I hit a good drive down the rough but it wasn’t in the bunker. I had a 185 to the pin. I hit an eight iron. I hit it on the green and my first thought was, “You better not four putt.” I two putted and I won. It was exciting, more than exciting. Every emotion that you could possibly feel just kind of comes pouring out. I walked of the green and my dad was standing there. My wife wasn’t there unfortunately but my dad was. It was a real special time to be with him and give him a big hug. There was the exhilaration of winning and afterwards all the pictures they take, the interviews, all the toasts up in the clubhouse with all the members, the dinner that night. We were up all night talking about it and reminiscing, my dad, my caddy, and some of my friends that were there. I’ve got that trophy home sitting on the mantel so I can always look at it. It was an incredible win for me.
I’ve talked about having two turning points in my life. There was another turning point a while back that was even more important. Every time when you have a victory there’s always a time when you come down. You’re excited. You’re emotional. You’re thrilled. You’re ecstatic. You celebrate but eventually you come back down to earth. Often times when you get back down to earth you say to yourself, “Now what?” You think the victory will change your life. You think your life is going to be better because you won a golf tournament. When you get by yourself and things have settled down you realize you’re still the same person. You still have the same fears. You still have the same problems. You may still be mad at your wife. You may still resent your parents. You may still have all the things in your life that you didn’t like before. You also have a few new problems because of the sudden notoriety. You’re the same person with the same problems. The win hasn’t solved anything. You realize like I did that victory is empty. The Bible says, “that all men are like grass and they’re glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fade.” It makes you question what is it that lasts. Even the thrill of winning the British Open champion can only last so long.
The first turning point and the most important happened when I was fifteen. It answers the questions of what lasts. When I was fifteen years old our football team won the state championship. We had a great team. We were 12 and 0. No one even came close to us the whole year long. I was the third string quarterback. Our first string quarterback was all-state and went on to play college. I sat on the bench the whole time watching. Being in Minnesota, freezing, too.
After we won the state championship where the whole town of 7000 had gone to Minneapolis to watch us win, we got back to Alexandria where I grew up and they were all waiting on the highway going into the town with the fire trucks. We all got on the fire trucks and we had the big parade into town. We went back to the gym and had a big pep rally. Everyone was so excited. The band was playing and everyone was hugging and high fiving and low fiving and what ever else you do when you’re excited. I remember sitting there feeling completely isolated because I didn’t really help this team win the championship. I didn’t play a down the whole year. I just sat there and watched. I just felt empty. I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I was a failure because I wasn’t a star on the team. I’m just not good enough.
It’s funny with sports because you get that a lot with sports. With sports you’re only as good as your last performance. I remember when Paul Azinger holed up from the bunker to win the Memorial a few years back. He was all excited because he moved up in the rank. He was like fourth in the world. He had won nine tournaments in each of the last nine years or some great feat like that and the first question in the press room was, “So Paul, how does it feel to be the best player to ever have won a major.” It kind of gives you the impression that nothing is ever enough. There’s always one step more. There’s always more you can do. There’s always someone who is better.
So that’s how I felt. I felt like I was never good enough. I had these huge feelings of guilt because I could not measure up. I just felt like I didn’t matter. Sitting in that gym during that festival, that celebration, the feeling of I didn’t matter was just so overwhelming that I could hardly stand it. It made me ask questions that led to some direct introspective thinking on my part that wasn’t all that normal at the time. I thought to myself, “What is it that gives life meaning? Why am I here?” You know the basic questions. Basically, “Why am I so miserable?” I was realizing that all the successes I could possibly achieve was not filling up the void and making me happy.
As luck would have it and I don’t really believe in luck because I believe God has a plan for everything, the football coach just happened to be the FCA huddle leader. He invited me to a FCA meeting. I went to this meeting and I really heard for the first time people talking about God and the unconditional love He had for us and the unconditional eternal acceptance He has for us. This was in direct contrast to the “What have you done for me lately” type thing. Suddenly here is a God that loves me unconditionally and accepts me eternally no matter how bad I am or how good I am.
