When Dr. Tom came to me looking for help with his swing, he was as frustrated as any golfer I’d ever seen. He’d been to teachers all over the U.S., trying desperately to improve the quality of his game, yet he couldn’t seem to get past the wall he’d hit in his scoring. Tom was a psychiatrist who had done numerous studies on the left and right hemispheres of the brain. His specialty was analyzing how people learn, which made it that much more frustrating to him that he couldn’t seem to figure out what he was doing wrong.

 

“I am certain that there can be no freedom, and no natural swing in hitting the golf ball if the mind is occupied by instructing the body.”

J. H. Taylor

 

After our first lesson together, I could see Tom’s dilemma. He had a hundred swing thoughts going through his mind every time he stood over the ball—keep your head down, left arm straight, eye on the ball, swing inside out, club on plane, pronate, supinate, take it back inside, shift your weight. It’s a wonder he ever made contact. He was struggling with dozens of incorrect swing habits, each brought on by a preconceived notion about the proper swing pattern.

While visiting with Tom, I learned he had played baseball as a boy, so the first thing I did was put away his club and hand him a baseball bat. I had him hit a golf ball off a makeshift T-ball stick on the driving range. I wanted him to get the feel of how natural the swing can be when you don’t think about it. It was amazing how long and straight he could hit a golf ball with a bat in his hand. Then I handed his club back to him and had him swing it just like a bat. He continued this motion, slowly moving the club down further, first at waist level, then even with his knees, and eventually at ground level. I teed one up and had him hit it, and immediately he was able to see and feel the difference. For the first time, he felt truly natural over the ball. He later told me his game improved overnight.

The key to learning in golf is that you must first see and feel what you want the club to do and then trust that motion in order for permanent change to occur.

Making Things Too Complicated

Like Tom, most golfers tend to make the swing much more complicated than it needs to be. They’ve heard and read so many tips on improving our game that their brains are on overload every time they pick up a club. What I did for Tom was help remove those thoughts and free him up to feel his way through the swing instead of thinking his way through it. I encouraged him to start over by taking him back to his days as a young boy, swinging the club for the very first time. Only then was he finally able to see the power and simplicity of a pure and uninhibited golf swing.

 

“For the adult pupil of sports, it is necessary to have an understanding of the child’s successful approach to learning, and then to allow himself to adapt this very same approach.”

Vivien Saunders

 

Children come to the lesson tee with no preconceived ideas about how to play golf. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with kids so much. There are no bad swing habits to break, no mental blocks to overcome—just a blank slate. Children are willing and able to learn.

Jesus loved teaching children for the same reason. He saw their childhood innocence as a trait to be admired, as a building block for true, Christlike character. In fact, he told his disciples, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). In effect, he was telling them, “If you want to experience your true purpose in life, you have to start by unlearning old habits, by laying aside your misconceptions about God and trusting instead in his grace and forgiveness.”

Learning like a Child

In my life, I have never seen the truth of this concept better illustrated than in the case of my father. Dad was a self-made man who was strong, proud, and boisterous—a typical alcoholic. He was a stern disciplinarian, and I longed to be close to him, but he continued to push me away.

When I gave my life to Christ, the chasm between Dad and I grew even deeper and wider. Shortly after my decision, Mom gave her heart to Christ, and Dad became more defiant and angry than ever, calling us both weak and gullible. He couldn’t accept our newfound faith in God. Mom and I tried to share our faith with him, but he had no interest in listening.

 

“In life, as in golf, most often the obvious way is the incorrect way.”

Percy Boomer

 

Several years before Dad died, he was in the hospital preparing for serious surgery. The doctors said we had a fifty-fifty chance of losing him. The thought that I might never see my father alive again weighed on my heart and spirit, and though I knew it was going to be tough, I had to talk to him about the Lord. I bent down beside his bed, and for the first time in our lives, we had a heart-to-heart talk. I tried to explain God’s grace and forgiveness to him, to tell him what it means to be forgiven. I shared the essence of Ephesians 2:8–9 with him: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Still, he couldn’t seem to comprehend it.

“Wally, I’m not a bad person,” he told me. “I’ve always tried to do my best to take care of Mom and the family.” My heart sank. I knew he still didn’t understand. As always, Dad was trusting in his own performance instead of God’s forgiveness. Just as Tom had stood over the ball, frustrated that he couldn’t get his swing to work, Dad refused to let go of his preconceived ideas about God. Dad was convinced that if heaven did exist, the way to get there was to do the right things, to live a good life, to try to be honest, and then maybe God would accept you. The kind of love and forgiveness I was talking about seemed to be beyond Dad’s comprehension.

Thankfully, God gave us several more years with Dad. During his recovery, he was forced to stop drinking and chain-smoking, and I could tell he was becoming more receptive. He began to read some of the Christian books I had given him, and for the first time in his life he read from the Bible. Dad began to change, and I saw a new man starting to emerge. We knew he might not have long to live, and we prayed daily that before he died Dad would accept Christ and his forgiveness.

Then one night, just a few months before his death, Dad called me into his room to talk. He told me that Mom and he had attended a Billy Graham crusade. Dad said to me humbly, “Billy said that when Christ enters your life, he takes the slate where he has been keeping a record of your sins and erases it. But not only that, he throws the slate away! Son, that’s the kind of forgiveness I’ve needed.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Dad had just explained the gospel to me! He went on to say that he had taken Mother’s hand and had gone forward that night, giving his life to Christ by making a public confession of his faith. “Son,” he said, “you don’t have to worry about me anymore. I know where I’m going.” It was one of the happiest days of my life.

 

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

Proverbs 14:12

 

Over the next few months, we watched Dad’s health deteriorate, but his spirit soared. Every day brought a fresh discussion about his new faith. He was like a child again, learning and experiencing new and exciting things every day. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” That’s exactly what I saw happening with my dad. He began treating Mom and others with a kind of love and respect I’d never seen from him before. During Dad’s last few months, he and I developed a closer relationship than we had had during my entire childhood. My only wish was that he could live longer, giving us more time to share in his new found faith.

As Dad’s health worsened, the doctors were forced to admit him to the intensive care unit of the hospital. Even though he was weak, he continued to share Christ with every person he came into contact with, from the doctors to the nurses to the fellow patients on his ward. He never tired of talking about Jesus.

One evening, just a few weeks before Dad went to be with the Lord, I could tell he was in a lot of pain, so I asked if he wanted me to pray for him. He shook his head and said, “I’d like to sing a song.” I was a bit taken aback, since I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard Dad sing. Then in a small, almost childlike voice, he began,

Jesus loves me this I know,

               For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong,

               They are weak, but he is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

               Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

               The Bible tells me so.

 

I wondered if this might be a song Dad once sang as a little child in Sunday school. I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him.