One of the hardest working golfers I ever knew was Bob Unger. I met Bob and his wife, Jenny, in the early 70s while we were both struggling through mini-tours, trying to qualify for the tour. They were great people, but neither of them had a relationship with the Lord.

Bob and Jenny lived and breathed golf. They owned a motor home and would park it on the edge of the parking lots at the tournament courses, and that’s where they would live until the next event. They had very few interests outside of Bob’s golf career and were intent on remaining focused only on his game.

 

“Golf is not my god. Golf is a game. Jesus Christ is my God.”

–Paul Azinger 

 

Bob practiced harder and longer than any player I’d ever met. And he had an amazing talent for the game. He was both skilled and determined, and he had everything needed to become a tour professional. All the pros were sure he was going to make it, because he had done so well on the mini-tours.

Debbie and I got to know Bob and Jenny both on and off the course. They were completely wrapped up in the game of golf, intent on seeing that nothing deterred Bob from focusing on his game and gaining his card.

Then, the night before the first round of qualifying school at Perdido Bay Country Club in Pensacola, Florida, Debbie and I took the opportunity to share our faith with Bob and tell him about Jesus. I could tell by his eyes he was coming to understand the truth of God’s message, but something was holding him back. I knew that if I could ever get Bob to accept Jesus as his Savior, he would be an amazing witness for Christ. He didn’t do anything halfway—it wasn’t in his makeup. Bob was a passionate person who threw himself headlong into everything he did. Finally toward the end of the evening, Bob turned to me and said, “I think I need to accept Jesus. Would you pray with me?”

I was overjoyed and prayed with Bob as he accepted Jesus as his Lord.

That night Bob told Jenny about his decision, and she was not a happy camper. The first thought that popped into her mind was that this was going to throw off his game. She knew her husband too well to think he could focus on his playing with this new faith burning in his heart. “Couldn’t you just wait two weeks?” she asked him. “Wait until after qualifying school, then you can become a Christian.”

But she was too late. Bob had made his decision and there was no turning back. He convinced Jenny to pray with him that night and ask Jesus into her life as well, and she agreed to do it. She admitted later, however, that she had only been trying to please Bob. Throughout his prayer, she continued to worry about what this was going to do to his game.

Qualifying school that year consisted of eight grueling rounds of golf on two different courses—beginning at Pensacola and finishing over six hundred miles away at Myrtle Beach. Bob started at Perdido Country Club with a strong opening round of 69 and a decent second day of 71, but his game started going downhill from there. The longer he played, the harder he found it to keep his mind in his game instead of on his new decision to follow Christ. And the greater his zeal for the Lord grew, the more his game deteriorated. He shot a 75 and a 77 on the next two days of qualifying, which pushed him far back in the pack—around sixtieth place.

Bob knew he was down, but not yet out. He and Jenny quickly packed for the long ten-hour drive to Myrtle Beach. Then just as they started out of the parking lot in their large motor home, Jenny began to cry and unload on him. “You’re such a good player,” she told him, “and you’ve worked so hard for this. You’ve got everything you need to make it onto the tour; we both know that. But now you’ve just lost your heart for the game. I knew this would happen when you decided to become a Christian!”

As Jenny sat crying uncontrollably, Bob pulled the motor home over to the side of the road and said to her, “You’re right. I’m a nervous wreck. And I can’t seem to focus like I should. But I didn’t ask Jesus into my life for nothing. I’m going to pray right now and put it in his hands. If he wants me to make it, he’s got to give me the power. If not, I’ll do whatever he wants me to do—I’ll work at a hamburger stand if that’s what he wants. I’ll quit golf if he doesn’t want me to play. But I want that to be his decision.”

 

“We will all grip something, and we will all be gripped by something or someone. So my question to you is, “Do you have a grip on your life?” You may have a controlled backswing, but do you have control down inside? Your answer is critical to your success in the game of life.”

–Billy Graham 

 

Then Bob took Jenny by the hand and said a simple prayer, laying his game and his future at the feet of Jesus. Afterward he looked at Jenny and said, “Okay, now we’ve given it to the Lord and we don’t have to worry about it anymore. When I’m playing I want you to watch me. Whether I play well or mess up, I’m going to look over at you and point my finger in the air. That means ‘one way.’ Whatever happens, Jesus is in control.”

Jenny wasn’t sure what to think of Bob’s new philosophy of golf, but she was willing to go along with anything that might help him get his mind back into his game. During the last four rounds of qualification, Bob’s game came around. He was playing some of the best golf of his life. In spite of some of the worst weather of the year, Bob shot par golf all the way through to finally gain his PGA card. He ended up with the second lowest score during the last four rounds of playing, just behind Ben Crenshaw.

Throughout the rounds Bob did exactly what he told Jenny he would do. He put his trust in Jesus, and with each shot, he looked over at her and pointed his finger in the air. “One way.” Players who were paired with him during those rounds couldn’t believe Bob’s commitment to staying focused on the Lord. They later testified that before each shot Bob would bow his head and say a simple prayer, then look over at Jenny and lift his finger into the air with a smile.

Some months later Bob was able to lead Jenny into a deep and personal relationship with Jesus. Bob had a great two-year career on the PGA tour, but it paled in comparison to his new faith in Jesus. I’ve long since lost count of the number of people he and Jenny led to the Lord through his days on tour. They were a shining example of true faith on the professional golf circuit.

Today Bob is a full-time pastor. He and Jenny work with an exciting church just outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Since the day that they each gave their hearts to Christ, they have never waned from keeping Jesus at the center of their lives.

 

The True Beauty of the Game 

I recently had the chance to have dinner with Bob and Jenny and later to visit with them in their church home. I asked Bob if he gets to play much golf these days. “I play a few times a year,” he said, “usually with some guys from our church. And I still love it. I wish I could play more often, but the ministry keeps me pretty busy.”

 

“And if you play golf, you’re my friend.”

–Harvey Penick 

 

As great as golf is to play, the true genius of the game is the way it brings so many lives together and builds lifelong friendships in the process. I’ve forgotten many of the games and scores and great shots of my career, but I’ll always remember the people I met along the way. God has used this great game to bring people into my life that I probably never would have met or developed friendships with otherwise, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Though I wish I could see my friends more often, it’s comforting to know that someday, sooner than we may think, we’ll all meet again for one last round on the great nineteenth hole in the sky. I’ll be there with my Gator bag and my 1953 Wilson sand wedge, with Joe the Pro carrying my clubs. As always, he’ll probably be bragging about the Gators and cutting up with Bob and Jenny and all the rest of the gang. And I’ll still be telling the gallery about my incredible tee shot on the sixteenth hole at Cypress Point for a tap-in birdie.

Make sure you’re there to join us.

Until then, stay in his grip, and I’ll see you at the tee!