The Way of an Eagle

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

 

 

 

Larry Mize

It is one of the defining moments in professional golf--and it is the single moment that will always be associated with Larry Mize, despite what he may do in his already impressive career. After finishing tied in regulation with Greg Norman and Steve Ballesteros in the 1987 Masters, Mize hit the "impossible" shot--a 140-foot chip from the second extra hole--to win. His joyous, unrehearsed reaction is one of the sport's most vivid, enduring images.

But there's a lot more to Larry Mize than the Masters. In 1993 he had a career year, winning nearly $725,000 and two Tour events. He slipped a little in '94, while recovering from knee surgery and decision to spend more time with his family each year. Still, the handsome, rail-thin Georgia native finished third in the Masters and fifth at the Nestle Open.

I came from a Christian family that was pretty active. As I grew older, we went to church Sunday morning and Sunday night. My dad was a deacon in the church, so we were fairly active. But I got away from that as I grew older.

Growing up in Augusta, golf was my dream. That's what I always wanted to do. It became more important than anything. As I got into my teen years, I guess I didn't go to church as much. I'd still go some Sundays, and I still believed, but it was more an intellectual belief. I didn't have Christ in my heart; I had Him in my head. He was second to golf--unfortunately.

That continued as I played golf. I was fortunate to get to play golf at Georgia Tech. And I was fortunate to get on the PGA Tour after three tries at Tour School. Then I married a wonderful girl from Columbus, where we live now. Everything was great on the Tour. I just always thought I'd go out there and be famous and make a lot of money. I won the Memphis Classic in 1983 when I was twenty-four. Then I continued to play really well. I didn't win any tournaments the next couple of years, but I played super.

The event in my life that God used to get my attention was the birth of my first child in 1986.

When I was in the delivery room--like a lot of fathers do these days--and witnessed the miracle of birth, what an experience it was for me! Just being in the delivery room was unbelievable. And to see the miracle, to see my first child be born, I can't tell you how emotional it was.

Later, in the hospital room, when I was holding David, God was letting me know: "Hey! Golf's important--it's how you make a living, and you need to work hard at it--but the most important thing is getting your life right with Jesus Christ and giving Him charge of your life."

I realized, at that moment, it was time to get Jesus in my heart rather than in my head.

Prior to that moment, I believed in God. I believed in Jesus. But I didn't do anything about it. The best way to explain it is to say that it was an intellectual belief. That day it became a heartfelt belief. That day I began trusting in God and trusting Jesus Christ with my life.

All of a sudden, instead of wanting to play golf for me and to glorify myself in gold, I had to play golf for Him. I had to win tournaments to give Him the glory and let people know what's really important.

One of my greatest thrills in golf was winning the Masters and one of the neat things about that was the fact that it gave me the opportunity to share my faith and say, "Hey! Christians aren't these little complacent, wimpy people. Christians are competitive, and I'm competitive. I'm a winner in this world, and I'm very successful--but I still have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And that relationship is the most important thing to me. Living my life for Him and pleasing Him is the most important thing."

One of my favorite Scriptures is John 12:42-43, where it talks about how the Pharisees believed in Him, but they weren't professing Him because they were afraid of being put out of the synagogue. In verse 43 it says, "for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."

That verse really hit me hard for the first time in 1990 at one of our Larry Moody-led Bible studies on Wednesday nights. We were working through the Book of John that year, and I realized I was trying to please people. Instead, my number one goal should be to please God. Matthew 6:33 says, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

I still fall short, but I still keep working forward to live my life in Him and glorify Him--whether it is on the golf course or at home with my family or whatever I'm doing.

Is it hard for a Christian to talk about God to the media? They always seem to back off.

I try to keep my piece short and simple because it is their time. I'm not about to cram anything down anybody's throat. But I want to give the credit and the glory where it belongs--to God, for what He's done for me, for the life He's given me through Christ.

I can't do anything to earn my way to heaven; I can't do anything to earn my good grace with God--it's all His free gift. I'm just very grateful for that, and I work hard to keep things in perspective.

Out on the professional golf tour--or anywhere, but definitely out here--it's easy to get things out of perspective. After a while, your ego starts to get a little big, and you need a little humbling. I pray often for God to humble me, because I need to be humbled a great deal--too much of the time!

Sure, I get down at times, but I don't get down as much as I used to, thanks to God. Things don't always go like we want them to in life, but the great thing is that God is always there with us. And we have that peace and joy that the Bible says "surpasses knowledge."

