LINKS LETTER, 1995 – UPDATED IN 2009

THE PRICE OF SUCCESS

By Bill Rogers

The British Open Championship is more than the British Open. It’s actually the World’s Open. I found that out after my victory at Royal St. George’s in England in 1981. Everyone in the world wants a piece of the British Open champion.

Having won at the Sea Pines Heritage Classic earlier in the year and placing second in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club a few weeks before, my confidence was sky high coming to the British Open.

Rounds of 72-66-67 put me in the lead. I was five shots ahead of Bernhard Langer starting the final round. I knew it was my tournament to win or lose.

By the seventh hole, I’d gotten myself into a real jam. I double-bogeyed to go 3-over par for the day and opened the door for everyone else in the tournament.

“Don’t let one hole ruin your whole week,” I told myself as I walked to the eighth tee. “You’ve played so many good holes. Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”

I was able to get my concentration back and play rather than panic. Standing on the eighteenth tee, I had a four-shot lead. But 10 shots wouldn’t have been enough for me.

Everybody knows what happens on the last hole of the British Open—the spectators flood the fairway and surround the leader as he walks to the green.

Just as I expected, the crowd swarmed. They bumped me around a bit before I was finally able to burst through. Just as I did, a bobby (English policeman) slapped his hand to my chest to pull be back, not realizing that I was playing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out or not.

Eventually I hit my third shot on the green, putted out, and claimed by first major championship. The emotional release was unbelievable. It was almost the ultimate earthly feeling.

At that moment my career shifted into high gear. The world was at my doorstep. Tournament invitations, endorsement requests, every kind of offer imaginable came flooding in like the crowd on the eighteenth fairway, and I took advantage of every opportunity. If they invited me, I came. If my agent produced it, I took it.

I was married to my wife Beth by then, but our children Ben and Blair had not yet come along. So I was free to travel everywhere I had an invitation—Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand.

My success began to snowball. I won two tournaments in Japan, two in Australia and two more in the U.S., including the World Series of Golf and the Texas Open. In the end, I was named PGA Tour Player of the Year for 1981.

My sudden success was unexpected. It vaulted me to a completely different level in the game. In my previous six years on the tour, I was just out there having fun playing golf. I had no plans to be a world-beater or the best in the game. I just loved to play golf and play it well, never dreaming of that kind of success. But all of a sudden it hit, and my focus began to change.

The measuring stick for success on the Tour is money earnings and rankings. I totally bought into that system. I was the first one to get to the newspaper Monday morning to see how much money I made last week. I was completely tuned into how much I’d won and where I stood against the other players.

It puts a knot in my stomach just to think about how ugly I got. And that’s the best word I can think of to describe myself. I’d gotten so ugly I was actually pulling against my friends to make myself look better. I don’t think I’ve ever told them this, but I remember being in my hotel room watching my friends on TV, actually hoping they wouldn’t do well, just so I could feel better about myself. I’ve had some sick moments thinking about that.

At the time, I was relying only on me, despite the fact that several years earlier I’d made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior.

That decision came in 1976 in my second year on your while playing in a tournament in Tallahassee, Florida. For several months, I’d been asking all the self-examining questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What’s life all about? That week Rik Massengale and Larry Nelson invited me to come to the Wednesday night Bible study on the PGA Tour.

When the Bible study was over, I went out to the parking lot and prayed, asking Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my life.

For the next two weeks, I was on fire! I felt like all my bad habits were gone. I was on the right track, reading the Bible and telling my wife all about it. But that’s as long as it lasted—two weeks. I understood nothing about a commitment and a personal relationship with the person I’d just accepted as Savior. I really did feel a weight was taken away from me—my questions were answered—but without the commitment, it wasn’t long before I was right back where I’d started.

It was a lack of commitment and relationship, and failure to make Him Lord of my life, that made it so hard for me to deal with the success that had fallen on me.

The lure of money and being on top was too strong to resist. My desires changed. I began playing golf for the wrong reasons. I was playing to make as much money as I possibly could. But when God decided that shouldn’t be my motivation anymore, He really took it away.

Gradually, my competitiveness left me. I remember times when I would say to myself: “You know, I would rather be doing anything else in the world than playing this round of golf!”

