Scottie Scheffler's not so secret weapon
Scottie Scheffler's not so secret weapon

Scottie Scheffler is very good at golf. Insanely good. He’s the world number 1 and now the reigning Masters Champion. He’s also incredibly competitive. So much so it makes him feel sick.

"I was sitting around with my buddies this morning, I was a bit overwhelmed,"

Scheffler said Sunday evening.

"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. 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 to then read that Scheffler says his golf is soon to be 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 in his press conference he went to speak 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 in the culture we swim in where winning is the only currency and especially at a tournament like the Masters, steeped in such tradition and cult-like folklore.

His faith is what he narrates as making the biggest difference on his outlook. Before we speak more on 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.

As golf journalist Kyle Porter articulately says:

"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."

In his press conference having won the Masters Scheffler explained more about how his faith impacts his golf. Having narrated how much he wants to win he said:

"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 for forever."

What does Scheffler mean?

He is speaking about how he believes his standing before God is unchangeable now because Jesus died in his place on the cross. Jesus performed in his place and Scheffler believes he will enjoy life forever with God because of it. The Bible describes the new identity Christians have as been formerly slaves, but now “dearly loved children.” Scottie Scheffler feels safe.

From slavery to safety

There are many ways to live as a slave. A slave to achievement is one. Your happiness and security is based on your success. A slave to approval is another. Your joy is rooted in your approval from others. It is not hard to see how easy it is for sportspeople (including Christians) to live in this kind of slavery.

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 our 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 ones) can we find satisfaction and security – not 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."

Scottie Scheffler knows he is loved regardless of his golfing performance, and this enhances his ability to deal with pressure. This freedom and security his faith provides seems to allow him to know that all he can do is control what he can, doing the best he can any given week.

This is a wonderful balm for the anxious, performance driven soul.

Scottie Scheffler will not win every week. He’s said himself that “professional golf is an endlessly not satisfying career” with its grind and the variables at play each week.

He will face periods in his golfing career, as he already has, when his form fails, or he picks up injuries and 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.

Jonny Reid
Jonny is the Resources and Communications Team Leader at Christians in Sport. He plays cricket at Cumnor Cricket Club and is one of the leaders of Town Church Bicester.

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