Golf really is a crazy game. Three weeks ago, Michael shot 78 and 80 on his way to a stellar +16 finish at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, CA. He finished dead last (but at least he finished ;)...my only you-know-who jab I promise!). I mean, it was just awful...and I know next to nothing about golf, so when I say something like that, it’s a big deal. The entire west coast swing was a bit of a wash for us to be honest, with Michael never really feeling comfortable over the ball or with his swing, despite 4 tournaments and lots of time on the range and green.
Michael spent the entire week at home practicing at Shoal Creek and Hoover Country Club in Birmingham, and occasionally went down to Tuscaloosa to practice with the Alabama golf team. Just trying to get back to his roots. He talked with Alabama coach Jay Seawell who pointed out some interesting stats to Michael. He told him that when Michael played at Alabama, he hit the fewest number of fairways and greens, but made the most birdies of anyone on the team. That was Michael Thompson Golf...get to the green as quickly as possible and then let your putting steal the show. Oftentimes it meant getting out of trouble, making a lot of up-and-downs, getting lucky on some chip-ins, and holing some long par, birdie, and eagle putts. The exact opposite of what’s considered perfect golf! But, Michael was OK with that in college because it took away the pressure of trying to be perfect all the time. He was confident that even if he was wayward off the tee, or not hitting many greens, he could have total confidence in his putting to get him out of trouble. And it meant that although he wasn’t necessarily a birdie machine, when he had birdie chances or was faced with longer par putts, he usually converted them. That is why he has used the same putter since high school.
On Thursday before the tournament, Michael drove our loaded up Tahoe the 13 hours from our home in Birmingham to West Palm Beach. We decided to drive for the Florida series because all the tournaments are so close together and driving is so much easier, even though it takes a bit longer. It was around 40-50 degrees and rainy in Birmingham, so Michael wanted a few extra days in warm, sunny Florida to get some good practice in. I went to Albuquerque, NM (cold and snowy) to visit family and teach my 88 year old grandmother how to use her new IPad. Apparently her entire retirement home are Michael Thompson fans and they were so excited to meet me and tell me about how they follow Michael. We absolutely love hearing about people all over the country who support us. We really do want to be an inspiration and good role models to those who follow us.
When I arrived in West Palm Beach on Saturday night, Michael was in a really good mood, happier than I had seen him in a while. He told me he had come up with a new goal. Now that he was on the PGA Tour, he wanted to win. But that was not his focus for the week. He told me he had decided to make a commitment during the Honda Classic to only focus on his routine and perfecting his process for hitting shots. Not hitting perfect shots, but sticking to his process for each shot and then dealing with whatever came. Nothing else mattered, not even the results of the tournament. He knew if he could do that, the results and the win would eventually come. I didn’t really know what he was talking about, so I just enthusiastically agreed as any good wife should do and spent the week making sure he had clean clothes and enough toiletries, updating our finances, paying bills, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, overseeing his stretching and foam rolling routine (my only Physical Therapy contribution for the moment thank God!) and generally doing everything to make the week run smoothly. I was already making plans for our trip the next week to Tampa to visit my brother Abe and his fiance Carrie for the week during Doral. They are getting married a year from now and I was really looking forward to talking wedding plans (and I know Michael was too!) Maybe that is why he won...so he wouldn’t have to talk about weddings...
Well, I guess we are going to have to come up with a new goal. This one lasted all of 1 week. Michael went out there at PGA National and shot 67-65-70-69 to finish -9 and win. After finishing dead last in his previous tournament, he did a complete 180 and finished at the top the next week, beating a major-caliber field. How is that for a success story kids? I wish I could tell you there was some magical formula we came up with that made us successful this week, but really it was like any other week out on tour. We went to the Tour Fellowship (the bible study) on Tuesday night which we do every week where the leader was Stephen Bunn, our really good friend and Christian mentor from Birmingham (who also married us 2 1/2 years ago). We ate at Chipotle, Rocco’s Tacos, Talay Thai Restaurant, Yard House, and Chuck’s Burger Joint. We went to see the movie A Good Day to Die Hard (it was his week to pick the movie obviously). And we watched lots of TV in our down time. There was really nothing out of the ordinary last week that should have contributed to its successful outcome. Maybe Bruce Willis pumped him up.
