Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of playing in a lot of 40-plus tournaments. It’s a competitive golf circuit that helps a number of players prepare for the Senior tour. One of the players I met on this circuit is a man named David Smith—a man of deep faith and a great golfer who has written a wonderful book on the disciplines of the game.

I was once playing a round with David at the Heathrow Country Club in Orlando, and we came to the sixteenth hole, which is a long par-5. The wind was to our backs that day, so we knew we had a chance to reach the green in two if we could push our drives far enough down the fairway. We both hit great tee shots that traveled over 300 yards toward the hole. Surveying our second shots, we both had about 250 yards to the pin. The wind was still to our backs, but the fairways sloped steeply toward the green. A lake loomed across the fairway, directly in our flight path.

To make the shots, we would need to connect perfectly with our 3-woods from a severe downhill lie and somehow get our balls to hit the green and stick—a nearly impossible shot.

 

Even if you aren’t having an extra good day, always count your blessings. Be thankful you are able to be out on a beautiful course. Most people in the world don’t have that opportunity.

–Fred Couples

 

We were sitting in the cart discussing this difficult task and the bad hand we’d been dealt, and I said to David, “It just doesn’t seem fair to hit a ball so far and straight, right down the middle of the fairway, and still have such a hard shot into the green.” David agreed with me and then stepped up to hit his shot. Standing over his ball, he took a long pause, then looked back at me and said, “You know, I’ll bet there are a lot of people fighting for their lives in Bosnia who would love to have this lie.”

Suddenly our game took on a new perspective. After that, our conversation began to shift in tone. Instead of complaining about our difficult shots, we began looking for reasons to be grateful.

David and I cashed pretty good checks for the tournament that day, and we went away thanking God for the many blessings in our lives. We both went home to well-fed families and comfortable beds, and neither of us had to worry about where our next meal would be coming from. And we wouldn’t be dodging bullets and mortar the next day!

I once heard it said that “the smallest package in the world is a man wrapped up in himself.” It’s much too easy to remain focused on the small inconveniences that come our way—to become like spoiled and ungrateful children—but we should never forget the magnitude of blessings that God has put into our lives—blessings that many in the world know nothing about. So the next time you find yourself or someone else complaining on the course, stop for a moment and try to put things in perspective.

 

Another Shot of Perspective

I was once playing in another tournament, at the Colonial Country Club, and on the par-3 sixteenth hole I pushed my tee shot into the bunker behind the green. As I was stomping off the tee box toward the hole, muttering under my breath about my bad luck, a shimmering glint of light to one side caught my eye. It was coming from the gallery. I looked over and noticed that it was the sun reflecting off a wheelchair. A paraplegic man sat alone, watching the tournament from behind the ropes, giving me a big welcome smile as I started down the fairway.

Suddenly my shot didn’t seem so bad. A giant tear started to form in my eye as I walked by him.

How sad that we so easily slip into an attitude of selfishness and ingratitude and seldom stop to look at how much we’ve been given.

 

Embracing God’s Love 

Like many children of alcoholic fathers, I really struggled with a lot of feelings of inadequacy. During my days on tour, I constantly pushed myself to be better—often setting up unrealistic expectations for my life and my game. The pressure I put on myself was enormous and often drove me toward self-destruction and fits of anger on the course. It’s a common curse for people who were never able to come to grips with their own worth due to distant and unloving fathers.
“Sometimes the biggest problem is in your head.”

–Jack Nicklaus

 

This pattern came to an all-time high for me during one particular tournament in Memphis, during the 1980 season. I was really struggling with my putter in one round. I was hitting every green in regulation and had several good chances for birdies, but I couldn’t seem to get it into the cup. No matter how hard I tried to keep the ball on line, I continued to misread the greens or push it right or left. Coming into the eleventh hole, I found myself sitting at 3 over par, even though I had been putting for birdie on every hole on the course. The frustration I felt was off the scale.

A man named Jack Tobias was following me around in the gallery that day. Jack was a friend, a missionary from the Memphis area who always came to see me play when I was in town. He was a wonderful man who had given up a lucrative career to work with people in the inner city. I had tremendous respect for Jack and was consciously aware of his presence as I made my way around the course, trying desperately to hold my temper, though I was honestly on the verge of exploding.

My approach shot on the eleventh hole was a brilliant 9-iron that landed the ball within three feet of the cup—an easy putt, straight uphill. Surely I can make this, I thought to myself. I lined it up, took my stroke, and once again missed the cup slightly to the right. I was furious. It was all I could do to keep from burying my club into the nearest tree. I gritted my teeth and stormed toward the next hole. The rage in my face was easily apparent to the gallery and the other players, and everyone steered clear of me.

Suddenly I caught a glimpse of a figure standing behind a tree on the far side of the green. It was Jack. He was motioning with his forefinger for me to come over and talk to him. The last thing I wanted to do was to see Jack in my state of mind, but he persisted, so I walked over to where he was standing.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said, with a hint of disgust in his voice.

“I’m just so frustrated,” I answered. “I can’t take this anymore.” I was ashamed to look him in the eye.

“I thought you were a Christian, Wally,” he said to me. “You’re supposed to set a good example.”

“I know I am,” I snapped, “but it’s just so hard out here.” I tried desperately to keep my composure.

Jack thought for a second and then said to me, “I know what your problem is, Wally. I’ve followed you for the last few years, and I know something about you that you probably don’t understand. I know why you let this game get to you.”

He had my attention. “What is it?” I asked.

“Your problem is, you just won’t let God love you.”

 

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38–39

 

For several seconds I sat and weighed Jack’s words. The full truth of his statement didn’t register in my mind at the moment, but as I moved through the final holes I began to understand what he meant. I had spent so much of my life on a performance treadmill, constantly trying to prove my worth to myself and to others, that I had never learned how to simply be content with who I am. I couldn’t handle failure, because failing meant I wasn’t worthy. I thought I had to give 120 percent on everything I did. I had convinced myself that the only way to be loved and accepted was to win, to be the best, to never mess up. Could God possibly love a miserable, wretched loser?

Jack’s words of confrontation had a profound impact on my life. Looking back, I can see the tremendous risk he took in challenging me. I’m now deeply touched by the thought that he loved me enough to step in and intervene when he saw the dangerous path I was traveling on. Today I try to remember Jack’s boldness whenever I see a friend heading for trouble, and I pray I’ll have the same guts and wisdom that Jack showed that day.

After the round, Jack and I got together, and he began to minister to me. We read through a number of the psalms of David, focusing on the depth and breadth of God’s love. Jack encouraged me to begin reading and meditating on the Psalms daily, especially the thirtieth through the fortieth psalms, and to learn to embrace the unconditional love that God has for us.

I took Jack’s advice to heart, and over the months and years to come the Psalms became an incredible refuge for me. I began drinking in David’s words, particularly his words in Psalm 37. “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Ps. 37:23–24).

Slowly I began to sense the incredible love and forgiveness of God, and as I read, I could almost feel his great loving hands encircle my heart and body. Nothing has done more to help me overcome my deep feelings of inadequacy and insecurity than learning to focus on God’s love and affection. Today when I pray, I no longer dwell on my failures, begging his forgiveness; I instead thank him for accepting me as I am and for remembering my sins no more.

I’ve learned to simply rest in God’s unconditional love and to be grateful that I no longer have to prove I am worthy of it.