By Dan Quayle

One of the reasons I love golf is because of the lessons it teaches about life. One of these lessons I learned during my college years from two great champions.

This happened during the prime of Arnold Palmer’s career. He’d already won the Masters, British and U.S. Open titles. And after three sterling rounds of 71, 66, 70 at the historic Olympic Club in San Francisco, he was on the verge of winning his second Open title. I was fortunate enough to attend this U.S. Open and witness golf history. I followed Palmer and Billy Casper for the entire 18 holes on Sunday.

Reporters were forecasting that Arnold would not only win, going away, but would break Ben Hogan’s 72-hole scoring record of 276. With nine holes to play he led Casper by a walloping seven strokes. He was certain to win. No one in the history of the U.S. Open had overcome a seven-shot deficit in the space of nine holes.

Arnold was paired in the final group with Casper. On the front nine Casper shot 36, but Palmer fired a 32. “Arnie’s Army,” thousands of noisy fans that lined each hole, was clamoring for Arnie to go for Hogan’s record.

To break Hogan’s record, Arnie needed only to shoot 36 on the back nine. A relatively easy assignment for the hottest golfer in the world.

Casper was almost unnoticed that day. As he approached the last nine he said he was just “trying to hold on to second.”

“I just wanted to play within myself,” Billy said after the round. “Just put as many birdies on the board as I could.”

In other words, Casper’s commitment was to his own game, to keep his mind focused on his business and not Arnold’s or anyone else.

With four holes to play Arnie held a comfortable five shot lead. On the fifteenth Casper knocked in a 20-footer for a birdie and Arnold bogied. Still no problem. Palmer only needed three pars to break Hogan’s record and he was three shots ahead of Casper with only three holes left.

Driving into the heavy rough on the 16th, the Olympic Club began to take the upper hand on Arnold. He doubled. He followed that with another bogey on seventeen. In three holes, Casper had wiped out the king’s five-shot lead.

But Casper still had to finish 18. He stuck to his game plan—played his own game—parred the last hole and sent the tournament into an 18-hole playoff on Monday.

That Monday Arnie appeared undaunted by his downfall the previous day. He blazed around the front nine in 33 against Casper’s 35. But again Casper stuck to his gun—played within himself—shot a solid 34 on the back nine to Arnold’s 40 and brought the king to his knees.

I like the story, not because one of my childhood heroes lost, but because of an important life lesson: Play your own game and don’t worry what others are doing.

I started playing golf when I was eight years old at Paradise Valley County Club in Phoenix. I competed in golf in high school and college where I was captain of my golf team. I learned early the lesson that Casper had learned. But, I have to keep relearning it. And apply it in other areas of my life.

I’ve had the privilege of serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and one term as the Vice President of the United States.

One of my heroes of American history was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln made an interesting statement that parallels the lesson above that I learned from golf: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

I’m sure Lincoln was saying something more, like Don’t attempt to fool anyone, just be true to yourself.

When I was Vice President, I was target of a certain faction of the press because I was conservative, young and had a great future ahead of me. I was the first person of the post World War II generation to be elected President or Vice President.

Enduring constant unfair and biased media reporting was a daily task. But I learned something. It was the same lesson Billy Casper had learned: You have to “play within yourself,” and not worry about what others think of you or say about you.

Being Vice President did afford me some interesting venues for airing my views with the American public. One such occasion was ABC’s Barbara Walters Show. By then I was two years into my vice presidency and less pre-occupied with my public image.

Barbara asked me many substantive questions. But the part of the interview that remains most vivid was when she asked: “What is the most significant day of your life?” I knew immediately and answered her straightforwardly: “The day I accepted Christ.” I had never spoken publicly about my religious convictions, and rarely inserted them into speeches, other than to talk about the general importance of faith and Judeo-Christian values. People in my office argued over the political wisdom of my speaking about my spiritual experience. All of us agreed, however, that faith in Christ was not something you “spin.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the enormous amount of mail we received from people who were pleased to hear me talk about Christ on Barbara’s show and said they were happy they could identify with my experience.

Although I had been raised a Presbyterian, my personal acceptance of Christ occurred in a Methodist church on a Sunday afternoon in 1964, when I was seventeen years old. With about fifteen or twenty other young people, I’d gone through an ecumenical Bible study course, one that alternated between the local Methodist and Presbyterian churches. We talked a good deal about the importance of accepting Christ openly as our personal savior, and about His having died for our sins. On this particular Sunday afternoon, our group leader urged each of us to make a personal, open statement, there in the house of God about accepting Christ. And in a quiet, peaceful way I followed his instructions.

I had never openly expressed my allegiance to Christ until that day. That Sunday remains an unforgettable part of my life.

I point to my interview with Barbara for one reason: what ultimately matters is not what others think of me.

I cannot say it better than the Oxford scholar, C. S. Lewis. In his famous “Weight of Glory” essay Lewis says, “I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God.

“By God Himself, it is not!

“How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us…

“The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ…

“To please God… be loved by God… delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in his son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which one’s thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so.”

Yes, it is so. Ultimately, it’s what God thinks of me that really matters.


  • Dan Quayle

    Dan Quayle was Vice-President of the United States of America from 1989 to 1993, serving under President George H.W. Bush.