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”.

 

Living for God in a “Major” Way – Christians in the PGA – Webb Simpson

I decided that I was going to feature Christian golfers this year during all the major tournaments.  Now, I know – the Players

TPC Sawgrass 17th hole "The Island Green"

Championship at Sawgrass in Florida is not really a major.  But is a well know and important tournament in the PGA season.  It has even been labelled the “fifth major” by many around the game – and the course features one of the most well known (and notorious) par threes in the world – the famed 17th “Island Green”.

I am pretty far from a professional golfer, although I do like to go out on a golf course and hack the ball around for a few hours if I get a chance.  But while the 17th at Sawgrass scares most seasoned golfers – It would cost a year’s worth of wages on golf balls for me to put one on the green.  I’d be better suited to keep a snorkel and mask in my golf bag.

I like the Sawgrass course, and since this is a tournament with a certain amount of prestige to it, I thought I would include this weekend among the “majors” and focus on a few more Christian golfers on the PGA tour.

Webb Simpson

To start with this week, we will check out the story of Webb Simpson, currently ranked at #9 in the world.  He has 2 wins to his name and a host of other top 10 finishes.  He finished last season second to Luke Donald on the PGA money list.  While he is not always among the first names that come to mind when challenged to name pro golfers, I believe that he is getting noticed and gaining momentum.  After a 4th place finish last weekend, He may be primed to make a run at Sawgrass.

But one thing that he is known for, if you were to check out news reports on Simpson, is his strong faith, and the integrity with which he plays the game.  As you can read in this article from Chad Bonham at Inspiring Athletes, playing the game with integrity is more important to him than success.  When faced with temptation to “get away with something” we often struggle to do what we know is right.  One of my favorite stories that I read about Simpson was from last year’s Zurich Championship in New Orleans.  Simpson had a short putt on the 15th green during the tournament’s final round.  As he positioned himself to take the putt, the wind moved the ball, ever so slightly.  The rules call for a penalty because the player has already “addressed the ball”.  Simpson called the foul on himself, and took a one stroke penalty.  He would finish the round tied for the lead (that penalty turned out to be the difference, costing him what would have been his first tour victory) and wound up losing to Bubba Watson (you can read a post I wrote about him, here)  in a playoff.  You can see a video summary of the final round, including the penalty, here.

Simpson would go on to win a tournament later last August, and then won again 2 weeks later.

Webb Simpson, with his wife Dowd, and son after winning the Deutsche Bank Tournament last September

What I like about this story is not really the end result as much as I like Bubba Watson. – It stinks to see someone lose out on something that is out of their control.  But that he handled it with class and integrity, calling the penalty on himself, and instead of sounding off and getting upset, he went through proper channels see that  penalty lead to a rule change by the PGA to keep the wind from altering the outcome of a tournament.

Webb Simpson has shown a great deal of skill and class.  I think he will be worth watching this weekend in Florida.  I also like that in victory or defeat, his relationship with God stays front and center.  It would be great to see him win, but I am confident that God can and will use him win or lose.  I am challenged to have the same attitude.  In success or failure, God is always worthy of being praised and always worthy of being #1 in my life.  May my life always reflect Him, as he guides me through the decisions that I face.

Play well this weekend Webb.  And keep shining the light of God’s love every chance you get!

 

And the winner is… Master’s follow up!

What a fun couple of days the Master’s Tournament weekend provided.  From Phil Mikleson’s sick flop shot on Saturday to Louis Oosthuizen’s Albatross on Sunday, to Bubba Watson’s amazing save from the rough on the second playoff hole to win the Green Jacket.  It was an incredibly entertaining match.  I found myself watching the final round at a family Easter gathering, and it drew in some others that were there, too.  We are all casual PGA fans, but when I shared parts of Bubba Watson’s story (which I learned about in my research for a blog post), we were all cheering him on.  His is an amazing success story in that he has never had a coach (he is self taught).

Read the Yahoo coverage  of the Masters here.  You can also check out some of his Tweets. You see Bubba is very active on Twitter and often uses that medium to share his belief in God. You can follow him at @bubbawatson.   Congrats to Bubba Watson.  Great Round!  Entertaining tournament and  thanks for shining God’s light for all to see.

Feel free to share you favorite moment from the Weekend!

Watson's amazing save from the wilderness on the second playoff hole