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NY Post
New York Post
25 Mar 2023

NextImg:Inside the PGA Tour Bible Study Group helping golf No. 1 Scottie Scheffler

On Thursday, American golfer Scottie Scheffler, 26, will begin the defense of the Master’s title he won last year, when he coasted to victory at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, winning the tournament’s fabled green jacket and $2.7 million in the process.

Carrying his bag, again, will be his trusted caddie and fellow Christian, Ted Scott

Some might call them a match made in heaven: The duo began working together in November 2021 but first met 10 months earlier at a PGA Tour Bible Study Group.

Since pairing up, Scheffler has won six times on the PGA Tour, including that maiden major victory at the Masters, and risen to No. 1 in the world rankings. 

“The reason why I play golf is I’m trying to glorify God and all that He’s done in my life,” he said at his press conference after winning the Masters. 

“So for me, my identity isn’t a golf score.”

After winning the Masters in 2022, current No. 1 Scottie Scheffler said, “The reason why I play golf is I’m trying to glorify God and all that He’s done in my life.”

Scheffler is one of a growing number of pro golfers proud to wear their Christian beliefs on their sleeves. 

Some carry prayer books with them on the green, mark their golf balls with a crucifix or have Bible verses printed on to their clubs.

Each week during Tour, on Tuesday evenings, Christian golfers meet at the PGA Tour Bible Study group.

There is no official membership and you don’t even have to be a Christian to attend. 

You can be agnostic or even atheist and still show up and engage in the discussions, as long as you’ve been invited by a regular and know what to expect.

Kermit Zarley playing golf

Pro Kermit Zarley co-founded the informal group in 1965.

Founded in July 1965 by pro players Kermit Zarley and brothers Jim and Babe Hiskey, the first meeting was held at the Whitemarsh Open in Philadelphia, Penn., and attended by just seven people.

“There was no Christian presence on the PGA Tour, in the sense of a gathering, before we started the PGA Tour Bible Study,” Zarley, 81, told The Post. 

“We would just post a sign in the clubhouse locker room saying where and when the meeting was that week. There was never any resistance from the Tour officials.”

Today, it can be standing room only with anywhere up to 100 people present, as players, their partners, caddies and officials come together to share prayers and discuss scripture. 

Jim and Babe Hiskey

Brothers Jim (left) and Babe Hiskey were two of the original seven members.

Among them: 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson and fellow major winners Bernhard Langer, Stewart Cink and Webb Simpson.

Former world No. 1 Jordan Spieth has also been known to drop by.

Another attendee is Kevin Streelman, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour.

He first became aware of the PGA Tour Bible Study Group in his rookie year in 2008 and attends with his wife, Courtney.

Stewart Cink
Stewart Cink is among the players known to attend the tour’s Bible study.
Getty Images

For a traveling pro like Steelman, 44, it’s difficult to attend church regularly, especially when he is on the road most weekends.

That, he tells The Post, is where the PGA Tour Bible Study group comes into its own.

“The Tour Bible Study became our new church,” he explained. 

But is his Christian faith, and the Bible Study group, the difference between success and failure on the golf course?

“I can’t say whether my faith gives me a competitive advantage over my competitors or not,” Steelman said. “But we don’t attend to help our golf games — we attend to help our life games.”

For him, the Bible Study group is a way to escape from what can be the world’s most exasperating sport — especially when your living depends on it — but also a way of keeping golf in some much-needed perspective.

Kevin Steelman holding his baby daughter Sophia and standing with wife Courtney

Player Kevin Steelman attends the PGA Tour Bible Study with his wife, Courtney.
Corbis via Getty Images

“There’s freedom in releasing results and when you live life with an eternal outlook, it truly gives you clarity on what’s important and of value,” Steelman said.  

“But I can say it keeps golf in its proper place in my life.”

Sports psychologist Jamil Qureshi said Christian acceptance could certainly lead to a happier golfer.

“The people who tend to win golf tournaments aren’t the people who make the least mistakes. They are the people who react best to the mistakes they make. Belief in a higher power could, for some, mean that they accept a bad bounce — God’s will — but also have the belief that if they are destined to perform well, they will,” Qureshi said.

“Accepting of the bad and believing in the good makes for a pretty good mindset!”

Golf ball inscribed with Psalms 23.

Some players use golf balls or clubs inscribed with Bible verses.

Not all Christian golfers’ proclamations are met with due reverence.

Webb Simpson, for instance, once attributed a tournament win to “Second Corinthians 12:9 and the Apostle Paul’s writing.”

When he won the 2012 US Open he told NBC that he “probably prayed more the last three holes than I’ve ever done in my life.”

For some, like five-time LPGA Tour winner Sophie Gustafson, that was a little too much.

“If there even is such a thing [as God],” she said, “I hope he/she/it has better things to do than help someone win a sporting event.”

Jonathan Byrd also came in for criticism on social media when he thanked God for granting him the peace to win a tournament.

Webb Simpson

Webb Simpson once attributed a tournament win to “Second Corinthians 12:9 and the Apostle Paul’s writing.”
Getty Images

But another Masters winner, double green jacket winner Bubba Watson, believes it’s more about the way he plays the game, not results.

“The Lord couldn’t care less whether I win or lose,” he told the media shortly after winning at Augusta in 2012. 

Last year, Watson, whose Twitter profile bills him as “Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer. Underwear model,” left the PGA Tour to sign for the breakaway LIV Golf series, a competition funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), whose chair, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose leadership has overseen a human rights record described by Amnesty International as “abysmal.”

Bubba Watson on the golf course
Some fans and players wonder how Bubba Watson can reconcile playing in the LIV Golf series — funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — with his Christian beliefs.
Getty Images

It’s unclear how Watson, 44, reconciles his Christian beliefs with the actions of the regime funding LIV Golf — and his career.

Not only is his faith illegal in Saudi Arabia but adopting children — something he and his wife, Angie, have done twice — is also prohibited there. 

His decision has raised questions among fans and his fellow golfers.

When Saudi women’s rights activist Salma al-Shehab was jailed for 34 years in that country, Australian PGA Tour golfer Cameron Percy took to Twitter: “Should I ask Bubba to pray for her release?”

That said, the Christian contingent remains the most visible religious group in the pro game and according to the PGA Tour, there are no other faith groups having organized meetings on the Tour. 

Tiger Woods on the golf course
Tiger Woods has credited Buddhism for helping him through stressful periods.

Interestingly, there are no Muslim players on the PGA Tour, although players are not obliged to disclose this information.

There are other belief systems.

Tiger Woods, for example, has credited Buddhism with helping him through some of the more difficult periods in his life (even if most of his problems have been self-inflicted).

In 2010, after news broke of his multiple marital infidelities, Woods made a public apology live on television, announcing he would be returning to Buddhism to help him live a better life.

“Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security,” he said, before heading off to a sex addiction clinic in Hattiesburg, Miss.

For Kermit Zarley, the fact the Bible Study group is still going strong, nearly 60 years on, is a source of joy. 

“I’m really glad to see that the group is still going and having an impact,” he told The Post. “What started small in 1965 has touched many lives in pro golf and especially among many pros who went on to win dozens of major championships.”