Another favorite verse of mine is Philippians 3:13-14, where Paul is trying to understand the power of Christ's resurrection and he can't. He says:

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I think about that a lot. I've got to keep going forward, confessing my sins to god and living for Him in the present.

I'm looking forward to the future when I'm called home, but I'm living for Him while I'm here.

There's nothing to compare to it. I'm such a happy, more joyful person now. I'm so much more peaceful and content than I was before, because I understand things better. Not everything, but I do understand life better. I think I'm doing what God wants me to do, and it gives me a great opportunity to share my faith. I think I've got the best of all worlds: I get to share the love of God, and I get to play golf for a living! It doesn't get any better than that!

Without Christ, the golf tour is always: "What have you done for me lately?" It's easy to get beat up out here. It's a great way to make a living, but is also tough at times. Sure, everything has its good and bad sides. But I've got way too much to be thankful for. I've got a wonderful family, three great boys, a wonderful wife, and a God who loves me no matter what. Gee! I don't deserve it.

Memorable Moment

As far as golf goes, one of the favorite memories has to be the Masters victory. And I have some great memories from 1993 when I won twice during the PGA tournament year and finished with a win in a tournament in Jamaica, so I ended up with three victories in a year--and that doesn't happen very often. So that was a lot of fun, and those tournaments are great memories.

But the Masters will always be special.

Those are the golf memories, but the life memories are even more special, particularly the birth of all of my boys. David's was special because God used that event to get my life turned around. But I love all three of my boys, and all of their births were awesome. Thank God I was there for all of them. I would consider those moments some of the greatest times in my life.
I will tell you another thing, just being able to be with those boys--that's the greatest thing about this job. I'm able to pick and choose when I play. And when I'm home, I'm able to drive on field trips and do a lot of things with the kids.

Actually, my times with my family are just great times for me, because I get to see a lot of things a lot of people aren't fortunate enough to see. I think I get more time with my family than I would if I had a nine-to-five job.

I miss them when I'm gone, but I'm home about half the year, which gives me about twenty-six weeks that I'm home, and I can give them a lot of attention then. I can get involved in what they're doing. And that's great.

So really, I've got some special moments from day to day, just spending time with my family. Letting my boys know that I'm there, that I'm with them--and that I love my wife, Bonnie--I think those are some of the most important things I could do for my children. I feel like I've got a ton of great moments.

I'm spoiled rotten. And I love it!

Tip

I think the strongest part of my game is my short game. I am a straight hitter, and I keep the ball in play, but still, I think the strongest part is that I have an excellent short game. I've got a good chipper and putter. Some of that, I think, is that I'm blessed with a good touch.

But I also put a lot of time in on it. I work very hard on my short game. One of my goals from the past couple of years is that I like to spend at least 50 percent of my practice time on my short game--which includes bunker work, all the chipping and all the putting.

Now for amateurs, it's a lot more fun, generally speaking, to go out and hit balls a long way. But if the amateurs would just give this a try, they might see a difference in their game. Go to the putting green and practice your chipping. Set up a little friendly competition with your amateur buddies.

The time you spend out there will pay off much more--in my opinion--than the time you spend on the driving range. Because that's where you score, and that's where you learn. You learn how to hit different shots around the green. Playing in pro-ams, that's where I see the amateurs throw all of their shots away.

In the short game, there are so many different ways you can do it too. I like to keep my hands real soft; I like to chip very much like I putt. But the main thing is trying to hit different shots.

One of the things I like to do--and I think amateurs can do this too--is when I come out of a bunker or chip around the green with a "lofty" club, I try to see how high and how soft I can hit by opening the blade a little bit and trying to slide under it. And that gets your hands really soft. So now, all of a sudden, you're hitting everything soft, and you can start being more aggressive because you're not hitting the shots that take off.

So a great way to practice is to see how high and how soft you can hit some shots. Just open the blade and let the club do the work; don't let your hands do it. See how high and how soft you can hit it. That alone will do wonders for your short game.

As far as putting goes, I like to work on a lot of putts from ten feet and under and then on the thirty- to forty-footers, because I think you need to work on both sides. First work on your speed on the long putts from thirty to forty feet away. And if you've got a big green, practice on the sixty-footers, because you'll get those sometimes.

Then work on ten-feet-and-under putts, because that's where you can really work on the fundamentals of your stroke. And that will do wonders for your putting. The time that you spend there will pay off, and I think you'll enjoy the game better. Good putting takes pressure off your long game because if you think (or know) that you'll get the ball up and down, you're not as tense over your shot. You're not thinking, Oh no! I don't want to miss a green.

So my feeling is: Momentum comes from the short game. And when my short game's good, that's when I am playing well.

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