Christians on the PGA Tour say faith, children balance life
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Golf has been called the most singular of sports, in which every bad shot, every mis-hit or mental mistake can be blamed only on the golfer who made it.
There is no teammate to accuse, no one to blame for a missed block or careless turnover. Each professional golfer whose miscues -- and successes -- are seen by millions has learned they are all alone when they get inside the gallery ropes.
But for the large number of Christian golfers on the PGA Tour who balance their faith with their uncertain and often-changing career, the addition of a wife and children deepens their faith while putting pressure on their career.
"It's all about balance, that's what we're looking for out here," said PGA Tour veteran Paul Stankowski. "I know where my perspective is off the course, and having a wife and young kids has helped that."
Stankowski is one of a growing number of parents who have had their faith strengthened or renewed with the addition of children.
"To me, it's very important," Harrison Frazar said about the increased faith component in his life which coincided with the arrival of sons William and Ford over the last four years.
"We have put them in Christian schools because we want the values to be consistent at home and at school. It's a big change in our life," he said.
PGA Tour superstar Justin Leonard also has had plenty of big changes in his life over the past couple of years. He and his wife, Amanda, were married at the start of the 2002 season and they had their first child, Reese Ella, last fall.
"At one time, I put too much into [golf] and was too hard on myself," Leonard said recently in sharing part of his faith journey over the last couple of years at the weekly Tour Bible Study. "Having a child just adds perspective to your life, and it helped me remember what is truly important is my family."
Leonard, who gained a reputation as one of the most intense competitors on and off the course, said children are a mellowing experience.
"My career has taken another step back on the priority list. I haven't played great,” he said, “but it certainly hasn't hurt my golf game. It makes it easier to play because I know whatever happens on the golf course, I leave it there. I can shoot a 62 or an 82 and Reese doesn't know, doesn't care, and that's great."
Stankowski said the addition of children can change any person, but to the player who values faith and morality, it's even more important.
"First of all, it can totally freak you out if you're not prepared for it, and I was totally not prepared," he said. "Thank goodness my wife and kids were patient with me."
Since PGA Tour wins in the 1996 and '97 season, Stankowski has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play while attempting to regain his stature among the world’s top golfers. But one thing he has found is that children care a lot more about their fathers than about what their fathers do at their green grass offices.
"I remember one time I was playing at Hartford and my wife and oldest son were there," he said. "I had just shot a 75 and came off the course steaming, and my son runs up to me while I'm signing autographing for some fans. He just latched onto me and started patting my back, not knowing what I shot and not caring. Right then, I went from being mad about my round to almost crying because all my son wanted was me."
With PGA Tour players on the road as many as 30 weeks a year, often with small kids and new wives at home, the tour's Christian families know what a struggle it can be.
"This week my family is not here with me, which means I can sleep a little longer and do the things I like," Stankowski said, "but it also means I'm very lonely and have a lot more idle time on my hands which can be not such a good thing."
Art Stricklin is director of public relations for Marketplace Ministries in Dallas and a regular contributor to Baptist Press Sports, online at www.bpsports.net. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HARRISON FRAZAR, JUSTIN LEONARD and PAUL STANKOWSKI.