After his victory at the US Masters this weekend, the world’s number one golfer told journalists that golf was only the fourth most important thing in his life. The first, he said, was God. What a freeing way to live, says Jonny Reid


Source: Alamy

Scottie Scheffler is very good at golf. Insanely good. He’s the world number one and now the reigning US Masters champion. He’s also incredibly competitive. So much so that it makes him feel sick.

“I was sitting around with my buddies this morning, I was a bit overwhelmed,” Scheffler told journalists at the post-tournament press conference. “I told them: ‘I wish I didn’t want to win as badly as did I - or as badly as I do. I think it would make the mornings easier.’

“I love winning. I hate losing. I really do”, he continued. “And when you’re here in the biggest moments, when I’m sitting there with the lead on Sunday, I really, really want to win badly.”

It is striking then to read that Scheffler says golf is the fourth most important thing in his life. It is his job. It has been his whole mission for decades to be the best golfer in the world and, yet, at the press conference he spoke about how his faith, his wife and his soon-to-be-born child are all more important to him than winning golf tournaments.This feels very counter-cultural, especially in the world of elite sport where winning is the only currency - and especially at a tournament like the Masters, steeped in such tradition and cult-like folklore.

Faith under pressure

His faith is what Scheffler says makes the biggest difference to his outlook. Before we speak more about that, we need to say again: Scottie Scheffler is insanely good at golf. He has been blessed with incredible hand eye co-ordination, the right physical attributes and opportunities at a young age to practice and develop. And he has worked incredibly hard to become the best player in the game.

But his faith does seem to enhance his performance - and especially his ability to deal with pressure. This runs counter to a caricature which might say that becoming a Christian diminishes your competitive edge.

In today’s culture, we tend to look within ourselves to find ourselves

As golf journalist Kyle Porter articulates: “While Scheffler is not devoted to his faith for the purpose of winning golf tournaments - quite the opposite, in fact - in listening to him speak about it, one would find it difficult for a golfer to have a better mind space. He holds the line between ‘cares a lot’ and ‘identity not tethered to outcome’ perfectly.

At the post-tournament press conference, Scheffler explained more about how his faith impacts his golf. Having made plain how much he wanted to win, he added: “My buddies told me this morning my victory was secure on the cross. And that’s a pretty special feeling to know that I’m secure for forever and it doesn’t matter if I win this tournament or lose this tournament. My identity is secure forever.”

From slavery to safety

What does Scheffler mean?

He is speaking about his standing before God being unchangeable because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus ‘performed’ in Scheffler’s place – and so Scheffler can be sure that he will enjoy life forever with God because of it. The Bible describes the new identity Christians have as moving from being former slaves (Romans 6:20) to “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Scottie Scheffler feels safe.

There are many ways to live as a slave. You can be a slave to achievement, with your happiness and security based on your success. You can be a slave to approval, with your joy rooted in other’s approval. It is not hard to see how sports people (including Christians) can end up living in this kind of slavery.

It doesn’t matter if I win or lose this tournament. My identity is secure forever

In today’s culture, we tend to look within ourselves to find ourselves. Sport is a very easy way to do this. It is natural to base our identity on our skills and successes - to fashion for ourselves an achieved identity. And that is a shaky place to find your worth and value.

As the outrageously successful England Rugby Union world cup winner, Jonny Wilkinson, once said: “It feels as if I spent years trying to fight depression with another Six Nations Championship, or some more caps, or titles, or points. ‘Surely,’ I told myself, ‘That will keep you off my back?’ It doesn’t. It’s never enough.”

Only by separating our self-worth from our achievements (or potential achievements) can we find satisfaction and security, instead of slavery. Ashley Null has worked as a chaplain in five Olympic villages and knows this only too well: “Only love has the power to make human beings feel truly significant, not achievement. Only knowing that they are loved regardless of their current performance has the power to make Olympians feel emotionally whole.”

A balm for the soul

Scottie Scheffler knows that he is loved, regardless of his golfing performance, and this enhances his ability to deal with pressure. It is a wonderful balm for the anxious, performance-driven soul.

Scheffler will not win every week. He’s said himself that “professional golf is an endlessly not-satisfying career” with its perpetual grind and the variables at play each week. He will face periods in his golfing career when his form fails, he picks up an injury or he drops down the rankings.

It is at those moments, as well as on the morning of potential major victories, that he also needs his friends to remind him his identity is secure forever. What a radical and freeing way to live.