Choi about why he is so giving.

“The Lord has been good to me and he has provided a lot for me so this is my way to

Choi and the Players Championship Trophy

return of all the things that he has given to me,” he says.  As you can read in this article from Baptist Press,   Choi became a Christian when he started dating the woman who is now his wife.  They have found lots of great charities and works to support, and have also started “the K.J. Choi Foundation”  Check out his website here, to learn all the different ways Choi gives back through his foundation.

He is often in contention and is a very talented golfer, especially considering that he didn’t start until the age of 16.  He is hard to root against, and while he has never won a Major Tournament, but he will get another shot this weekend.  Tune in again to see how his tournament is going!

Living for God in a “Major” way – Christians in the PGA – Zach Johnson

Zach Johnson

As promised, I will finish up last weekend’s sojourn at the “fifth major” with a look at Zach Johnson.  He was in contention last weekend, finishing tied for second with 3 others, 2 shots behind the winner, Matt Kuchar.  I remember when Zach Johnson’s name first entered my awareness.  It was at the Master’s in 2007 – when he won by 2 strokes over Retief Goosen, Rory Sabbatini, and Tiger Woods.  This was, of course, during the time that Tiger was practically unbeatable at majors and here comes this guy from Iowa who was ranked 56th in the world, and he is the one that walked away with the Green Jacket.  I remember that the tournament fell on Easter, and I remember Zach talking about his faith in Christ in the post-tournament interview.  This caught my attention because I love hearing stories of Christians athletes having success at a professional level and acknowledging that God’s faithfulness is the strength on which they lean – win or lose.

Zach grew up in a Christian home, but didn’t really enter a relationship with God of his own there.   As you can read in this FCA Cleveland article, written by Johnson himself, a girl caught his attention but she wouldn’t marry someone who didn’t have

a relationship with God, so with that motivation, they signed up for a pre-engagement class as you can read about in this article.  Through that class, not only did they figure out that they were meant to be together, but a lot of the doubts, concerns, questions andpieces that hadn’t fit or hadn’t sunk in about God from his upbringing connected – and with it came more questions.  As he sought answers and the hunger to know God developed, he knew the time had come to surrender his life to Christ.

I like Zach Johnson’s story because he is so quick to glorify God and give credit to Him.  There is a lot of humility in this.  Truth is that there would be good arguments to think that Johnson would never make it as a pro golfer.  He went to Drake College in Iowa – not known as a powerhouse golf program.  And he confesses that he wasn’t even the best player on his college team.  He worked his way through 3 or 4 “minor league” tours.  and competitions, trying to catch on and move forward until eventually earning a tour card 6 years after turning pro.

Johnson receives the Green Jacket from Phil Mickleson 2007

 

Since his arrival in the PGA in 2004, he has won 8 times, including 2007 at Augusta.  He is currently #27 in the world but had a great showing at TPC last weekend.

Here are some things that caught my attention from his story.

1- I can’t say this enough.  It is not enough to grow up in a home where Christ is central.  There needs to be an intentional, personal relationship of your own with God.  So many times, it seems that people go through life without allowing God to have full control and submit to what He wants.  We can have such a vague concept of who God is.  Last week with my 5th and 6th graders, we looked at the story of Isaiah and how he came to follow God (Isaiah 6).  He saw God’s holiness and knew that he didn’t deserve to be there.  Yet God forgave his guilt and atoned for his sin.  When Isaiah experiences this, when he hears God looking for someone to carry out a mission, Isaiah says “Here I am!” All of us, but especially, I feel, those of us that grow up in the church need to have this point where we come to realize who God is, what holiness and perfection truly are, how far from it we are, and begin to grasp our need for a savior.  Then when we realize that a savior is offering himself to us, that we need to gladly accept his forgiveness and then do anything that He asks us to do!

2- Zach is from Cedar Rapids, IA.  That brings some memories back for me.  My wife and I spent a few weeks there doing flood relief after a large portion of the city was ravaged by the swelling of the river banks in 2008.  We were working with a missions organization and had just spent two summers in New Orleans.  Then, more flooding hit, this time in Cedar Rapids.  It was unexpected and destructive.  Reading his story (especially this piece from augusta.com – warning – it’s long!) brought to mind the city and the wonderful people in it that we had the privilege to work with and meet. We pray that the recovery continues to provide positive results and that it won’t happen again.

 

Golf fans, tune in again from June 14-17 during US Open week for more “Living for God in a “Major” Way”

Living for God in a “Major” way – Christians in the PGA – Jonathan Byrd

Jonathan Byrd

I continue my look at Christians in the PGA during the most significant tournaments on the tour’s calendar.  As of tee time on Saturday Jonathan Byrd sits in a 5 way tie for 5th place at the Player’s Championship at Sawgrass.

Jonathan Byrd has known some success as a professional golfer.  He joined the PGA in 2002 and won the rookie of the year that year.  He won 1 tournament that year – the Buick Challenge.  And the next year, while not winning a tournament, he did turn some heads by finishing in a tie for 8th at the Masters.  He has since gone on to win 4 more tournaments, including the 2010 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, which he won in historic fashion.  Check out the video below.

He became the only golfer in PGA history to win a tournament on a hole-in-one, accomplishing the feat on the 4th sudden death playoff hole to take home his 4th tour victory.  What an amazing shot!

Jonathan Byrd wins the 2010 Timberlake Shriners Open

But it was his story of faith in God that first caught my attention and helped my notice the name Jonathan Byrd.

As I looked into the stories of Jonathan Byrd and his faith in God,  his story resonated with me.  As you can read in this article from the Washington Post,  Byrd grew up in a Christian environment but when he went to college at Clemson, he was by his own words “I went to college and kind of had a wake-up call in college, living my life the way Jonathan Byrd wanted to live it. I didn’t like the path I was going down. I felt like God gave me the opportunity to see [what he should do.] He [God] wanted to be in control. He wanted to be number one in my life.”

Hear Jonathan talk about it himself in this video.


This spoke to me because, working with 5th and 6th graders at church, my heart is to help kids listen to God calling them to surrender control of their lives to Him.  When we grow up in the church, it is so easy for church to be part of our routine but not part of our life.  We can fill our brains with the knowledge of God, and the stories of Him at work that we read in the Bible, but unless we allow those stories to change our lives and surrender control to Him, then we continue to live for ourselves and miss out on the best that God has for us.  That is my story.  I grew up in a christian home, going to church regularly and getting to know the Bible quite well.  But only a few years later – when I was in college, did I start to truly understand what it means to let God be number 1 in my life, at least as far as entering a true relationship with God.  I still struggle many times a day for control and battle against where I feel God leading me.  So it is a continuous work-in-progress to grow every day in my relationship with God and to trust Him with my life.

For more information on Byrd, check out this interview with Chad Bonham at Inspiring Athletes.

You can also visit  the website for Fairway Outreach – an organization where you can “enjoy the great game of golf in a wholesome setting where the Christian faith is at the core of our values”. (taken from the organization’s website).  Byrd is the honorary chairman for Fairway Outreach.

 

Byrd is currently tied for 5th at Sawgrass.  One of the people that he is chasing is Zach Johnson.  Tune in here next time to learn more about Zach and his faith in God!  And enjoy what promises to be a great weekend of golf at the “5th major”.