How do you define greatness? The golfing world would define it in one way, “How many majors have they won?” There are four golf tournaments in professional golf that are simply called “the majors”: The Masters, The U.S. Open, The British Open, and The PGA.
These three players are considered to be the greats of the game, the legends of golf. Together they have won a combined total of 34 majors, 13 of which were The Masters. Jack Nicklaus, considered by most to be the greatest golfer ever (my childhood hero) leads the pack with 18 majors, Gary Player with 9, and Arnold Palmer with 7. Together the have won four grand slams: Jack Nicklaus won 3 and Gary Player won 1. A grand slam in golf is having won each of the four majors. In other words, Jack Nicklaus has won The Masters, The U.S. Open, The British Open, and The PGA three times each. Arnold Palmer won them all with the exception of The PGA.
These men were my idols growing up and over the years I have attended tournaments where each of them have played. I will never forget the talk of high school golf teams was when Greg Hines, a sophomore at one of the local high schools, caddied for Jack Nicklaus. How does that happen to a 16 year old kid? It was the Sahara Nevada Invitational, one of the tour stops in Las Vegas, Nevada. As high school golfers, we would head to the golf course early and hope for a “loop” an opportunity to caddy (carry the golf bag) for one of the participating golfers. It so happened, while a bunch of us were waiting, Greg being one of them, Jack Nicklaus walked up to him and basically said, “Son, are you looking for a loop?” After we resuscitated Greg, he ended up caddying for Jack for two days, and went home somewhat of a celebrity having gotten paid $150.00 and a couple of dozen golf balls. As for me, I picked up J.C. Snead (nephew of the famed Sam Snead). He ended up at the wrong golf course (the tournament was played at two different clubs) and I gave J.C. and his wife a ride to the other course in my ’57 Chevy. Two days later, after he missed the cut, I went home with $20.00 in my pocket, got yelled at once or twice, and caught him cheating.
As I write this, we are on our way to attending our last day at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia. We are anticipating a great day. Arnold, Jack, and Gary won’t be playing. Though they played a combined total of over 140 Masters tournaments their serious competitive golf playing days are over. Many younger players have taken their place.
What happens after you are through playing in The Masters? Do they give you a gold watch and call it good. Not for these three, they are now honorary starters. This means that every year The Masters officially starts when Jack, Arnold, and Gary tee off on the first hole.
I watched these retired honorary starters start a golf tournament I once dreamed I would play in only to defer to the dream of one day attending. To be honest it has been somewhat emotional in so many different ways. I realize what a part golf has been in my life, how I love the game, and how these men who I looked up to, and in many ways still respect so much today, affected my life…and in a small way still do.
As I was reading through the Word this week, I came across a verse that stirred my heart:
“Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” Deuteronomy 11:16
As I reflect on that verse, having watched these three golfing greats over the years, I could not help be think about how quickly this life passes and how fleeting success in the eyes of the world can be. There is no doubt that if legends could somehow be eternally preserved and a place could be created by man, a place which would capsulate all that life this side of heaven entails, The Masters would be it.
However that simply is not the case! One of my favorite verses in this regards is found in the Psalms written by another great man, one of the greatest, King David.
“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” Psalm 39:4–5
I love golf, but I love the Lord more. Golf teaches you a lot of things about life, it really does, but through His Word, God makes absolute sense of it all. I love Him for that eternal truth!