The Rev. Dan White, pastor of North Columbia Church in Appling, Ga., is a guest columnist on The Augusta Chronicle's Your Faith page. This week, he interviewed golfer Tom Lehman.
Tom Lehman's Christian faith drives him off life's tee away from the hazards and into the fairway of peace, love, and grace.
Lehman's perseverance and determination drove him to hone his skills until he reached the pinnacle of professional golf. In April 1997, he was ranked the number one golfer in the world. He won the British Open in 1996 and finished the year number one in earnings. That year, he was named PGA player of the year. In 1994, he came within two strokes of winning the Masters Tournament and finished second to Jose Maria Olazabal.
A native of Alexandria, Minn., Lehman graduated from the University of Minnesota with a business and accounting degree and played on the university's golf team. He turned pro at 23, earning his PGA card. He played on the PGA tour from 1983 to 1985 and failed to keep his card and became an assistant golf pro at a club in Minnesota. During this time, he married his wife, Melissa.
His burning desire to play on the PGA tour never left him and in 1988, he decided to play competitively again with the support of Melissa. Lehman played his way back into the PGA, grinding it out in Asia and South Africa. Further, he played on the Ben Hogan Tour (now the Nationwide Tour) for six years. In 1991, he topped the Hogan Tour's money list, was named the Hogan Tour Player of the Year, and automatically received his PGA card again at 32. He has enjoyed unbroken PGA membership since then.
Lehman said that the constant time away from home for a professional golfer puts an unavoidable strain on a marriage. Yet, he has a strong, loving, and faithful relationship with his wife and is quite the family man.
It helps that his wife is supportive.
"Melissa loves golf and the professional golfer's lifestyle. She loves to travel and meet people. She teaches our children Christian values. She's great," said Lehman, who has four children, girls ages 19 and 17 and boys ages 14 and 7.
"The biggest issues we've had to work on," Lehman continues, "is that mom is the bad guy, and I'm the good guy. I am a Disneyland dad."
It is up to Melissa to discipline the children while Lehman travels. She "cracks the whip." She is the one to make sure homework is done, make dinner, and keep order in the household.
"The children see her as no fun. They see me as fun," Lehman said. When he comes home, he is ready to play with the kids and take them places. He doesn't have to deal with the nitty gritty everyday drama of the household.
"This issue is being resolved," Lehman said. "We discussed how I can fit back into the every day life of our family when I am home. Together, we devised a game plan where she can be the 'good guy,' and I can be the disciplinarian when I am home."
At every opportunity, the Lehmans travel together. On weekends, they travel to the tournament and spend time together and watch dad play. Plus, he always takes one of them to the full week of practice and tournament rounds three or four times a year. At night, father and child spend time together or do activities such as catching a movie or going skating.
When Lehman is out of town, he calls his family several times a day just to tell them that he is thinking of them. He loves the technology that allows him to text message them on a regular basis. During baseball season, he will text his son and remind him to "keep his bat up" when he is at the plate.
Moreover, his wife seems to always have surprises for him. For years, Tom expressed a desire to vacation in Bora Bora. He had seen the pictures and read about the little island in the South Pacific which is in the French Polynesian archipelago. Unknown to Tom, Melissa told his secretary to clear his calendar for his 50th birthday week. Tom's calendar looked full to him. But, it was really clear of all engagements. When the day came to leave for Bora Bora, Tom looked at his calendar and saw a day full of activities.
"You can forget all of that today," Melissa said. "I'm taking you to Bora Bora this morning for your birthday."
"But, but, I've got all of these obligations and responsibilities to fulfill," Lehman countered. Melissa revealed her secret, and they flew off together to paradise.
I asked Lehman how he keeps his soul healthy. There are so many temptations and even more so for professional golfers and athletes. He replied that he worships regularly on the Tour every Wednesday night with other golfers of like-minded believers. He spends time in personal devotions. Perhaps most importantly, he has three close friends who are also accountability partners at home. On Tour, he has an accountability partner, a mentor who has traveled with him for fifteen years.
Strong family relationships and faithful commitment to his wife doesn't just happen. He guards himself from temptation and values his family above all else. For Lehman, Christian faith is the rock he has built his home upon.
Love is like a flowing river, and the love of Christ and the love between Tom and Melissa Lehman flow to others. Their involvement in the Phoenix Rescue Mission has led to the development and support of one of their favorite charities, The Changing Lives Center for Women and Children. The center provides emergency medical care, counseling, and protective shelter. The long-term recovery program lasts 13 months, and it's only a block away from the public school which the children attend.
"We are Christian in our focus. The Lord is the only real long-term answer. These women and their children most have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome their problems," Lehman said.
He's also involved with HopeKids, which provides events for children with life-threatening diseases. HopeKids is a powerful, unique support community where children and their families are surrounded with the message that hope can be a powerful medicine.
Lehman aims to take the message of Christ's love wherever his travels take him. He calls himself a "lifestyle evangelist." When he played and won the 2009 Argentine Masters near Buenos Aires, he worked with a church to host a golf tournament. His presence and prestige gave credibility to the church's ministry and helped open doors to help others through their orphanage and hospital ministries.
The Lehman's live in Scottsdale, Ariz., and are members of Highland Church there.
Now age 51, Tom plays a full professional golf schedule on the Champions Tour and the PGA Tour, with 23 to 25 tournaments annually. In addition, he plans and designs golf courses through the Lehman Design Group, a company he's intentionally kepy small.
"We are a one-project-at-a-time company," he said. "That way, I can spend more time at home with my wife and children."
I am grateful for the time Lehman granted to me for this interview. I have been inspired through my conversation with him and hope others will be inspired to develop, repair, or continue that most important relationship with family through faith and faithfulness.