Part Three: Meeting Jesus…By Accident

For years, people have told me I have more energy than anybody they’ve ever seen. It’s true: left to my own devices, I can go from one project to another, one tournament to another, one coaching session to another, one event to another—never looking around, never pausing, never stopping to reflect or question or savor the moment. Like a kid on a merry-go-round, stretching and reaching as hard as he can for the brass ring so he can get another free ride, I never enjoyed one moment of the ride itself.

I developed an incredible work ethic over the years because I was so driven to succeed—and so fearful of failing. At some point, I suppose, it was no longer about convincing my dad I was worth something; it became about convincing myself. As a result, I had a relentless need to prove myself, to always get better. My college coach, Buster Bishop, has mentored some of the greatest players in the game and became a coaching legend. But thirty or so years after he’d coached me, at a University of Florida fundraising tournament in Gainesville, Coach Bishop said, “Army”—that was his nickname for me—”I’ve coached a lot of players, but nobody ever worked harder than you.”

He was right.

In college, I would play and practice golf for as many hours in the day as possible and would finish up by playing the first three holes on the back nine. The 12th hole came back to the clubhouse, and after putting out I would lie on my back and watch the sun go down. I guess it was because on the golf course, I could convince myself I was somebody. It was the place I came closest to having self-worth.

But I didn’t spend 100 percent of my time on the course. There was another side that I didn’t let Coach Bishop see: the frat party boy who drank a little too much and made a few other choices that weren’t so healthy. I led a double life. On the one hand, I was the All-American golfer, the leader in student government and the athletic council, the go-to guy in the lettermen’s club. On the other hand, a big chunk of my life was out of control. I didn’t really know what was going on. I was just trying to keep moving ahead until somehow I figured out what life was really about.

I was good at projecting an image, though—a skill I learned as the child of an alcoholic. When you’re an alcoholic’s kid, you become a human doing instead of a human being. You learn how to keep a good face and blend in, because all your significance is wrapped up in performance and the favorable opinions of others.

Then during my senior year, it happened.

I was captain of the team, and all-American honors were within my grasp—only a few tournaments away. But I injured my back and missed a couple of tournaments, which seemed to me like the end of the world. I was asking a lot of questions, like “Why is this happening to me?” I just wanted to get back to the life I knew so I could go after the goals I’d set.

While I was recuperating from the injury, I heard about some religious meetings some athletes were holding in the athletic dorms across the street from the Pike frat house where I lived, so I thought maybe I’d just slip over there and have a look. I guess the questions about my life I’d been asking since the injury made me think it was a good idea to find out about religion. I’d always been kind of curious about religion anyway, after studying religion in some of my humanities classes, and—I hate to admit it—I also had the thought that involvement in a religious organization would look good on my resume.

The first couple meetings went pretty well. I didn’t say much and just played the role. I must have really pulled the wool over their eyes pretty convincingly, though, because after just two meetings they asked me if I wanted to become an officer. I figured this came about because they knew I was involved in leadership with other organizations. And like a good, All-American guy, I said, “Sure, if you think I can help.”

I got the absolute shock of my life: they appointed me chaplain!  Of course, I was too proud to say no. I’ve told people before that I think I was probably the first chaplain who literally didn’t have a prayer. My hand was called big time, and I was holding just about nothing. No kidding, the very next week I was supposed to lead a devotion, and I was frantically scouring the campus newspaper and bulletin boards for information on religious meetings, because I had no idea what I was supposed to do or say.

Luckily for me, we had a guest speaker for our next meeting: a law student from Jacksonville named Ander Crenshaw, who went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ander was a dynamic speaker; he talked as if Jesus Christ was a real, living presence inside him. It was almost like a light was shining out of his face. I was a chaplain wandering in the dark, so he had my full attention. I followed him to his next speaking engagement, which was for Campus Crusade. Before the night was over, I had made a decision, as best as I knew how, to accept Christ and to start a relationship with Him.

I was going to follow Christ.

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