PGA Tour golfer Ben Martin was riding high in his early 20s.
While still an amateur, Martin played in three major championships and was runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Amateur. In 2010, at age 23, he turned pro, won his second professional event and had qualified for the PGA Tour before the year was through.
Things were going great – until Martin suffered a number of setbacks during his rookie year and lost his tour card.
“Growing up, I thought golf was gonna be the thing that brought me ultimate fulfillment in life,” Martin told an audience of 400 local youth golfers last week. “I think God allowed me to have some early success so that he could show me golf is not what’s going to fulfill me.”
Martin was among a number of PGA Tour golfers who shared the importance of their faith with young golfers at the annual FCA Golf Jacksonville “Breakfast with the Pros.” Hosted by Crosswater Community Church, the event brought young golfers and coaches together with professional golfers, who helped the junior golfers keep the sport in proper perspective.
“Faith gives you an identity outside of golf,” said golfer Fred Funk, who called his 2005 THE PLAYERS Championship win at age 49 the highlight of his career. “We’re all competitive. It may seem glamorous, but life on the tour is hard. It beats you down – all the work and the effort, the highs and lows.
“In a sport where you are your score,” Funk continued, “it’s so much easier when you have Christ and the Lord at your back."
Michele McManamon, chairman of this year’s THE PLAYERS Championship, said that faith plays an integral role in tournament preparations.
“Our leadership team bases all that we do on prayer,” she said. “We truly believe God has His hand in everything we’re doing. We couldn’t raise $8.1 million for local charities last year without God, and we give Him all the glory.”
At the breakfast, the Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis interviewed several pro golfers, who talked about how their faith was critical to keeping them grounded in an ultracompetitive environment.
“For my wife and me, Christ is the backbone and motivation of everything we do,” Jared Wolfe told students. “It’s our constant in our life.”
Kevin Streelman, meanwhile, recounted his concern about kids worshiping golfers and other athletes instead of God.
“I had seen kids out on the course and the way they looked at me like I was a celebrity,” Streelman said. “It didn’t seem right. I thought, ‘Those eyes need to be on Christ.’”
To address that, Streelman helped create FCA Gameday, a program where kids walk the golf course with pros who share their walk of faith.
“Each of us is given a platform, and it’s up to us to use the platform we’ve been given to glorify the King,” Streelman said. “One day, God will say to each of us, ‘I gave you this gift, what did you do with it?’ and I just want to be able to tell Him, ‘I did my best.’”
And while professional sports may focus on winning and losing, the pros agreed, focusing on God helps them realize what’s truly important.
“I’m fulfilled through Christ and what He did,’ Martin said. “Ultimately I can rest in the knowledge that whether I win this tournament or not, I’m in good hands.”