I’d dug myself into a deep hole and finally reached rock bottom. My scores got worse and worse, and I began to play less and less. By 1988, I knew where I was headed. It was time to do something else. But I didn’t know that.

For the next two years I was like a parked car. And you can’t steer a parked car. I call it my limbo stage. I fooled around a little bit in golf course design, but it didn’t amount to much. That’s when my relationship began to grow with Jim Barker, a close brother with a strong walk in the Lord. We’d been good friends since Beth and I moved to San Antonio in 1985. Jim was a good counselor to me. Basically, he began to disciple me, teaching me what it meant to have a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. We developed some accountability with each other—making sure we stayed on track—and started attending Bible Study Fellowship here in San Antonio.

I slowly began committing myself to the Lord and His leading.

Still in my limbo stage with my career, I looked to God for guidance. One thing was certain. Golf was such a big part of my life, I knew my livelihood would come from the game in one form or another.

Then I heard that the position of head pro at San Antonio Country Club was open.

Of course as a Tour player, the scenario you want to avoid at all cost is becoming a club pro. Suddenly, that’s what I was facing. Based upon where I was and what I’d achieved in golf, my pride would never have allowed me to accept a position as a club pro. But by God’s grace I was able to understand that man’s standards are not God’s standards. Only with His help was I able to remove the ego and the self-centeredness to understand what a wonderful profession a club pro is. In fact, it was a job that fit me perfectly. It’s very much a people business, and I’m very comfortable with people and like to be involved in my community. So when I was offered the job at San Antonio Country Club in 1990, after much prayer and counsel, I accepted.

I stayed at SACC for 10 years, leaving at about the same time I was offered an opportunity to become involved in the initial phases of a new golf course development in the San Antonio area. The timing was right, and I stayed involved with the project for several years, eventually bowing out when the business end of things grew more complicated than I felt comfortable with.

At that point, in 2007, my life had carried me to a second “halftime.” If you are familiar with one of my favorite books, Halftime, by Bob Buford, you know what I am talking about. There comes a time for many men when they reevaluate their lives and decide it is time to make a move “from success to significance.” They desire to become involved in efforts that might be described as more meaningful—at least, they reach beyond one’s own little world. I had done this once already when I left the Tour, but here I was again, wondering if God had even another level for me.

As it turns out, two opportunities that I really enjoy have become a part of my life.

First, I spend a good chunk of time as the assistant to the golf coaches of the men’s and women’s programs at the University of Texas at San Antonio. It is a real pleasure to work with these young players, offering them some of my golf knowledge and watching their games flourish.

And second, I have joined my old friend Jim Hiskey, who is a real ambassador for God among golfers. Years ago, Jim was instrumental in starting the PGA Tour Bible study, and then the ministries of Links Players International. He is like an apostle to golfers, traveling from place to place and challenging and encouraging them in the Lord. I have traveled some with Jim, including a trip to Asia, where we met with some young golf professionals and showed them how they might use golf to open conversations about the Good News of Christ.

Essentially, what I have seen in Jesus and what I am learning more and more in my life is the wonder of being available. When you make yourself available to God and to the people He brings in your path, you are sure to wind up with some great chances for ministry.

I’m so thankful God led me to understand the part of my life that was in so much trouble—the ego, self-centeredness, the desire for money that superseded nearly everything else. Being humbled was something that needed to happen to Bill Rogers. I needed a strong dose of humility. I look forward to the daily challenge of walking out the door with a humble heart and a servant’s attitude.

I’ve heard a lot of dramatic testimonies from people where, in the end, they reach the pinnacle of success. Well, that’s where my story begins. No matter what kind of success we have in this world, ultimately we all have to come to God on our knees and understand the true meaning of humility and repentance.

It’s amazing how greatly God can use us when we finally realize we’re not much use to Him when we try to do it all on our own. So that’s where I am today—doing my best to let Him do all He can through me.

COPYRIGHT 1995, 2009 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Bill Rogers

    Bill Rogers was the 1981 British Open Champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year, but it didn’t take long for his trophies to lose their luster, and by 1990 he had left the Tour and moved into a club professional position, a move that he says drew him closer to God.