Zach Johnson, Golf and God

Zach Johnson, Golf and God 1

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Whiffling Straits, a golf blog authored by Mike Zimmerman. Read the entire post here.

By Mike Zimmerman


LET’S START WITH ZACH JOHNSON, who on Sunday won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Walking off the 18th green, he had this to say to CBS’s Peter Kostis:

I feel honored. They say everything’s big in Texas, but I know there’s one thing bigger and that’s my God. And I want to lift this up to Him and give Him the glory, because the peace and the talent that He’s given me I don’t deserve. But I’m very thankful.

I understand that you might not share Johnson’s beliefs, and even that you might not appreciate him proclaiming them after a victory. But I really don’t understand the hostility. Where’s the “tolerance” everybody always says you’re supposed to have?

I think at least part of it comes from a misunderstanding of how guys like Johnson “mix” golf and faith. There’s a scene in The Simpsons where Bart and Todd Flanders—son of the Simpsons’ annoying born-again Christian neighbor Ned—are about to square off in the finals of a miniature golf tournament. Homer spots Ned and his family praying before the match. “Hey, Flanders!” Homer says. “It’s no use praying. I already did the same thing and we can’t both win!” But then Flanders explains that he was actually praying that nobody would get hurt.

And that’s where I imagine a complaint lies. “Why would God care who wins a stupid golf tournament when there is so much suffering going on in the world?”

Another objection, I suspect, is the idea that Johnson thinks God might want him to win more than the other guy. I will acknowledge there are probably well-intending Christian athletes who believe that if they pray hard enough and sincerely enough that balls will bounce their way and victories will result. But I don’t think that Johnson fits that category, and he expressed as much in the press room after the tournament. When asked what it was like to play with good friend Ben Crane in the final round, he replied:

We’ve been good friends for years. Our families are good friends. We are both Christians, so we had a lot in common. Walking with him today [at] Colonial on Sunday was great. It was an honor because we’re so close. I pray for him and he prayed for me. I’m not saying that’s why we play well, but we pray for peace and contentment. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

Years ago I had what you might call a religious conversion: I recommitted my faith in Jesus Christ and made the practice of Christianity a central focus of my life. And an interesting thing happened (actually, a lot of interesting things happened, but only one of them had anything to do with golf): I suddenly started playing the best golf of my life. It wasn’t because I started going to church on Sunday. It wasn’t because God was guiding my shots or altering my swing. And it certainly wasn’t because I was praying to shoot lower scores (the thought never even occurred to me). It was happening because I was at peace: with God, with the world, with myself.

Call it religion if you want, call it spirituality if you prefer. I call it the focus of my life. And that doesn’t change—if I can help it—whether I’m off the course or on it.

And if others can’t appreciate that, then, well … I’ll just pray that no one gets hurt.

Mike Zimmerman is a writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Visit his golf blog, Whiffling Straits.

(Image: Keith Allison/Flickr)

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Neil Sagebiel

3 thoughts on “Zach Johnson, Golf and God”

  1. Christians believe in Christ.. a great man, not too well understood by many who claim him.. other than that, the only problem is the lack of understanding and, as you mention, tolerance. Suppose he was a Rasta? Would that make it easier to relate to the red, green and yellow? I am also surprised at the animosity. A lot of golfers would do well to get a little training in how to express their personal beliefs in public without seeming smug or inappropriate. They are really ceo's of their own million dollar businesses… no ceo would say those kind of things… maybe that's why Zack should. What do you think?

  2. Good points, Buster. I've interviewed Zach and he comes across as authentic and has no problem expressing his views, including his faith. That definitely can be uncommon in today's world of elite athletes and sports celebrities who have carefully crafted images.

  3. ..I also have personally experienced the peace that belief brings.. for many the most significant event and most important fact of their lives. Hard not to want to shout the great news.. hence the Gospel.. Have seen the blind see and the lame walk.. Hard not to want to let everyone know! I really think this article explains the dilemma well.. It is important not to be shy about these matters. Faith is the way of Courage. Great Blog BTW!


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