Mark Wilson tees off on Thursday, April 5th in his second Masters Golf Tournament. Before he makes his first swing on the first hole, he will have fine-tuned his skills one last time. His pre-round ritual includes preparation at the Augusta National’s driving range, chipping area, and putting green located near the stately antebellum home that the National uses for a clubhouse.
There is also another ritual he observes that reflects his deep and abiding faith in Christ. He prays with his wife, Amy, and their four year old and two year old boys before he begins every tournament round. His ritual will be repeated at the Masters, the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. Wilson told me in a recent interview, “I really enjoy doing that with my boys.”
Mark Wilson is a champion golfer. His dad began teaching him the game when he was two years old. He won the Wisconsin State High School championship when he was 14. Playing for the University of North Carolina, he received the Ben Hogan Award, the college golf equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He won the 2012 Humana Challenge (formerly the Bob Hope Championship). He placed third in the 2012 Accenture Match Play Championship. He currently ranks fourth in FedEx Cup points. He is twenty-sixth in the World Golf Ranking.
Mark has a strong work ethic. He told me that his dad taught him, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
“That meant for me,” Mark said, “whether it was sweeping dirt out of the garage, mowing the lawn, or practicing my free throws on my high school basketball team, or whatever it was, my father taught me to do the job well.”
Mark’s college coach, Devon Brouse, took note of Mark’s strong work ethic after he spotted him practicing after everyone had left for Christmas break. He said, “Mark has perfect commitment and a strong work ethic in regards to golf.”
Mark credits his mother for grounding him in the faith. “My mother was my spiritual mentor. She made it a necessity to send me to a Lutheran elementary and high school. I thank my father for going along with her and making sure we had the means to do that. My parents spurred me on and gave me an education in Lutheran Schools. I went to high school at Wisconsin Lutheran High School. That Christian education is something I carry with me today.”
Mark was brought up in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lannon, Wisconsin, near his hometown of Menomonee Falls, northwest of Milwaukee. Today, he and his family reside in Elmhurst, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. They are active members at Epiphany Lutheran Church which is only two blocks from their home. Mark states, “I love to walk to church with my family. We have a great group of people. It’s a neighborhood church.”
As a professional golfer, there are many Sundays that he cannot worship with his church. To maintain his spiritual life, he has family and personal devotion time. “I’m reading the Bible through now. I’ve never done that—reading it from cover to cover. Right now, I’m in the book of Leviticus. I also read a passage from the New Testament and sometimes add a Psalm and a passage from Proverbs. I take one note from that for the day and try to learn and live by God’s Word each day. I thought it would be a burden to read the Bible from cover to cover, but I actually look forward to it each day.
“I also use the devotional guide off the website of my friend and fellow PGA golfer, Ben Crane.” (You can sign up to have these devotionals sent to your email. Go to www.bencranegolf.com).
Since professional golfers are limited in attending church on Sundays, church follows them. Every Wednesday night before the tournaments begin on Thursday, Larry Moody, the PGA Chaplain, and Dave Krueger both of Search Ministries offer worship services and Bible studies. Moreover, the Christian fellowship encourages and edifies the golfers like the bonds of love in a church does.
Mark said, “I love Wednesday nights. Larry and Dave have been great. Dave also serves as Baseball Chapel Representative to the Baltimore Orioles and is an associate Bible teacher for the PGA Tour Bible Study. Dave and his wife, Roxy, live in Columbia, Maryland. “Larry and Dave dive deep into the Bible,” according to Mark. “Amy and I have really learned a lot about God’s Word through them and how to apply it to our lives.”
“The main thing I’ve gotten from our Wednesday night worship is Larry talking about leading a life that demands an explanation. That means to always have your light shining so that others may see your good deeds and hopefully lead them to worship our Lord. One of my favorite verses is Matthew 5:16. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
“I think I can show others my peace that I have because of my relationship with Jesus Christ especially on my tough days in a tournament as well as my good days. Whether up or down, winning or losing, I give glory to the Lord. My relationship with Christ keeps me focused reminding me that I am more than a golf score. Who I am as a person is bound up in Christ and not professional golf.”
