The Way of an Eagle

by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
Robert Darden

 

 

 

Tom Lehman

When you talk about perseverance, you've got to cite Tom Lehman. His first foray into the PGA Tour from 1983-1985 was--to put it kindly--a bust. But he honed his skills on the Dakotas, Golden State, South Florida, and Carolinas mini-tours and used the Ben Hogan/NIKE Tour as his springboard back to the Big Time in 1992.

That year Lehman won $579,093. In 1993 he won $422,761 and in '94 he took home a whopping $1,031,144 to finish fourth overall in earnings.

Nineteen ninety-four also included Lehman's first victory (at the Memorial Tournament), a second (the Masters), and a third (Bell Canadian Open). He continued his winning ways in 1995, capturing the Colonial and finishing second at the United Airlines Hawaiian Open and third at the U.S. Open.

When you talk about success, you've got to cite Tom Lehman.

I was raised in what I would consider a Christian environment. For me, that meant going to mass on Sunday. My parents read the Bible, believed what it said, and had a definite faith in Jesus Christ. But for me, it didn't really hit home until I was fifteen.

I was an athlete and a student, and it seemed that my whole life was wrapped up in having to be good at what I was doing. But the ups and downs, the successes and the failures, really gave me a sense of the emptiness on which I was putting the emphasis of my life.

It got to a point where I was feeling very hopeless and very despairing about what the meaning of life was.

Finally, I went to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting where they talked about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ--how we're separated from Him by sin and how He forgives our sins. They talked about how He can give us peace and hope and joy and unconditional love and acceptance. And that's exactly what I was looking for.

There have been so many people who have been instrumental in my faith walk, but I think the most instrumental were the people I went to high school with. There were a bunch of guys on the football and basketball teams who were strong Christians: Jeff Leslie, John Donatelle, Rod Ripberger, and a few other guys whom I really looked up to. They were strong believers. Also, our football coach, Ed Christopherson, had a big impact. Growing up, I'd think, I'd like to be like these guys. So, more than anyone else, they had a big influence on me.

I think that everything you go through helps you develop character. And the Bible talks about how God allows you to go through good times and bad times so you'll be trained by what you go through. Then you'll learn how to persevere, how to develop character, how to be more open and, hopefully, how to be more like God. I really feel like every good thing and every bad thing you actually go through is experienced in order to make you more like Christ--if you'll allow it to train you in that way.

I've never been much of a worrier. I think I have a very simple faith in God. I felt strongly very early in my life that He cared for me, loved me, would provide for me, and would do the best for me. And that meant in golf, out of golf, whatever.

Is it tough living in a fishbowl like professional golf?

Not really. Yes, people are watching us, but I believe the most important thing is to be real. Being real means you are going to stumble and you are going to fail. I think it is important not to pretend you are somebody you really aren't. I'm not ever going to pretend that I'm perfect--because I'm far from it.

I think it is important that, when people realize a guy is a Christian, he doesn't pretend like he's holier-than-thou; he doesn't act like he's Jesus Christ and proud of himself. I think people can understand if you get upset on the golf course or get in a bad mood once in a while. I think it is important that people see the real side of you.

In our Bible studies, we talk about doing things for the glory of God and not for the pleasures of men. That's one of the ways you can keep yourself focused on being everything God wants you to be on the golf course. You need to play for God and God alone. Whatever else comes along is nice, but it doesn't really mean as much as having God say, "Well done."

Do you see your golf as a ministry--as a way to spread the Word of the Lord?

God has definitely used golf in a great way over the last several years. I think of myself as a Christian who plays golf, not as a golfer who is a Christian. So whatever kind of job I do, there is a way for God to use that as a tool. In society at large, especially the way golf is growing, there is a huge platform for golfers.

Do you do much public speaking about your faith? You spoke at the '95 Masters on Sunday morning.

Actually, I do quite a bit of speaking. I do quite a bit with FCA. I've also gotten heavily involved in Athletes in Action in Canada. Also Executive Ministries, Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ--all kinds of different things. I enjoy speaking.

I always try to convey to those groups--especially to professions that are very competitive--that there are ups and downs in life. For so many of us, happiness is derived by how well we perform. So the message I try to convey is that we are unconditionally loved, and we are eternally accepted by God, regardless of our successes or failures in business. Or in life.

I usually give my testimony: about how I felt so hopeless and despairing as a kid and how I really felt that meaning in life shouldn't be derived from performance and whether you won the golf tournament or not or whether you closed the deal or not. Meaning in life is derived from your walk with Jesus Christ. There are so many people who are empty, who are looking for something beyond just the daily routine of work and whatever else.

