In one of my previous books, I asked my friend Tim Lahaye—a highly respected author and theologian—if he would honor me by writing the introduction. He gracefully agreed and submitted a wonderful writing that included the following excerpt about a man he used to play golf with.

 

“The only way of really finding out a man’s true character is to play golf with him.”

–P. G. Wodehouse 

 

The man who first introduced me to golf was a fellow minister-friend with whom I had gone to school. Whenever we played, he volunteered to keep score, but after a few rounds, it dawned on me that he always got the lowest score in our foursome of pastors.

One day we came to a small lake, and rather than take a penalty and move on if we went into the drink, he challenged us to hit until we got one on the other side. Believe it or not, all three of us hit our first drive safely to the other side, putting enormous pressure on him. It took him seven balls to get across. Later I noticed that he only counted two of those water balls.

One time he had 3 balls going at the same time and claimed the one with the lowest score was his “official” ball. Other times, instead of counting short putts, he just picked up his ball and said, “That’s a gimme.” Finally, I got up enough nerve to suggest that his best club was his pencil, which was why he always got the lowest score.

Over time, I have noticed that anyone who cheats in golf has a tendency to cheat in life. My friend was no exception. Of the four of us, this man was decidedly the best preacher, and the most highly respected in his denomination. Yet, the truth is, he was a cheat! He cheated in golf, and he cheated in life. He cheated on his wife, his church, his Lord, and his family. Today he is a hollow shell of what he could have been.

 

Play It as It Lies 

Jack Nicklaus once said, “If there’s one thing golf demands above all else, it’s honesty.” By its very nature, golf is a game of honor and integrity. It takes a lot of character for a man to stand alone in a patch of deep rough, with a pitiful lie beneath his ball and no one else in sight, and hit it as it lies. Or to make the long walk back to the tee after seeing that the ball has landed about an inch out of bounds between two white stakes. The temptation to prop the ball up a bit with a club is more than a lot of golfers can handle, so we often chalk it up in our minds to winter rules and make the adjustment. But that kind of habit isn’t good for your game or for your character.

 

“Once you give up your ethics, the rest is a piece of cake.”

–J. R. Ewing (from the TV series Dallas

 

The true character of any man is measured by what he does when he is all alone—when no one else is looking. Dave Hill once said, “Golf is the hardest game in the world to play and the easiest to cheat at.” Given that truth, it seems appropriate to me that when we step up to the tee box, the first question asked is, “Who has the honor?” Even the language of golf demands an honest approach.

It’s interesting to note that the mulligan was never intended to have a place in the old game of golf. It was, in fact, invented by a duffer in America, some time after the game came to the United States.

The rules of golf are clear. Wherever your ball happens to end up, if it’s in bounds, you’re expected to play it as it lies. You would expect the same from your opponent, so hold yourself to it, as well. It will make you a better golfer, and a better person.

 

A Shining Example 

When golfers talk about honesty on the course, the name of Tom Kite almost always comes up. More than most, Tom Kite has shown himself to be a man of tremendous integrity, both in golf and in life.

Even during his earliest days on tour, Kite quickly became known as a man that could be trusted completely. During one tournament about twenty years ago, he was coming down the homestretch tied for the lead. On one shot he inadvertently brushed the ball with the tip of his club, and without hesitation, he walked over to one of the officials and reported the violation, costing himself a stroke. No one had seen the infraction, and he could have easily gotten away with it, but he didn’t. Instead, he chose to do the right thing. He finished the tournament in second place, just one stroke off the lead, and afterward reporters scrambled to his side to ask why he would call a violation on himself and throw away the tournament. His simple answer was, “There is only one way to play the game.”

Those who know Tom understand that the foundation beneath his amazing integrity is his faith in God. Tom knew that God had seen his mistake even if no one else had, and his relationship with his Lord was much too precious a thing to take for granted. When given the choice between winning a tournament and keeping his integrity intact, Tom chose the higher road. And through the years, God has been glorified every time this story has been told or remembered.

 

“In football and hockey you come into intimate—and often forcible enough—contact with the outer man; chess is a clash of intellects; but in golf character is laid bare to character.”

–Arnold Haultain 

 

During another tournament years later—the 1993 Kemper Open—Tom Kite was leading the pack and was paired with Grant Waite of New Zealand during the third round. On the fourth hole, Waite took a drop from a ground under repair area, and as he was preparing to hit, Kite noticed that Waite’s heel was slightly outside the OB marker. It would have been easy for Kite to look away and hope that an official would notice the infraction and give Waite a two-shot penalty, but instead Kite quickly stopped his opponent and pointed to his heel. “We don’t need any penalties here,” Tom said to him.

The grateful Grant Waite changed his stance before making a beautiful approach shot into the green.

Waite won the tournament by one stroke, and Kite again came in second. Once more the reporters gathered around to ask Kite if he had any doubts about his decision to intervene. He told them, “It would be pretty chicken for me to stand by and watch a guy accidentally break a rule and then say, ‘By the way, add two strokes.’ That’s not golf. That’s other sports where guys are trying to get every advantage they can.”

A true man of God knows that honesty and honor are the only true paths to greatness, both in golf and in life.