The Way of an Eagle
by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
Pat Bates is young, handsome, and appears to have a brilliant future ahead of him in professional golf. His third-place finish in the 1994 NIKE Tour gave Bates a well-preserved exemption for the 1995 PGA Tour.
The three-time All-American had a memorable career at the University of Florida on a team that includes Dudley Hart, Chris DeMarco, and Jeff Barlow. He won three collegiate tournaments, including the 1990 Golf Digest Invitational at the TPC at the Woodlands.
Bates was one of the longest hitters on the NIKE Tour, but he's had an equally strong impact as a faithful, supportive member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and the PGA Tour Bible studies.
"I was raised in a Catholic environment. We went to church every Sunday-my mom and dad made us go! We went to Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine (CCD) and stuff. I had great parents and a great upbringing. Even though they may not have known they were doing it, they taught me the ways of the Lord through CCD. I had recognition of God and a foundation in the faith.
Throughout high school and college, especially college at the University of Florida, I got into all kinds of trouble. I strayed from the faith, like so many young adults do. These days, a normal college life is not serving the Lord! I was into all kinds of bad things, but I still thought I was a good person. I was as far from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as you could go.
During my senior year of college, I began to feel guilty about some of the things I was doing. I think it goes back to my upbringing: knowing what was right and what was doing.
I was heading to South Africa to play the South African tour after I'd just turned pro in 1992. Before I left, I stayed with my best friend's parents-the Alfieris-who were also from a Catholic background. They'd rededicated their lives to Jesus about five years before. They were on fire; they preached the Lord to me all week. I heard the things they were saying and I was getting scared because I know I hadn't lived a solid life. I knew I was in the midst of sin. I thought I was in trouble.
"I'm getting scared," I told the Alfieris. And they said, "Hey, that's okay! "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge'" (Prov. 1:7). That really hit home. I thought, Wow-maybe I'm having the right kind of feelings.
Later they showed me the movie Jesus of Nazareth, and they explained the Bible to me-and all of this made perfect sense. I felt like I couldn't dispute it. I became a Christian that week on January 8, 1992.
The Alfieris have been great-they've been right there for me over the past few years.
Have you had the opportunity to speak out on your faith since that time?
I do some things with FCA, especially the Bible studies, but I haven't done any speaking engagements for them. I've spoken at a few churches, but most people don't know who I am. That probably has something to do with it. Not a lot of public speaking yet, but I'd like to.
How has having a personal relationship with Jesus affected you life on a day-to-day basis?
Since becoming a Christian, I've tried to walk in the Spirit and let the Spirit lead me. It has been an incredible transformation because I used to look at everything through my eyes and how I thought things should be. Now I try to look at everything through godly eyes by asking, "How does all this fit into God's plan?" That's how I try to lead my life, day in and day out. I never had that before I had a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Toward the end of 1993, I was playing in a Canadian Tour event, and during the tournament I was in third place going into the tenth hole on the last round, so I had a chance to win. I hit my second shot on a par five into some high grass. I looked and looked around for it and couldn't find it. Just as I reached the five-minute-limit, I found the ball. I closed out the hole with a five-foot putt for a six.
But when I pulled it out of the cup, I realized that it was an old Titleist 5, all nicked and cut up. I realized, "Oh my gosh-this is not my ball!" What were the chances of my finding another Titleist 5 in there?
I went to the scorer, thinking I was disqualified-DQ'd. But he said it was only a two-shot penalty for hitting the wrong ball, plus having to go back to the place where the ball was hit. So I ended up with a ten.
I'd done the same thing once before in college, and I thought, This is crazy. I need to mark my ball-there's no doubt about that. So I opened up my Bible that night and realized I needed to start marking my balls with Bible verses. For a while I alternated Old and New Testament-every ball would be a difference Bible verse. That was okay for a while, but I finally had so many I couldn't remember them all. So now I just stick with one Bible verse for the week. I'll read something powerful and put it on the golf ball all that week.
At one point in 1994, I flew to three straight tournaments, including a Monday through Wednesday tournament. For those tournaments I wrote Hebrews 10:36: "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise." That was to give me endurance for a couple of weeks-and it worked! I finished second, second, and eighth in those three tournaments!
Also in 1994, while playing in the NIKE Tour in Shreveport, going into the third round, I was around fourteen under for the tournament-just a couple shots behind the leader. But on the eighteenth hole, I hit it right into a creek, right into the heart of the swamp.
The marshal said, "Do you want your ball?" I said, "No, just leave it there. I'll drop another one." I smiled and finished the hole. And I ended up with a bogey. I was pretty disappointed; I went to four shots back and had been just a shot or two back on what should have been an easy birdie hole.
The next morning, the first person I saw on the course was that same marshal from the eighteenth hole. He said, "You know, I went down there and picked your ball out of the water. I saw the Bible verse on it, and I went home and read it. I have to tell you, I just became a Christian a couple of weeks ago, and those were real encouraging words for me!"
That really humbled me. Here I was all upset over a bogey, and God was using it for His church's glory. I figure if I need to take a bogey for God-that's fine. It puts it all in perspective.
It really helped me understand that I'm not in complete control. It is something I accept. Hopefully, I do the best I can-and leave it up to the Lord as to what's going to happen.
On the NIKE Tour, winning the Dakota Dunes Open was my highlight. The thing that made it so neat was that I'd just recently lost the tournament in Shreveport earlier by finishing second. A couple weeks later, I finished second again. A month after that, I was leading by three shots going into the last round and shot a 74 and lost by a shot again! Even though I was playing well and making some money, I was wondering if I'd ever close one out.
So when I finally had a chance to win in South Dakota in August, I shot a 65 in the last round and birdied the last three holes to win by two shots. So the way that I won and the way that it all happened-it was an exciting time for me.
As I came down through the stretch on the sixteenth hole, I was fortunate because I had a sixty-foot putt in the middle of the slope. I just smacked it, and it hit the hole for a birdie. I got up to the seventeenth and said, "You know, this just might be my week." I birdied it and the eighteenth as well.
All those second-place finishes kept me strong mentally to win, and that's what growing is all about-learning from experience. The win and the other good finishes put me third on the NIKE Tour money list and guaranteed me a slot on the PGA tour in 1995. So it was a great time, a great win.
I think you should try to get into a good setup position where you head, your shoulders, your hands, your knees, and your feet are all going parallel in the same direction. I see so many amateurs line up to the right and come up over the top of their shoulders.
But my main tip would be to get lessons because golf is a skill. Nobody is born a great golfer. It's something that you develop over time. If you can get somebody to help you with your golf swing and your game, you're going to improve. There's almost nobody who plays golf without a teacher. Even the best players in the world all have somebody to look at their swing. So I would suggest that you go see your local PGA pro and say, "Do you see any stroke savers?"
I see so many amateurs who go to the range by themselves and swing. They don't have anything to work on; they're just hitting balls. Then they don't find themselves getting better. But if you'll go see somebody like the local pro or somebody that you've heard about-anyone who has some golf knowledge-he or she is going to be able to help you and improve your game.
Of course, the instructor shouldn't take you out of your natural swing. If you have a particular swing, and somebody has a theory about a different swing-that everybody should swing that way-that's not taking into account a persons' natural tendencies.
But seek out a pro for regular lessons-that would be my tip.
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