In my own life, I think maturity really helps. When I was a young Christian, I was surrounded by so many Christian people that it made being a Christian very easy. The downfall was, I counted so much on that fellowship that I never got too much into the Word like I should have.

When I got away from involvement at school and was a twenty-three-year-old kid out on my own, I learned that if you don't have that circle of supporters around you, it's a struggle. It's a maturity thing. I had to learn how to get disciplined, how to pray, and how to walk with God on my own.

Your story is interesting because you made the PGA Tour, then were forced to return to the NIKE Tour, then fought your way back to the PGA Tour more successful than ever.

At the beginning of my pro career, I put so much emphasis on money and in being successful that all of the things I felt from age fifteen to age twenty-two were shot down by the things I saw all around me. I went from doing things for God's glory and trying to be His kind of guy to trying to make money and be successful, just for myself. It took my being knocked way down to realize that God wanted me to be His man. He wanted me to be His man with my family, with golf, with everything I did. And to start putting the focus on God and say, "God, I'm going to be whatever You want, go wherever You want me to go. If You want me to quit golf, I will. If You want me to be a golfer, I will. Take me where You want and I'll follow."

That's the kind of perspective I think I regained during those struggling years of 1985 to 1990.

At the same time, you've got to be careful with your prayers, because God answers prayers. If you pray and ask that He help you develop character or integrity, He'll do it!

I wouldn't trade those bad years, golf-wise, for anything, because those were some of the best years of my life, especially in terms of meeting friends, growing spiritually, and growing as a person. The Lord helped me see what's important in life.

And, to be quite honest, all of the success of the last three years has been great and everything, but when I won the Memorial in 1994, I thought to myself, If you have to spend your whole life looking for this thrill of victory, how disappointed you will be. Because it just wasn't that thrilling. The round was great, and the money was great, but this is not what life's all about. Relationships are what matters.

I'm thirty-six years old, and as I get older, I see that relationships are what's important in life. I was talking with a friend earlier this year and talked about how the Tour at times can be on the unfulfilling side because it is such an individual thing, and it is difficult to develop close relationships--for a number of reasons. You're not on the same schedule as everybody else.

But relationships are what give meaning to life. A relationship with God is wonderful. He loves us unconditionally. And we need to love the people around us--hopefully the same way. And that's much more meaningful and lasts a lot longer than any success on the golf course.

Memorable Moment

I do have memorable moment from the Tour School in December of 1990. I had struggled to that point with a lack of confidence and way too many feelings of anxiety. I just didn't trust in who I was as a golfer.

At Tour School that year, I went to the seventy-second hole needing a birdie to make the four-round cut and have a chance to get my card. The hole was a par four--about four hundred yards. I hit a good drive. It was the kind of shot where you need the ball to fad to hit it close to the hole. That was a shot I really didn't have confidence in. But I still had to do it, because that's what it called for.

To make a long story short, I hit a nearly perfect fade and had a two-foot putt for a birdie.

That was the turning point in my golf career. At that point, I felt like all the anxiety and fear that had been on my shoulders for so many years just lifted away. It was as if God had given me another chance to learn my lesson. It was as if God were saying, "I gave you the ability. I trust in you. Now you trust in yourself when you play golf."

From that point forward, I was a different golfer.

I'm a firm believer that God gives you all kinds of opportunities to learn these things. If God wants you to accomplish something in your life, He's going to put things in your life for you to learn from. It's often cumulative. You learn a little bit here and a little bit there. And then there's the final straw that puts you over the hump. Once you get it, you know you've got it.

Tip

I don't really think much about technique at all: I'm a "feel" player. Most of the time, I talk about taking a bag of balls out and trying to hit different kinds of shots to get a feel for the club--a feel for what it takes to make the ball hook or fade or go higher or lower. I learn by feel.

So on the range, I create different situations: If the pin's right, I try to hit a fade. If the pin's left, I try to hit a hook. If the pin's at the back, I try to hit a roll and watch it bounce up. If the pin's at the front, I try to hit it high and bring it in soft.

Just hitting different shots gives you a feel for the shots you'll have to hit when you get out on the golf course. Then it'll be like you've done it before. It's better than pounding away on the driving range. Golf is a lot different than just mechanically beating balls.

Golfers are different people, and they're all different. Some have very analytical, scientific minds. And for them to know exactly why mechanically you have to do this to make a ball do that is important. And that's okay too. Nick Faldo is that way. Nick is a scientist. He needs to know exactly what it is. He needs to answer all the questions in his mind.

But I don't have these questions. I just watch how the ball flies when I do something. Then I try to figure out what made it do that. And if it is a bad result, then I do something different.

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