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Faith helps pro golfers balance the highs, lows

WINDERMERE, Fla. (BP)–Half a dozen strokes with a club can make the difference between big bucks and no bucks in the world of pro golf.

Fans cheer the Sunday afternoon winners — stars like Tiger Woods who won the Master’s April 13. But there’s no fanfare for dozens of guys who didn’t qualify for the field or others who finished near the middle or bottom of the field.

Pro golf has some “very high ‘highs’ and some very low ‘lows,'” said Professional Golfers Association player Steve Lowery, a Baptist layman. It helps to know that God is always there, he said, through the bogeys as well as the birdies.

Lowery is one of three golfers on this year’s PGA tour who are members of First Baptist Church, Windermere, Fla. The others are Brad Bryant and Mike Brisky. Former tour players Brian Mogg, Denis Watson and Bart Bryant (Brad’s brother) also are members of the church, and it’s not unusual for other PGA players to visit when they’re playing in Orlando.

The Bryant brothers grew up in a Baptist pastor’s home. Their father, Dub Bryant, now serves as director of evangelism for the Montana Southern Baptist Fellowship. Brisky and Lowery both came to Christ through the influence of other Christian golfers.

All three of the current tour players have had successful careers. Lowery took first place in the 1994 Sprint International; Bryant claimed first place in the ’95 Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic, after gaining national attention earlier in his career for seven second-place finishes; and Brisky took second in the ’95 Buick Open.

Second place isn’t bad in this game. No. 2-ranked Steve Hoch took home $378,000 from the recent The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

But along with the prizes there are pressures.

Pro golf is a worldly game, Lowery acknowledged. Status comes from performance, from “where you are on the money list.”

But having experienced the unconditional love of God, Lowery has a different understanding of status. “I am a child of God,” he said. “That’s what’s important.”

Realistically, Brisky said, a player cannot go out on the course with the expectation of winning every tournament.

“I’ve never been one to pray that I win,” he said. “I do pray that God will allow me to do my best out there.” And some days, like a recent Saturday when he shot an 80 on a par-72 course, the prayer may be just, “Help me get through this day.” But “God will always provide for us, no matter what the circumstances,” Brisky said. “He will always be there.”

Added to the pressure for performance is the pressure of a busy travel schedule. Bryant expects to play in about 30 tournaments this year. His wife, Sue, and sons, ages 6 and 4, will travel with him about 25 of those weeks. Sue is home schooling their kindergarten-age son.

Brisky and his wife, Judy, also have two sons, one 6 months old, the other nearly 3. Lowery and his wife, Kathryn, have two daughters, one age 5, the other not quite 2. The families travel together when they can.

Still, “you spend a lot of time by yourself,” Lowery said.

Everyone’s schedule is totally different, Brisky added. “It’s really hard out here to get close personal relationships.”

On the positive side, the lifestyle is conducive to some “quality quiet time” in hotel rooms and lots of time for reading the Bible or other Christian materials on airplanes, Lowery said.

But it’s difficult to be active or to maintain close ties with a local church, Bryant said.

The golfers and their families can participate in a Wednesday evening Bible study, led by Larry Moody of Search Ministries, while they’re on the tour. Many of them also are involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes activities — such as breakfasts and sports camps — through which they can influence young people.

And when they’re home, they’re in church, said Windermere pastor Mark Matheson.

“We have a great Sunday school class,” Bryant said. “They pray for me when I’m on the road. … Everyone takes really good care of each other in our church.”

Matheson said the church tries not to treat the PGA players and their families any differently from anyone else. “When they’re here, they need to be Mike, Steve and Brad — not professional golfers.”

Matheson tries to spend time with each of the men individually, sometimes ministering while playing golf with them. “They try to help me with my game,” he said, “and it needs it.” On the course, “it’s amazing how good they are,” he said.

On and off the course, “they’re all committed Christians and committed husbands,” Matheson said. And while they “deal with the elite of society,” they are men who maintain their principles, the pastor continued.

The men realize how important it is to set an example.

“You play in front of 10,000 people,” Brisky noted.

And “the fans are right next to you. So often, we’re walking through a crowd of people,” Bryant said. As a Christian in that context, “I think it should make a difference in the way I conduct myself.”

But it’s no different for him than it should be for any Christian, he said. “I’m a Christian that plays golf — that’s my job. … Hopefully, we take our faith with us to the workplace, whatever it is.”

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  • Shari Schubert