DUBLIN, Ireland (BP)–While the eyes of the sports world are on the Ryder Cup matches Sept. 22-24 at the K Club outside Dublin, Ireland, the eyes of faith-filled American sports fans are on the solidly Christian quartet leading the U.S. team against its European counterparts.
U.S. team captain Tom Lehman is one of the longtime leaders of the PGA Tour Bible study. His assistants Loren Roberts and Corey Pavin and unofficial helper David Ogrin are fellow believers and also regular Bible study participants.
“I’ve always related to a large number of people on the PGA Tour,” Lehman said. “But my very closest friends have been [those] who share my belief system, and that’s certainly the case here.”
While previous U.S. captains have used famous sports psychologists or motivation experts like Tony Robbins, Lehman has used a different track, including some principles from Christian leadership books written by John Maxwell and others.
“I have read a lot of them and certainly agree with that style of leadership,” Lehman said. “We serve and help others and that’s what we want to do to follow Jesus’ example.”
Lehman, Roberts and Ogrin have been friends and traveling companions for nearly 20 years. Pavin is also a close friend and says the group shares a common belief system and strong desire to see the Americans break a losing streak of four of the last five matches, including the biggest European rout ever two years ago outside Detroit.
“I’m not one to trumpet my own beliefs publicly or get into somebody’s face, but my Christian beliefs are very, very important to me,” said Pavin, who grew up with a Jewish background in Southern California. “I may not bring it up publicly unless somebody asks, but I’m always willing to share what’s most important in my life.”
To prepare himself and his team for a big test of international golf supremacy, Lehman consulted a number of Christian sports leaders, from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden to Christian golf legend Byron Nelson.
“Just because you’re competitive, that doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian. Christians can compete with anyone at any time,” Lehman said. “Meek doesn’t mean weak.”
He even had Nelson, an accomplished woodworker at the age of 94, craft a small wooden keepsake for each player and coach with a Bible verse, Psalm 18:29, “With your help I can advance against a troop, with my God I can scale a wall,” perfect for a team facing long golfing odds.
“I feel like that’s one of my spiritual gifts, one of encouragement,” Lehman said. “Trying to come alongside people and help them.”
Roberts, winner of the Senior British Open this year, said having his friend and Christian brother leading the U.S. team is an encouraging sign for him and the American players.
“As a Christian, you always want to share your faith and belief before others, not in a bold or flashy way, but in a way that gives a genuine witness,” Roberts said. “That is what Tom has always done and what he will continue to do this week.”
Unlike most professional golf tournaments where it’s every player for himself, the Ryder Cup matches feature the rarely seen or played team competition, where U.S. and European players are paired as a unit and all the matches are added up to find the ultimate team winner.
Working with the PGA of America, Lehman and his wife, Melissa, have been responsible for a wide range of Ryder Cup duties — all the way from selecting the clothes the U.S. players wear to choosing lodging arrangements, the playing order and the two-man American teams.
The captain is also responsible for selecting two assistants who will help him with all his duties before and during the matches. Most guys pick friends or fellow players they have known for a long time. Such was the case for Lehman in picking Roberts and Pavin.
“This is all rooted around playing and relationships,” Lehman said. “Being around the players and living with them for two to three days is something I’m really looking forward to. Some of them don’t know me that well and some of them don’t know me at all. They’re going to see me and know what I’m all about.”
That was the case when Lehman organized the first-ever pre-Ryder Cup scouting trip for his team in mid-August. All 12 players — including the world’s No. 1 player Tiger Woods and Masters Champion Phil Mickelson — made the quick three-day trip to the K Club, 30 miles west of Dublin, to see the course and bond with each other and their coaches.
Among the strong Christian players on this year’s team are PGA Tour Bible study regular Zach Johnson, who has given his testimony at a pre-Masters Baptist breakfast, and Stewart Cink, one of two captain’s picks.
While the Americans are true underdogs at the Ryder Cup for one of the first times ever, Lehman is confident his team’s preparation will serve them well just like it has him in his long and successful career.
“I practiced and played a lot of good golf, but the results didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to,” he said. “That’s a lot easier to take than if you’re not prepared.”
Art Stricklin is vice president of public relations for Marketplace Chaplains USA in Dallas and a contributor to BP Sports, online at www.bpsports.net.