What the experience in LA really allowed for was it brought Michael into the Honda Classic with absolutely no expectation of doing well. Michael had resigned himself to the idea that the things he was working on (getting back to playing his own style of golf and not worrying so much about trying to be perfect), could take weeks, months, or years to pay off. And he had decided that even if he lost his card, as long as he had somewhere to play (whether it’s PGA, Web.com, NGA, E-golf, wherever) he would be perfectly happy. He just wanted to play golf because he loved the game, no matter what level and no matter who was watching. All the benefits that come with being on the PGA Tour became secondary to the pure joy he felt when he was out there on the course doing what he loved to do.
Everyone wants to know what I told him in LA that was such an encouragement. Michael and I are believers and followers of Jesus Christ. I am a little farther along in my faith journey than Michael, having come to Christ a few years before him, but in LA I felt completely helpless. I had no idea what to say or how to handle Michael after his finish. I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own, so I prayed constantly that God would give me the right words to say, that he would tell me the right things to do for my husband. Here is what he answered: You must be broken before you can be blessed. The way Michael put it, “you must weather the storm before you can see the sun.”
I like to think that God often breaks us down in various ways in order to start all over again. Something in us has been corrupted by our environment and God feels the need to completely purge us of that corruption before allowing us to succeed. He doesn’t do this because he is a hateful vindictive God (which many people believe)...He does this because he loves us too much to leave us the way we are. He can’t stand to see us fumbling around on our own, (but he gave us free will to choose to fumble if we want); so when we ask for his help he does whatever he needs to do to make it right, and often the process is painful. He takes us all the way to rock bottom in order that we may have complete and utter dependance on him. And we often won’t understand what he is doing or why. It really sucks when you are in the middle of the breaking down process. That was us during the west coast swing. But just because he breaks us down, doesn’t mean he has abandoned or forgotten us. He is usually doing some of his best most important work when we don’t even know it’s happening or feel its effects.
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?...Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it...They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12: 7,9-11.
Michael decided to trust in God’s plan for his life. That is what changed between LA and Honda. Instead of worrying, being anxious, thinking about the future, trying to do it all himself, and being negative about his game, he decided to focus on staying positive in all circumstances, continuing to work hard in practice, staying in the present and not worrying about the future, not caring about the results of the tournaments, playing golf because he loved to play (which by its nature brings glory to God), and trusting that God gave him this talent for a reason and expected him to do something with it.
Michael DECIDED to change his attitude towards his circumstances. His attitude didn’t change as a product of him playing better...He decided to have a better attitude regardless of how he played, trusting that his positive attitude would create positive results. He decided to endure whatever hardships God had planned for him, knowing and trusting that God was breaking him down so that he may come out a stronger even better golfer on the other side. That is faith...blindly following God’s plan, even when you have no idea how it will end up. Because God promises that things will go well for you if you follow his plan. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
That is what I said to Michael in LA. I reminded him of all God’s promises for his life. Promises of hope, a future, and prosperity (or providing us with everything we NEED). God gave him the gift of golf, and so he expects Michael to work hard and make the most of God’s gift. God does NOT promise that our future will be without struggle, but he does promise to be with us in our struggles and that our struggles are only temporary. We WILL get through them if we have faith and patience. We know that Michael’s career will consist of immense highs and crushing lows, but because of this LA/Honda experience, if we fix our eyes on God’s ultimate plan for our lives, we know that the setbacks and surges will shape us into the kind of people God wants us to be. And we know NEVER to give up, because there is sunshine after every storm.