Mark doesn’t make every Wednesday night service. “I try to get there but with two little kids and my wife with me on the road, I don’t get there as much as I like because I’ve sometimes chosen family time that night. I hate to leave my wife responsible for the kids baths. She is pregnant with our third child. Amy always encourages me to go on Wednesday nights. But, I feel like it’s more important that I be in fellowship with my family on those nights when we can’t get a baby sitter.”
During tournament weeks, there are prayer breakfasts that are open to the public. They feature a PGA golfer presenting his Christian testimony. Mark said, “I’ve done a few of those. With the help of Bro. Larry Moody, I try to get across my theme which is above all trying to be a good example and let the light of Christ shine through me.
“When I speak at a prayer breakfast, I try to convey to the people that what I play for out there on the PGA Tour is more than winning a tournament. It is my life in Christ. I look at my success in golf as a platform from which to share Christ with others.”
Mark is next scheduled to speak on April 11, his youngest son’s birthday, at the 16th annual Christian Heritage Prayer Breakfast prior to the RBC Heritage Golf Tournament on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
One of the ministries that Mark supports is “Time for Grace,” (www.timeofgrace.org), the ministry of Pastor Mark Jeske, senior pastor of St. Marcus Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. Mark wears the “Time of Grace” logo on his golf shirt’s left shoulder. That’s his way of saying he is a partner with “Time of Grace” to get the word out about Christ and this ministry. That space on his shirt could be sold to a sponsor worth tens of thousands of dollars to him. Mark told me, ‘The “hits’ on the “Time of Grace” website spike when I am either in contention or win a tournament because the leaders get all of the television and media coverage. Golf fans check it out and wonder what it is. That makes me feel good.”
The fruit of Christ’s Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control listed in Galatians 5:22-23 are evident in Mark’s life. These Christian qualities reflect who he is in Christ and are a gift of God’s grace to all who live in relationship with the Lord.
Peace. From an interview with Pastor Mark Jeske for a “Time of Grace” television program on January 20, 2011, Mark said, “I try to keep in mind that I want to act the same way whether I win a tournament or am having a rough day. God gives me both these opportunities to glorify Him.”
Honesty and Forgiveness. Mark called a two stroke penalty on himself after his caddie gave another golfer advice on the Friday of the 2007 Honda Classic. During a tournament, sharing information with another golfer is against the PGA rules and results in a two stroke penalty. The rules officials would never have known of the violation had Mark not reported it to them.
Mark said about forgiveness, “It would have been very easy to fire my caddy on the spot. But, there’s something about forgiveness with our lives in Christ. If I accept Jesus’ forgiveness for my sins, then I should try to model myself after him. If you don’t lead your life that way, then you are kind of a hypocrite. In that situation, I chose the high road. I forgave him, and we moved on. That tournament turned out to be one of the highlights of my career. I won it on a Monday play-off when I birdied the second hole. It was my first victory on the PGA Tour.”
Patience. Helen Ross writes for the PGA website and noticed his patience in a January 23, 2012, article after Mark won the Humana Challenge. She wrote, “Wilson persevered with the pressure on, patiently waiting for the birdies he knew would come.”
Mark shot a blistering 62 in the second round. He was in contention on Sunday’s final round, but was over par early in that round. Mark remembers, “I don’t know what got into me that day. Maybe it was the beginning of the year. Certainly the peace of Christ helped, but I did not care that I was over par early in that round because I knew there was so much golf to be played, and I could make birdies late and make up for it. Sure enough I did, and I was the last one standing. I’ve learned to enjoy being patient. The Humana (formerly the Bob Hope Tournament) was the epitome of the patience Christ has given me.”
Another great step that Mark took was having more confidence in his ability. In 2006, he counseled with noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Mark told me, “I give Bob Rotella a lot of credit. I was tinkering with my mechanics a lot. I asked him, “Do I need to spend some time and narrow those down and try to get those to the elusive “perfect.”
“Bob told me that the sooner I decide what I have is good enough to win on the PGA Tour, the sooner I will succeed. And, I believed him for some reason. And lo and behold, I physically practiced less and believed in myself and my abilities more. Bob certainly helped me develop my self-confidence.
“It happened at a good time too because we were about to have our first child. I had no idea the demands of time my son would put on my life. And thankfully, I’m not spending all my time at the golf course. I’m trying to help my wife out the best that I can to raise our children.”
