Some of the world's top golfers open up on their faith in God and Jesus
American PGA Tour stars hold weekly Bible meetings
Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Stuart Cink just a few of those who are involved
Leading golf psychologist believes religion can play key role in sport
Forget hitting the greens – it’s the fairway to heaven which is on the minds of some of the world’s top golfers.
From Augusta’s Amen Corner to an Amen on every corner, these golfers practice what they preach.
Players from across the PGA Tour meet regularly at a Bible group, whose members include high-profile stars such as major champions Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Stewart Cink.
Each week, the group will study one particular verse, with some players such as Kevin Streelman taking that particular scripture and getting it printed onto a golf club.
For Streelman, who won his first big PGA Tour tournament at the Tampa Bay Challenge in March, his reawakening has come following a period of struggle in his personal life.
“I would lie if I said that I was previously that way,” he told CNN’s Living Golf.
“My journey has been incredible but I have been in the darkest lows to get to where I am today, to meet my wife, to be the father I hope to be.”
His conversion has made Streelman think deeply about what Christianity potentially demands of the individual.
“The thing with Christianity is it’s tough for us to understand that whether you’re Mother Teresa or the Boston bombers, God loves us all the same.
“We all fall short of his perfection and that’s the reason the gospel happened and Jesus had to come down and save us.
“When you wrap your mind around that, I think it kind of frees you up, that no matter what, he loves us incredibly much, and he’s got our back no matter what.”
On the course and off the course, the Bible group is the invisible club in the bag – some members pause midway through their rounds to read from the New Testament, meditate on holy scriptures and, of course, pray.
With crucifixes on balls, prayer books in the golf bag and scriptures printed on clubs, the Almighty’s presence is never far away for these God-fearing golfers.
“We do something before every round,” Ben Crane, an integral member of the group, revealed during an interview with CNN.
Crane, who grew up in a Christian household, wrestled with his religion during his college years before finding his way back to God.
“We do a devotional, and it’s called a player’s devotional, a bunch of us players on Tour do it,” he said.
“It’s a way of us getting our hearts warmed up before we play. We get our bodies warmed up, our swings warmed up, we get our minds warmed up, but we want to get our hearts warmed up and remind ourselves why we are doing this.
“It’s not like a Jedi mind trick. My caddy and I meet two hours and 20 before every tee time and we start with The Word and ask each other questions to reflect on it, and it gets us going, this is why we’re here.”
When the PGA Tour reaches Merion, Pennsylvania, on June 13 for the start of the U.S. Open, one man in particular will be praying for a repeat of last year’s success.
“I probably prayed more the last three holes than I ever did in my life,” Simpson, who won at San Francisco’s Olympic Club 12 months ago, revealed after his triumph.
A one-shot victory over Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and fellow American Michael Simpson secured a first major title for the 27-year-old – a success with which he believes his religious belief was key.
“My verse that week was Second Corinthians 12:9 and the Apostle Paul’s writing,” Simpson recalled during an exclusive interview with CNN.
“In it, ‘God said to me my grace is sufficient for you for my powers made perfect for weakness’ and I just meditated on that verse all week.
“On that back nine I felt very weak, I felt physically weak, my legs were shaking, but I also felt I had a huge mountain to climb to try to beat the field at the U.S. Open and more than anything it just reminded me of that when I am weak.
“God’s powers are made perfect. He’ll help me if I ask him too, not necessarily to help me to win, help me to try to execute shots under that pressure.
“We want to honor and glorify God however that looks like. Whether it’s winning, surely we want to try and to win, but if it’s missing the cut, we want to honor him by our attitudes in the way we treat the other competitors, the volunteers.”
It’s not just some of the world’s best golfers who hold deeply religious convictions on Tour.
Simpson’s caddy Paul Tesori is just one of those who believes his life has been revitalized by religion.
Baptized in 2010, Tesori says his whole outlook on life has been transformed – and that is reflected by his blossoming partnership with Simpson.
“I started to do things to be more obedient to the Lord,” said Tesori. “My language changed, we all hang around with the boys, and want to fit in a lot more so one of the first things I changed was my language, to try and be less uncouth.
“If my daughter was watching me, I’d try to think what she would think of me at that time or if Christ was sitting with me there, would he be OK with the way I was acting. Very quickly after that I was fired from a job. I’d never been fired before.
“But in December 2010, the Lord brought me Webb Simpson and since then my walk has got 10 folds better.”
While Tesori’s faith is a source of great pride to him, he is aware of the skepticism that he encounters in espousing his beliefs.
Describing himself as a “sinner saved by Jesus” on his Twitter biography, Tesori also acknowledges the glamorous lifestyle and materialistic nature of the game opens overtly religious players up to accusations of hypocrisy.
“They look down on me and I definitely think there are a lot of Christians that are like that,” he said.
“I know my pastor at my church tells us all the time, ‘Look guys we can’t be the ones that are complaining, bickering or getting divorced or having affairs, if we’re the ones that are trying to call more people into the living.’
“People are going to look at us and say, ‘I don’t want to be part of that.’ ”
Faith in sport is nothing new – the sight of soccer stars crossing themselves on entering the field of play, kneeling to offer prayer or pointing to the sky after scoring a goal is common.
Australian golfer Aaron Baddeley recalls how he turned to the Bible during his first PGA Tour event more than a decade ago after speaking at the Easter service earlier in the day.
“I went out and on the last hole I was pretty nervous,” he said. “I quoted Second Timothy 1:7 which says ‘God did not give your spirit fear but of power and sound mind.’
“I was quoting that as I was nervous around the putt. I stood there and said, ‘This is for you, Jesus,’ and knocked it in.”
Baddeley’s tale is not unusual, and the sight of golfer and caddy standing together and reciting from the Bible no longer raises eyebrows from seasoned spectators.
Sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, who has worked with some of the biggest names in golf for the past 29 years, believes faith helps athletes cope with an “achievement orientated society.”
Rotella helped Darren Clarke claim a famous victory at the British Open in 2011 and Keegan Bradley triumph at the PGA Championship in the same year.