By Charles Gardner, Special to ASSIST News Service
DONCASTER, UK (ANS – April 13, 2016) — Celebrations all round for Sheffield star Danny Willett who won his first major championship at the 2016 Masters Tournament, becoming only the second Englishman to achieve the feat and the first European for 17 years to win at Augusta National.
When I was first introduced to Danny Willett at the Oaks Golf Club near Selby in Yorkshire, England, I knew he was regarded as a great new prospect on the golfing circuit. But of course I had no idea that within a few short years he would be U.S. Masters champion.
So it was not surprising that, throughout that final round as I watched the live action on TV, I was feverishly willing my fellow Yorkshireman on to win it!
And what a fantastic performance he put in at the exceedingly tough Augusta National course, where a flawless bogey-free final round of 67 gave him a well-deserved three-shot victory in the first of the year’s four major championships.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth seemed to be sailing home with a five-shot lead at the turn (with nine holes to play), but sadly for him it all went pear-shaped for the 22-year-old American, who subsequently lost six shots over what has come to be known as Amen Corner; his chances were virtually sunk with an ugly seven after twice finding the water at the dreaded short 12th.
Playing up ahead at that point, Willett was just coming off the 15th green when he would have become aware of Jordan’s fate which suddenly thrust the Yorkshireman – and former World No 1 amateur – into a two-shot lead. But he held his nerve under the pressure and struck a near-perfect iron at the 16th – another water hole – sinking the putt, and the favorite’s hopes with it. Danny had won the prestigious 80th Masters tourney.
Willett is based at the Rotherham Golf Club, but actually hails from nearby Sheffield, where his father is a retired Church of England vicar.
I wrote a number of stories about him during my days as sports editor of the Selby Times as he could often be seen playing or practicing at the nearby Oaks Golf Club where he came under the watchful eye of coach, Graham Walker.
I see that his dad has since been quoted as crediting his son with God’s favor, which goes some way to explaining why I found myself praying for his putts to drop – something I usually hesitate to do as I’m aware that God doesn’t necessarily favor his disciples over others in the game of golf.
However, those putts did drop, and it reminded me of the time 20 years ago when I cheered on Tom Lehman to his British Open triumph down the fairways of the Royal Lytham & St Anne’s course in Lancashire. I knew Tom was a committed Christian, and I’m proud to say he was very up-front about his faith as he gave God the credit in his victory speech.
And yet Danny’s great day so nearly didn’t happen. You see, Sunday April 10 was originally the due date of his baby boy, which would have meant him having to cancel the trip to Georgia. But his new son Zachariah was way ahead of the game, making his appearance twelve days early and this allowed his dad to play. And what’s more, Sunday was also mother Nicole’s 28th birthday. Talk about all your Christmases coming at once!
I have a similar story. My dad, a top amateur, was captain of the South African Universities golf team, and my due date – July 2 1949 – coincided with an important match. Being proud of his achievements, my mum was anxious that my birth shouldn’t stop him playing. So she tried to “bring me on” early (with the help of gin and a hot bath, I believe). It didn’t work, but dad got to play anyway, but consequently he wasn’t there when I came into the world.
But he more than made up for it by giving me every encouragement in the game he loved. I dreamed of being a Masters champion and, although that only ever remained a dream, I did get to follow some of the great stars of the game as a reporter, including my boyhood hero Gary Player, who won the Masters three times.
The most important thing, however, is to follow God’s call on your life – and for people like Bernhard Langer, the 58-year-old German who was in the hunt at Augusta until the final day, that does happen to be playing golf, and being a disciple of Jesus in his own sphere of activity. Bernard became a born-again Christian shortly after winning his first Masters in 1985 when he realized that fame and fortune wasn’t everything. There was a much greater reality to be found through a relationship with Jesus.
My calling was journalism, where I have also consistently sought to make the reality of Christ known.
There is no greater joy than knowing Jesus, and I’m sure that Bernhard would say that it even beats winning the Masters!
Photo captions: 1) Danny Willett acknowledges the cheers of the crowd after his huge win. 2) Charles Gardner tees up for his first junior golf tournament as a ten-year-old in 1959. (Photo: Pat Culverwell). 3) Charles in 2009 as captain of a Selby Times XI cricket team that included top British comedian Tommy Cannon. (Photo: Gary Foster). 4) Charles visits a Selby district gym in his capacity as the local sports editor. (Photo: Tony Saxton). 5) Charles completes a 10km race over the magnificent Castle Howard estate in Yorkshire, raising £450 (about $640 USD) for a Christian charity. (Photo: Linda Gardner). 6) Charles Gardner pictured with his wife, Linda.
About the writer: Charles Gardner is a veteran Cape Town-born British journalist working on plans to launch a new UK national newspaper reporting and interpreting the news from a biblical perspective. With his South African forebears having had close links with the legendary devotional writer Andrew Murray, Charles is similarly determined to make an impact for Christ with his pen and has worked in the newspaper industry for more than 41 years. Part-Jewish, he is married to Linda, who takes the Christian message around many schools in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster. Charles has four children and eight grandchildren. Charles can be reached by phone on +44 (0) 1302 832987, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of Peace in Jerusalem, available from http://olivepresspublisher.com.
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