World #1 pro golfer Scottie Scheffler shot 64 today and Matt Fitzpatrick shot 66 to finish tied for the lead at eleven under par 199 for three rounds in the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship at Olympia Fields CC in Chicago. Last year, Scheffler won the Masters and Fitzpatrick won the U.S. Open. Recent British Open winner and left-hander Brain Harman is two strokes back, in third place, and Max Homa is three strokes back of them, in fourth place. Rory McIlroy and Victor Hovaland are one stroke behind Homa, tied for fifth. Sam Burns is one stroke back of them, tied for 7th. So, the leaders in this season-ending first tournament of the FedEx Playoff series are among the very best pro golfers in the world entering the final round tomorrow.
You could say I had a couple of chances to win the U.S. Senior Open on the Senior/Champions Tour, one being at Olympia Fields in 1998. I was the sole leader after the first two rounds. But I ballooned to a miserable 80 the next day to eventually finish tied for 21st. (The other was in 1994 at Cherry Hills CC, Denver, when I finished alone in third place, two strokes behind winner Jack Nicklaus.) Olympia Fields is an old, but very championship, venue with narrow fairways and well-manicured greens.
One of Scottie Scheffler’s best friends on the PGA Tour is Sam Burns. Both are from Dallas. And both are Christians who regularly attend the weekly meetings of the PGA Tour Bible Study (which I co-founded in 1965). Burns tied the course record yesterday with a 62. He is in contention to make the top six for the Ryder Cup that will be contested in a few weeks. It is perhaps the biggest event in pro golf. Yesterday, the media asked Burns about his chances of making the Ryder Cup, which is the top twelve players for the American team that will compete against the Europeans. He replied, “Whatever happens, I know the Lord has already planned it out, and I can be good with whatever happens. A lot of it’s out of my control.”
That raises the age-old question that Christian pros on the PGA Tour have wrestled with since way back in my day–“Does God predetermine all that happens in life, included scores shot in golf, or not?” It has always amazed me how this question has been so uppermost in the minds of Christian pro golfers who attended the PGA Tour Bible Study.
For me, I decided long ago that I don’t think God usually does such things. My main Bible support for this is what wise King Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, . . . The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, . . . for time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9.10-11 NIV). Sounds like Solomon believed that old golf adage, “it is better to be lucky than good!”
The following is an excerpt from a previous blog post of mine about when I asked our first PGA Tour commissioner, Joe Dey, about this subject. Joe was a Christian man on the board of Union Seminary in New York City, one of the oldest and best seminaries in the country. Joe always carried two, little, palm-sized books in his inside coat pocket: the Rules of Golf and the New Testament. Here is the excerpt:
One time, Joe Dey said something to me that was profoundly theological. During the early 1970s, PGA Tour pro Bruce Crampton, a former Australian, was ranked among the top five pro golfers in the world. He won fourteen tournaments on the PGA Tour, but he never won a major championship. Coincidentally, Crampton was runner-up in four majors, from 1972 through 1975, and Jack Nicklaus won all four of those. Crampton, immediately after one of those losses, told the media that winning golf tournaments was “fate,” that is, it was predetermined. That got reporters’ attention. They soon asked Jack Nicklaus about that, and he said “you have to make it happen.” These certainly were two opposite philosophies about winning in sports, if not being successful at life in general.
The next morning, I read this in the newspaper as I was leaving that tournament and flying home. In the airport I ran into Joe Dey, who was then our commissioner. I mentioned these remarks by Crampton and Nicklaus and asked Joe what he thought about it. I may have mentioned to him that in the PGA Tour Bible Study, this was a most pressing question which attending Tour pros through the years would ask: “Does God hit the golf ball or does it only have to do with you?” To many folks, this question probably seems bazaar. Yet, it relates to an important theological issue called “predestination,” a word that is in the Bible. I thought Joe’s answer was most profound. He said, “I don’t think God is much interested in who wins golf tournaments. But he is most interested in how people live their lives.” I thought, “credit another mark for Mr. Rules of Golf, the greatest judge in golf.”