This was exactly what I was looking for. I could feel the need. I wanted to feel the feelings of being loved. That God loved me despite my failures. I had tried my hardest all along to be good. Tried to be good for my parents, good for God, good for my friends. With each failure I just felt worse and worse. Each time I failed I just felt guiltier and guiltier. I had this thing that I did not matter and suddenly I do matter. I matter enough to God that He died for me. That was an incredible thought. It made me cry. It choked me up and made me realize that I am important. I realized that God died for me. He died to forgive my sins because He loved me. That I needed forgiveness because I could never ever be good enough no matter how hard I tried. It’s a gift of God by faith. All I had to do was accept this gift and say, “Yes, Lord, I need you in my life and I accept this gift of forgiveness and eternal life”. And so I did.
I can tell you that in that second in my life there’s never been a feeling since like I had in that exact moment. The feeling of forgiveness and the feeling of guilt that was heaped on my shoulders just disappearing. The feeling of being secure in God’s love. Of knowing that I was safe. Being accepted. The feeling of joy and tears of joy flowing out of my eyes. The feeling of peace and contentment that I had never known. I was always striving to be someone better than I really was. Suddenly I had this peace and contentment that I could just be Tom Lehman and I’m accepted and loved.
As time went by the questions I had were answered. Why am I here? Well it’s to love God and it’s to love other people as you love God and love yourself. To work hard at the talents that God has given me. Relationships give life meaning. That’s really the bottom line. Having a personal intimate walk with the living God through the person of Jesus Christ is what gives life meaning. Having a relationship with other people with the love God’s given us gives life meaning. Those are the things that are important in life. The people around us and our walk with God. I realize, too, that God doesn’t want to stop right there. It’s not just forgiveness. It’s not just feeling good but He wants to build character.
I look around the world and I see a lot of things that do not have a lot of integrity. You see deceit, hypocrisy, selfishness, anger, lust, envy, indifference. All these things you see round the world. You read the newspaper and watch the news and interacting with other people you see these things. God has a different plan. God wants you to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, all of these great, great character attributes. He wants to give them to us. I realize that He wants me to have those things. Your whole life long is a process of letting God mold you into the kind of person He wants you to be with these kind of character attributes.
He promised strength because life isn’t always easy. There’s ups and downs. People get sick, people die, people get in accidents, get fired from their job. There’s all kinds of bad things that can happen. There’s gangs and kids are shooting each other and kids at school are getting knifed and doing drugs and ODing. You know that there’s tough things that you have to deal with. God promises strength. He says, “to be bold and strong and banish fear and death, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” That’s a promise, He’ll go with you wherever you go so you can deal with the problems of life. You can deal with the ups as well as the downs.
And lastly I think he gives you perspective. The Bible says, “for what good does it do a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his own soul?” I can look at golf and see it so clearly. What good does it do you to be the best player in the world if you’re forfeiting your soul. To me there’s no trade off. I’ll take God every time.
I’ve got one last thing to say. I heard a guy speaking when I was in college after I had accepted the Lord. He said something I thought was very profound. He was a business man and a CEO of a corporation, in charge of a lot of people and a lot of things. He basically said, “I spent my whole life trying to climb the ladder of success only to find when I got to the top, the ladder was leaning against the wrong building”. That sounds so true. Where are we at in our lives? Which building is your ladder leaning against? I would like you all to consider your life. Consider where your priorities are, where your faith is, if you have a faith. What building is your ladder leaning against? I would encourage you that if God is not a the foundation of your life that you would at least consider that.
In closing I just want to say a prayer. A prayer that I said when I was fifteen when I accepted the Lord in my life. If I said anything that has made sense to you and you feel the need to make God a big part of your life I encourage you to say it along with me as I say this prayer and accept God in your life:
God, I’m a sinner and I need you. I need forgiveness and I need your love in my life. Thank you for sending your Son to die for me and to forgive me. Take my life and use my life, God, because I’m all yours. Amen.
Winning the British Open was the single most important in my golfing career but it wasn’t the most important victory in my life. That victory took place much earlier when I became a Christian and received God’s gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ. Also I like to take a few more minutes if you don’t mind so I can share a few things that you can do that will help you on your spiritual journey.
The first thing that you can do and the most important thing is the read the Bible, starting with the gospel of John. Second, you need to find a Bible believing church and attend there regularly. Third, pray and be open and honest with God. He knows your needs and He’ll answer you. And finally I encourage you to find somebody who’s a Christian and tell them about your decision to follow Christ. It’s very important to be accountable to someone else. I may be a professional golfer but my first priority is my walk with Christ. Things I’ve talked about today are important. I want you to know that God really cares for you as He cares for me in our spiritual walk. God bless you in your spiritual journey.