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Masters winner buoyed by faith, marriage

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Zach Johnson, the man who rose from obscurity to wear golf’s prestigious Green Jacket as winner of the Masters, accepted Christ at First Baptist Church in Orlando and is characterized by the man who led him to the Lord as a “man after God’s own heart.”

The day before Johnson won the tournament April 8, J.B. Collingsworth, president of the Marriage and Family Matters ministry, sent the golfer a text message of Psalm 16:8: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

“I just believed it was his time, kind of like I did with Payne Stewart in 1999,” Collingsworth told Baptist Press. “I felt like God spoke to my heart that he was going to be the one to take that trophy home and use the platform for God’s glory. I sent him the same Scripture verse that I gave Payne, and that’s the only other time I’ve ever done that.”

Collingsworth gained a reputation as a spiritual leader for a number of professional golfers after preaching at Stewart’s memorial service at First Baptist Orlando in 1999 when the golfing champion died in a plane crash. The two had met on an overnight retreat with their children who both attended First Academy, a ministry of the church.

Stewart and Collingsworth became friends, and because of his relationship with Stewart, Collingsworth said some golfers took him more seriously. “As Tom Lehman said, God opened these guys’ hearts to me,” Collingsworth said.

Collingsworth first encountered Johnson in 2002 as a pastor to couples at First Baptist Orlando. Johnson was dating a church member named Kim Barclay, and they were beginning to discuss the possibility of marriage.

“Kim was a real strong believer and had met Zach,” Collingsworth recounted. “He actually lived at the same apartment complex where she did. They began to be friends and then started dating, and everyone was concerned because he was not a Christian. People were kidding her about doing missionary dating and that kind of thing.”

As Zach attended First Baptist with Kim, they started noticing the advertisements for a marriage preparation class Collingsworth and his wife, Shugie, were leading at the church. Several hundred couples took the class each year, and Zach and Kim decided to enroll.

“All through the course we talked about how to have a godly marriage, how to build your marriage on Christ, how to make Him the central part of your relationship,” Collingsworth said.

The Collingsworths regularly spoke in the class about the importance of a relationship with Christ, and they emphasized that divorce should never be an option for believers.

“All this began to prick his heart, he said, and when I gave an invitation toward the end of the course was when Zach asked Jesus into his heart,” Collingsworth said. “As Kim says, it was a slow progression for him to that point, and then once he accepted Christ he just went crazy (in commitment and enthusiasm).”

Zach and Kim married in February 2003, and he continued to work on his golf career. Collingsworth didn’t see Johnson again until 2004 at a Bible study on the PGA Tour.

“I was sitting there and saw this guy come in, and the light was sort of glaring on his face. I couldn’t really see him well but he just kept smiling at me,” Collingsworth said. “I thought, ‘I know this guy.’ As soon as it was over, he came barreling over to me and said, ‘J.B, J.B! I’m Zach Johnson. Do you remember me? I was in your prep for marriage class and I accepted Christ in your class. I’m now speaking in churches and sharing my testimony and telling people what Christ has done in my life.'”

Collingsworth was surprised by the encounter because Johnson had been just a regular guy in the marriage class.

“To hear him talk about what God was doing in his life at that time was pretty amazing,” Collingsworth said. “I kept telling people to watch out for this guy because he’s just an amazing young man with a lot of determination. I would tell different friends of mine, ‘Have you heard of Zach? He’s really going to be one of the up and coming guys.’ And I really felt that in my heart.”

So when Johnson edged golf legend Tiger Woods to win the Masters on Easter Sunday, Collingsworth said he wasn’t surprised.

“I just believe that he was a man after God’s own heart, and I think God chose this time to put him in a position where a lot of people heard him give honor to the Lord and give God the credit,” Collingsworth told BP. “It kind of blows me away to see that. I just sat and cried when he cried on Sunday. I was really touched by what he said and the fact that he won was just a real awesome thing. I’ve been about to bust ever since just because I know that God is going to use this greatly for His glory.”

Long before the Masters win, the Collingsworths asked the Johnsons to be part of the national advisory board for their marriage enrichment ministry, which means the Johnsons support Marriage and Family Matters financially and with their prayers.

At a 2005 fundraiser for the ministry in Fort Worth, Texas, Zach and Kim gave their testimony. Johnson pointed to the class Collingsworth led at First Baptist Orlando and said, “At that point I thought I was a Christian, but I was not.” He credited the Collingsworths and the working of the Holy Spirit with ensuring that he was a believer by the time the class ended.

“They say now that as they look back on it, the things they learned in the class grounded them in their marriage and in their other relationships,” Collingsworth said of the Johnsons. “As Zach puts it, it’s God first, family and friends second, and then golf is somewhere down there.”

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  • Erin Roach