LINKS LETTER, 2008 ANNUAL EDITION

TURNED BY A PHRASE

By D.A. Weibring with Jeff Hopper

To my dad, there were always five majors. Four of them you know. The fifth was the Quad Cities Open.

I had enjoyed a decent amateur career, playing college golf at Illinois State University, where I was an All-America honorable mention my senior year. But even if I had qualified to play the U.S. Amateur, I would not have been able to afford the trip most years, so I stuck fairly close to my home in Quincy, Illinois, playing local and regional tournaments.

My parents were active in the community, and I knew my dad loved sports as much as I did. In high school, he had played seven different sports. He limited me to two at that stage, challenging me to get good enough at one or the other to play in college. In high school, I played basketball and golf. And while I still love basketball and helped coach my own kids for many years, I went to college to play golf.

After that, the challenge got tougher, of course. It took me three tries at the Tour Qualifying School to earn my card. In between these annual attempts, I worked as an assistant pro, just trying to hone my game. I was an underdog to make the Tour, but in 1977 I qualified. Much thanks in this matter went to Kristy, my wife, whom I had married in May the year before. She worked as a teacher and made it possible for me to keep plugging away at improving my game. Through the years, we have always been a team.

Maybe the biggest way tour golf changed my lifestyle was that I started to travel quite a bit, playing wherever the PGA Tour took me. That’s what made the Quad Cities event the fifth major for our family. It brought me back home—or at least within a few hours’ drive.

After making a strong late-season showing in New Orleans to keep my card my rookie season, I kept working at my game, seeing important improvement. The momentum built through 1978 and carried into my third season, 1979. As the calendar shaped up before me, I had my eyes set on the Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open (now the John Deere Classic) in the middle of the summer.

Two weeks before the tournament, my dad had a heart attack or a stroke. They never really determined which it was, but it was probably the first sign of the lung cancer that would take his life five years later.

There are any number of different things that can motivate an athlete, but family tragedy can sure push the button. My dad recovered at the time, but the importance of home and family converged then, as Kristy was also pregnant with our first child, Matt, at the time.

My dad got well enough that my parents made the trip up for the tournament. So did some of my high school and college friends. It sure was good to be home! Maybe it was because I had a heightened sense of how much all this meant to me that I won that week.

Like most golfers, I can remember nearly everything about that day. Even though the event was held opposite the British Open, we had a strong field. Calvin Peete finished second, Craig Stadler was third, Peter Jacobsen finished fourth. Hale Irwin and Larry Nelson also landed in the top ten.

The victory gave me a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I was a guy who wasn’t guaranteed to make it. But now, after all the adjustments and improvements, I had won. I thought, I can do this.

Obviously, a lot of time has passed since 1979. Now I play the Champions Tour. I think when I came out, I set the bar a little higher for myself, having won a couple of times on the PGA Tour in my 40s, and just feeling that I had the ability to compete out here. My first win came at the 2003 SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, North Carolina.

That win taught me a lot about the Champions Tour.

I came into the final round with the lead, but I also had a little stomach flu and I was not feeling my best. When I three-putted the sixteenth hole that last day, I fell behind the leaders. There were a lot of guys in the mix down the stretch—Doug Tewell, Bobby Wadkins, Tom Kite.

But one of the guys who was off his game that day was my playing partner, Andy Bean. He just hadn’t been able to stay near the lead.

After we teed off at seventeen, which is a par-5, Andy and I were walking toward our balls. He turned to me and said, “Come on, man, you can do this. Make an eagle here.”

In golf, the players I have always respected have focused their competitive effort on playing the course. They keep an encouraging attitude toward others players, displaying true sportsmanship. That sportsmanship is something I have always loved about golf.

Well, here was Andy turning my way to encourage me: “You can do this!” As you can tell, that was a moment I remember as much as eagling the hole and going on to make birdie at eighteen to seal the win. It was a moment I remember and a moment I appreciated.

It’s a great thing to be encouraged. It’s great too when you are able to do that for somebody else and pick them up and help them enjoy the moment of a win. Part of that comes from the maturity of age, but on the Champions Tour part of it also comes from Tom Randall.

Tom Randall is the kind of guy a lot of people are hesitant to meet at first. He’s a preacher. He leads the weekly Christian fellowship on the Champions Tour.

My friend Bruce Lietzke first asked me, after I had spent about six weeks on the Tour, “Why haven’t I seen you at fellowship?”