Mark Wilson experiences the full and abundant life promised to the followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). That life is not built around success, accomplishments, or money. It is built around Christ and having a love relationship with Him which in turn creates loving relationships with his wife, children, and others on the Tour and at home.
Mark is in the place of rest as described in Hebrews 4. “Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said. There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”
Mark is not someone addicted to his work—someone who works constantly and can never take time to rest like a workaholic. He balances his professional golf life with time to take care of his soul and care for those whom he loves best—his wife and children.
In a Golf Week article dated January 22 of this year, Alex Miceli reported that Wilson will take three weeks off in the middle of the year in addition to his annual break in November and December. Wilson said, “The time off helps me clear my mind. I’m not worrying about my standing in the world rankings or my standing in the money list or FedEx Cup or how I’m doing against the players that week. I feel like I’m more in my zone.”
There was a time when God’s rest eluded him. He filmed and reviewed his practice rounds and reviewed his swing over and over after a tournament round seeking and working long hours for perfection. But, he came to the point where he entered God’s rest by practicing and playing less.
After winning the Phoenix Open in February of last year, he told PGA Tour writer, Helen Ross, "Hey, I've got to just trust what I'm doing and just play my own game, not try to put my swing on camera every afternoon after the rounds and try to make it perfect.”
An example of the “rest” that Mark has from the Lord is the night before the TPC tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, held in February 2011. A victory meant a million dollar pay off.
Mark was in contention and had six more holes to play on Monday in order to finish the tournament. Helen Ross reported. “That Sunday night, he got his son into his jammies and then proceeded to beat the 3-year-old at Candyland. Wilson said with a twinkle in his eye. “He hasn't figured out how he can plant the cards just yet, so I usually win.”
Ross continued, “Wilson and his son were watching the Super Bowl that night between Pittsburgh and Green Bay. About the time the two-minute warning sounded, Wilson finally got to concentrate on the Super Bowl. He and Lane celebrated with a few high-fives when the Green Bay Packers win was assured, and then Wilson tried to settle down and get some rest.”
Mark, a self-avowed Cheesehead, told Ross, "I didn't sleep very well Sunday night because of that Super Bowl excitement and the uncertainty of Monday."
On the next day, Mark completed the six holes from Sunday’s unfinished round. He tied for first place to force a playoff immediately after finishing his round. Ross reports what she observed. “Wilson appeared extremely relaxed when he returned to TPC Scottsdale on Monday morning, played his final six holes of regulation in even par, and then went two more holes in a playoff to beat Jason Dufner and win the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“Of course, Wilson appears to have gotten pretty used to the final-round pressure so maybe his composure should have been expected.”
Mark’s demeanor is reflected in one of his favorite Bible verses from Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus“
Mark testifies, “I really like the two verses after that too.”
Those verses read, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
Mark told me, “I take those verses with me to the golf course a lot. But, I feel like the opposite of those verses sometimes because I do so much on the golf course thinking in terms of where not to hit it or being down, and those are not things that are praiseworthy or excellent.”
Mark adds, “I’m not perfect at that. I sometimes let my mood be affected by what I shoot. But, I really try to be positive and smile and be happy out there no matter what. I try to convey to the people that what I play for on the PGA Tour is much more than golf. I might be in contention a few times during the year, but what is that but a few hours. What am I going to do with the other 363 or 364 days? Basically, if I’m thinking that my goal is to win golf tournaments, then there is always going to be a void because I’m going to come up short. But, if I choose to fill that void, then it’s going to be a whole lot better than a roller coaster of emotions.”
Mark fills that void with his faith and family. He has his priorities in order.
All that he is and all that he does spills out from his heart filled with the love of Christ.
“Overall,” he testifies, “I think God wants people to be saved with Him. I think that it’s my responsibility to live my life in a way that makes people wonder what makes me tick, and hopefully they’ll investigate and see stuff written about me and realize it’s my relationship with Jesus Christ who gives me peace. Because Christ has given me His peace, I am able to compete at a high level. I do not put golf on a pedestal. I really think that God’s agenda for me is for the light of Christ to shine through my life so many souls can be saved, and all of us then can party up there in heaven together forever.” †
Rev. Dan White is pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA, and a free lance writer. Reach him at email@example.com
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