Our Father’s Day tradition is nine holes of golf with my sons and sons-in-law. Since we’re playing on a Sunday, I will deliver this sermon to them on the spiritual benefits of golf.
Like faith, golf requires us to lose our “old nature.” Our old nature tells us to grip the club tightly, so we have total control. In golf, though, a tight grip keeps us from meeting the ball squarely and it sails off in the wrong direction.
When it comes to using the proper grip, I am a wayward soul. A fellow golfer accused me of having the strongest grip he’d ever seen and suggested I take a lesson, thus violating one of golf’s commandments: Thou Shalt Not Give Unsolicited Advice.
Human nature tells us the harder we swing, the farther the ball will fly. But this doesn’t work in golf. Using our strength to muscle the ball will only advance it a short distance. Golf requires a light touch and an easy swing.
The most common mistake golfers make is looking up during their swing to see where the ball is headed. This causes them to top the ball, or completely miss it. We have the same problem in life. We’re so busy looking ahead, we don’t focus on the present.
Our urge to look up is especially strong when we’re facing a hazard, like water or sand. We’re constantly looking ahead for trouble. But if we keep our head down and focus on the ball, we’re less likely to splash.
The closer we get to the green, the more likely we’re going to peek during the swing. We want to get close to the hole so badly, we look up and ruin the shot.
On these chip shots, our nature tells us to stop our club when it hits the ball, so it won’t go over the green. Faith requires us to follow through with our swing, or the ball will come up short. It reminds us to follow through with decisions, rather than being afraid of the consequences.
Golf is a frustrating game, but we can’t give into these frustrations. The golfer must calmly accept adversity. They must humble themselves. Nothing is more humbling than raking a sand trap, after wasting three shots to get out of it.
Our nature is to blame others for our problems, but in golf there’s no one else to blame. Golf also teaches us courtesy and respect for others. We don’t talk during someone’s shot, or do anything to distract them. The golf course may be the last bastion of courtesy.
It may also be the last bastion of sportsmanship. Golfers are on the honor system, keeping their own scores. Golfers are so honorable, they call penalties on themselves.
Golf demands honesty. It’s tempting to “improve” our lie to hit from a more desirable spot but an honest golfer “plays it where it lies.” It’s against our nature to count every stroke and finish every putt. But we can’t improve until we face what we’re shooting now. It’s the reason golf pencils don’t have erasers. Golf offers many opportunities to cheat but we’re only cheating ourselves.
As in faith, there are elements of grace in golf: the cart path bounce, the ball that skips across the water, the line drive that is stopped by the pin. We need grace on the golf course because it’s so difficult and contrary to human nature.
Golfers have devised their own form of grace — they’re called mulligans. God wants us to use only one of these do-overs per round, lest we cheapen grace.
Can I hear an Amen?