I hemmed and hawed a bit. I had been raised in a Catholic family. We weren’t just once-in-a-while Catholics either. My parents were very committed to seeing me raised in the Catholic Church. So I had my ideas about what church should be like. I figured I knew most of what I needed to know. Besides, when I had been to other “fellowships” in my life, I came away feeling like there was a lot of finger-shaking. The teachers may have been nice enough. I just didn’t like that style.

But Bruce assured me, “Tom’s different. He’s going to send a little different message, and I know you’ll enjoy it. For me, as a friend, come one time.”

“Fair is fair,” I said, and I agreed to show up on Friday night.

I don’t think I have missed since.

Tom’s method of encouragement certainly caused me to reflect back on those priests and brothers I got to know and appreciate while growing up both in the Church and in Catholic schools. And his wife Karen, who often travels with him, became a great friend to Kristy.

As I got to know Tom, I found that we could talk about several things we both enjoyed. He played professional basketball in the Philippines, so we talked about basketball. Of course, we talked about golf. But we also talked about God, and we talked about family.

It was very important to me that my own family was brought up with the same Catholic training that I had been given. In fact, before we were married, Kristy converted to Catholicism, as my mom had done. Then our kids—Matt, Katey, and Allie—had gone to Catholic school almost their whole lives. Kristy and I were very active as parents, cheering on the kids and even helping raise funds each year for their school in Dallas, Bishop Lynch High School.

Tom makes a real effort not only to prepare his teaching for the 100 or more people (including family and friends) who show up on Friday nights, but also to meet with guys one-on-one. Because Tom had also grown up Catholic, when we would get together, we would talk about the difference between what we had been taught growing up and what he was teaching now. He explained to me that the Catholic religion is sometimes a little bit too much about following the rules, rather than having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Having a relationship”—that simple phrase made all the difference for me. Who wouldn’t want to have a friendship with God?

Once I realized what was missing from my life, I was able to see what was really there. I had a wonderful foundation and a wonderful Catholic education. But it’s just like anything else: if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. I think I was stuck in neutral for a long time—which is really moving backward. I needed to get moving again.

I still feel strongly about the Catholic religion, but I now realize that just following all the rules won’t really get you anywhere. That’s too big a job for us as humans trying to impress God. Even though I’ve always tried to set an example and do the right things, I’ve made a number of mistakes through the years. We all do that, and we need help. The perspective Tom gave me was that I can’t get that help trying to do it all by myself. I need that relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Each day, as I walk down the hall of my home in Dallas, I see a plaque hanging on the wall. Our daughter Katey gave it to Kristy last Christmas, and it quotes Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” That passage means so much to me because it reminds me that in spite of my best effort, there will be things in life that I cannot tackle on my own. But I can trust in God. And because I have a relationship with Him, I know that I can count on Him to come through.

In the end, I guess I would have to say that one of the best things about having a relationship with Christ is that it makes all your other relationships that much better. With so many guys hearing Tom out and gaining this renewed perspective, the Champions Tour has become an extraordinary place. It’s a place of perspective and encouragement.

My family, too, just as I had hoped, has gained so much from Tom Randall and his challenge to communicate openly with God and one another. My kids, when they are out on Tour for a weekend here or there, look forward to joining us on Friday nights. Matt, our oldest, has played the Nationwide Tour for several years now. He is a talented player with a passion that I love and broader perspective now. Matt is going to reach his goals; there is no doubt in my mind. Along with Tom, Kristy and I are encouraging Matt and his wife Stephanie all the time. It is something we have really learned to do.

So in the same way, we are encouraging Katey, who is in Los Angeles, pursuing a dancing and acting career, which is a difficult business. And we’ve come alongside Allie, who has had to adjust from an injury that ended her own dancing dreams. She is now redirecting her efforts toward a degree in public relations at the University of Oklahoma. Obviously, we’re proud of all our kids as they work hard, anchored by their faith.

I suppose it is only natural as you grow older and your kids grow older that your values change. I don’t know that mine really have. I still have immense respect for men like Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson who have gone before us in this game. I still want to pass on to the next generation the essentials that these men passed on to us—primarily, that you give before you get. But now I have one more thing in life I want to give to my children and their children. I want them to know that they can have a relationship with God, a friendship that carries us through life.

COPYRIGHT 2008 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • D.A. Weibring

    5 PGA Tour Wins: 1979 Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open, 1987 Beatrice Western Open, 1991 Hardees Golf Classic, 1995 Quad City Classic, 1996 Canon Greater Hartford Open

    5 Champions Tour Wins (one major): 2003 SAS Championship, 2004 Allianz Championship, 2006 Bruno’s Memorial Classic, 2007 3M Championship, 2008 Constellation Energy Players Championship