Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lord Teach Me to Putt

In golf the old saying is, “You drive for show, you putt for dough.” The drive is the glamour shot. You stand on the tee box with your longest and biggest club and you smash it down the fairway. It is the farthest you hit the golf ball with any club. It is glorious (when it goes well). There is a lot of prestige to hitting it far, particularly among men. “Grip it and rip it,” men say. Most of the time we rip it into the trees, but nevertheless…

The fact is, though, that only fifteen of your seventy to one hundred shots in a golf round are with the driver. The club you use most on a golf course is the putter, the smallest, most delicate and unusual club in your bag. Even the best golfers putt over twenty times per round, and most amateurs putt over thirty times. So it stands to reason that the quickest way to improve your game is to work on your putting.

But watch the activity at any driving range and most golfers will spend far more time on the tee smashing drives and working with their other clubs than on the green practicing their putting. Part of the reason for this is the glamour of the drive, and part is the difficulty of the putt. Putting is frustrating. It is very hard to ever feel like you have mastered it. Putting humbles and frightens you. Professional golfers develop the “yips,” in which their hands tremble and twitch when they try to putt, so scared are they of missing makeable putts. Some players dread walking onto the green and having to putt. Amateurs routinely three-putt and sometimes four-putt on a given hole. It’s ugly. And that’s just my game.

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle (“Taking Dread Out of Putting”, Richard Dean, 11/22/08), tells about Rick Wright, a putting instructor who helps people develop their putting skills, which improves both their joy and their score at playing golf. He uses a laser device and other technical aids. He demonstrates how strong putting begins with proper set-up and alignment and includes putter length and ball position. He teaches drills that help practice mechanics and tempo. “If you can do these drills for two or three weeks, the brain starts giving you this feel and this will become second nature,” Wright confidently declares.

When I think of golf as a metaphor of the Christian life, which I do unapologetically, it seems to me that prayer most closely approximates putting. Prayer is not a glamorous activity. Schedule a prayer night at the church and most of the pews will be empty. Many Christians get the “yips” when they try to pray: they can’t bring themselves to start, or focus, or maintain any consistency. It never becomes second nature. Prayer is so mysterious and sacred and intimate that we would rather practice our other spiritual shots. Most Christians I know, including myself many times, will tell you that if they could change one thing about their spiritual life it would be that they prayed better and more often.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples implore Jesus (Luke 11:1), and he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. Just as golfers putt for dough, Christians pray for grow. It is the single most important and catalytic spiritual activity we can do to grow closer to God and open ourselves to His transforming work within us and through us. I’ll write about this more next week. In the meantime, let’s commit to practicing our praying. And maybe I’ll see you on the golf course. I’ll be the one praying over my putts.


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