LINKS LETTER, DECEMBER 2001

‘I’VE FOUND THE SECRET’

By Wendy Ward

Sometimes you never think ahead about how you will react in a certain situation. I can think of any number of things a professional golfer would like to do after losing a five-hole playoff. Talking to the press isn’t one of them. Even when you lose to a birdie, as I did at the Champions Classic in May this year, you would rather be alone than talk about how things didn’t come together.

But when a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch asked me about the tournament that would follow several weeks later in Columbus, Ohio, a funny little idea popped into my head. The Columbus tourney is the Wendy’s Championship for Children. So I boldly said, “Well, maybe that’s my tournament to win. It’s already got my name on it.”

Although I didn’t come away with the trophy at the Champions, not all losses are failures. I had shot 64 in the opening round and had a sense that positive things were going to follow. That week boosted my confidence significantly and turned around my season.

So as the weeks progressed and Columbus came closer, I was feeling good about my game, until the Weetabix British Open (the week before Columbus). The British was our final major of the year and I shot 78-71 to miss the cut. I thought to myself, “Well, I’ve missed the cut prior to my previous wins, so maybe this is all for the best.”

I arrived in Columbus in August not quite sure what to expect and not really remembering what I had said about how this might be my tournament. But I shot 65 the first day and found myself one shot off the lead. Now that’s a start I could build on!

The next round was Saturday and clearly the most fun. From the first hole, where I hit a shot about 15 feet from the hole and made birdie after my tee shot landed in a divot, everything clicked. I was knocking down flagsticks and rolling in birdies from everywhere. I shot my career low 62 to lead by four shots over Moira Dunn and five shots over Annika Sorenstam.

Annika is someone you never count out to make a Sunday run. Sure enough, she shot 66 on Sunday, but I was tough with a 68, finishing at 21-under, a new 54-hole LPGA Tour record. And guess who was there to greet me? That Dispatch reporter. If I hadn’t remembered, he certainly had. “You did it!” he said. I had won the tournament that truly had my name on it. There aren’t many people who can say that.

But this win didn’t happen overnight. It goes way back to the days when I would play nine holes with my parents and sister on the weekends when I was a kid. It was a time when we could spend time together as a family. It was a Sunday tradition to go to the 9:30 service and be on the tee at 11:00 for a nine-hole round of golf. I look back now and am so thankful that my folks created that time for us. I experienced God’s Word and music, followed by quality family time every Sunday of my entire childhood.

I guess as I grew older and entered high school, I really started focusing on golf. My golf teacher was Betty Dodd, a well-known protege of the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Betty helped create a solid foundation in my game. More than that, she put in a good word for me with Linda Vollstedt, the women’s golf coach at Arizona State.

Betty called Coach Vollstedt and said, “Wendy hasn’t done a whole lot nationally, but I think she has great potential.” Little did I know at the time these words would have me wind up playing for Arizona State. I was so thankful for Betty’s recommendation. But when Betty died somewhat suddenly at the end of my senior year of high school, I was passed on to another great teacher who would eventually help me with something far greater than golf. Her name was Lori Brock.

I was not a can’t-miss prospect at ASU, but I thought I knew quite a bit about the game and how we should be coached. This caused problems between me and Coach Vollstedt. Despite my religious background, like many kids raised in church, I had never really given Jesus Christ an honest look, and at ASU I started to make my own rules.

For one thing, my language was growing foul and that had never been tolerated in my home. But I was on my own now, so I talked however I wanted and did whatever I wanted to do.

At this point Lori stepped in. She saw it beginning with my golf game. My attitude was poor and so were my golf scores. My work ethic was lazy, and being naturally talented I thought I could play well enough without practicing very hard.

One day I was on the phone with Lori. My words were not positive and often filled with various expletives. It was not Christ-based by any means. So she interrupted me and said, “Wendy, are you listening to yourself? You sound miserable. You don’t sound like the Wendy I know.”

Well, like most independent teenagers do, I snapped back at her. But for the first time in months, I actually heard myself talking and realized she wouldn’t have confronted me if it wasn’t true and she didn’t care about me. So I asked her, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

Lori responded, “I’m sure your school offers an Athletes in Action or an FCA chapter group. Will you find out when they meet and go one time?”

Long story short, I found we had an FCA group that met right in the athletic building, so I went. I walked into a room full of athletes singing songs of praise. Since I loved music, I was touched immediately and felt right at home. Then I listened to the message and it was extremely powerful. It was as if God had planned to speak specifically to me that night. The message was simple—who sits on the throne of your life? Basically, who controls your life—the world, you, or God? And the message helped me evaluate that question and see that God was and had been in my life, but had never been in control of it.

So, from that evening on, I made a commitment to let God run my life. I said, “Lord, I need you, just like these other athletes need you. Come make a difference in my life.” Now, if I had questions, I would run to Him in prayer instead of relying on my own rules. If I had problems to deal with, I would turn to His Word and let His advice be my course of action.

Such a testimony followed that semester. People began noticing changes in me. My grades improved, relationships increased, my attitude changed completely, but most noticeably my golf improved. Players would come up and ask me if I was working with a new coach or using new techniques. They saw me so happy and now I was winning tournaments. What a testimony to be able to say, “You know, my secret is simple. I’ve changed one thing. I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior and I know that with Him I can do all things. He is my Captain.”

That is still my recipe for success in life today. Traveling on tour has its ups and downs. My husband Nate travels part of the year with me, but I often travel alone. It’s a great comfort to know God is with me at all times. We also have the LPGA Christian Fellowship group that meets every Tuesday night at the tournament sites. Cris Stevens leads us in those meetings and provides weekly studies to help enrich our walk with Jesus and His teachings.

Because of the ministry on tour, I have been able to share my story and help others to know the great love of Jesus and how our lives are hopeless without Him. In light of the September 11 attacks, our fellowship has been available to pray and counsel with players and fans who have questions about their own destiny.

It has never been easy for me to speak with others about my faith. This comes from a fear of being pushy. It’s a common thing that Christians feel. You want people to know about this great Creator, Sustainer, and Provider for all of your needs, but at the same time you don’t want to impose upon their way of thinking. But this crisis from September 11 has given me an opportunity and confidence to say, “Would I see you on the other side in heaven if that were you and me in the airplane? Or would that have been it and we say goodbye and you’re lost forever? I would want you to be with me and Jesus in heaven where there is no fear or terrorism.”

It shouldn’t take a situation like this to make sharing our testimony so significant, but for me it has. Jesus is available at all times—yesterday, today and tomorrow. I want people to know Him now and have the opportunity to be with Him for eternity. I pray God’s blessing on the world and that more and more people come to know Jesus the way I do. It’s a wonderful life to live when Jesus is in control.

COPYRIGHT 2001 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Wendy Ward

    4 LPGA Tour wins: 1997 Fieldcrest Cannon Classic, 1998 Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open, 2001 Wendy’s Championship for Children, 2005 Takefuji Classic