I learned early in my career that my strength in golf was my short game. I was a great putter and could get it close to the pin from just about anywhere. Guys on the tour used to say that I could get the ball up and down from a trash can. I really struggled with my driver and long irons, and as a result was consistently scrambling to get it close, but my short game always seemed to save me.

The main reason for this was my crazy swing. Ken Venturi, a television commentator, used to call me “the dancer.” I had a bad habit of sliding my right foot back behind my left heel during the downswing. At the top of the swing, my club shaft was pointed fifty yards left of the hole, and to compensate I had to slide my hips forward during the downswing to get the club squarely on the ball. My swing was atrocious, and it caused me to miss a lot of greens.


“A good putter is a match for anyone. A bad putter is a match for no one.”

Harvey Penick


I remember playing against Tom Watson during the final round of the 1977 Western Open in Chicago. Tom was as smooth as ever, but I was all over the place. I couldn’t hit a green if my life had depended on it. I even sent one shot into the water and was forced to drop, but I was still able to get up and down for a par. I proved to be quite an escape artist that day; I finished one stroke behind Tom to take second in the tournament. It was a great feeling, but I went away wishing I could have done better—that my long game would cooperate.

A professional I admired came up to me later and said, “Wally, you’ve got a million-dollar short game. If you could ever change your swing and hit more greens per round, you’d be able to win a lot of tournaments.”

His comment lit a fire in my heart, and I began putting all of my efforts into fixing my swing, breaking down its flaws and working to overcome them. I spent hours on the driving range hitting ball after ball, focusing on keeping my clubhead straight at the top and planting my right foot firmly. After a while I could see a difference. My long irons started coming around, and I was hitting more fairways off the tee. So I continued working at it, month after month, teacher after teacher.

But in my exuberance to get better, I had neglected my short game, and suddenly I couldn’t get it near the hole as often. My chipping and putting began to suffer. I was hitting more greens in regulation, and my scores should have improved, but they didn’t. I was only scoring worse. My game continued to deteriorate over the next few years, until eventually I lost my place on the tour.

In my efforts to improve my weaknesses, I had neglected my strengths. I had forgotten that it was my short game that got me onto the tour, and I should never have taken it for granted. A player should always strive to improve the weak parts of their game, but never at the expense of their strengths.

It was a hard-won lesson for me—one that I will never forget.

Chasing a Tiger

Tiger Woods once tied Davis Love III at the Las Vegas Invitational, and the tournament went into a one-hole playoff. Love had the honors, and he nailed his drive 310 yards down the fairway—a great length for most players, but easily beatable for Tiger. Tiger then surprised everyone by choosing to hit with a 3-wood off the tee. Just a few minutes earlier he had played the same hole with a driver, and his tee shot carried right down the center about 325 yards—an easy pitch into the hole.

Tiger surveyed the shot and then nailed the ball dead center; it came to rest just shy of Love’s ball. This allowed Tiger to hit first, and he hit a perfect 9-iron to within eighteen feet of the cup. Love shot next, pulling an 8-iron into the back left bunker. Suddenly Tiger was in the A position. Love made a good attempt out of the sand, giving him a six-foot putt for a par, but he missed and came away with a bogey. Tiger two-putted for par and won the tournament.

When Tiger was asked about his club selection, he explained that he always likes to be hitting into the green first in match play, because if he gets a good shot it puts tremendous pressure on the other player. He knew not only how to play to his strengths but also how to put the opponent into a position of weakness.

And that’s just one of the reasons why Tiger is the man to beat on tour.


Know Your Spiritual Strengths

Over the last twenty years I’ve developed a love for spending time alone with God, reading his Word, writing out my thoughts, and journaling my time in prayer and meditation.


“Know your strengths and take advantage of them.”

Greg Norman


I’m an early riser, usually waking before 5:00 a.m., so I’ve made a habit of giving the first part of my morning to the Lord. I read from Scripture, as well as from a few devotional books I’ve run across. My favorite is My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. I read a short selection each day, meditate on his thoughts, and then spend some time writing out a few of my own. I’ve been through this book five times, yet I never fail to glean new insight and understanding from this amazing Christian classic.

I would be lost without this facet of my Christian walk. I consider quiet times alone with the Lord to be my spiritual strength. It has proven to be the most effective and enjoyable aspect of my walk with God, and by remaining true to that commitment—by playing to my spiritual strength—I’ve found that it strengthens other parts of my life as well.

My advice to other believers is to find their spiritual strengths and build on them. Whatever gift God has given you, use it, perfect it, work on it regularly and consistently. Allow God to mold you to your purpose in his earthly kingdom.


“There’s no substitute for a daily and weekly walk with God.”

Billy Graham


Don’t Neglect Quiet Times

One last thought: Whatever your spiritual strength—whether it is teaching, evangelism, writing, giving, encouragement, leadership, prayer, or organization—don’t forget to spend time alone with the Lord. Otherwise you’ll feel as frustrated as a golfer who can consistently drive the ball 250 yards down the middle yet ends up three-putting every hole. Some parts of your game you just can’t do without!