It hasn’t always been easy, but according to PGA golfer Jonathan Byrd, the only way to play the game and feel good about yourself in the morning is to do so with integrity. And for Byrd, the only way to play with integrity is to follow the example of Jesus Christ.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Byrd talks about his love for golf, why integrity still matters, and how one of his favorite Bible verses helps him trust God with everything:
Chad Bonham: What do you love about golf?
Jonathan Byrd: We fail at this game a lot more than we succeed. From the world’s eyes, I’ve won a good bit on Tour—more than most. I’ve won five times in 10 years on Tour. That’s once every two years. That’s not winning a whole lot. So compared to some other sports, you’re not winning as much, but the standard for winning or improvement and things like that is very important to help you deal with defeat. We obviously play to win tournaments. We practice a lot. But when we’re struggling and we’re not playing well, the thing that keeps bringing me back is the fact that I can always improve on something. There’s always an area of improvement. It’s a game you can’t perfect. But the pursuit of perfection is very fun. I love working with my instructor and figuring things out that might make me better and then trying to ingrain that through the drills and putting the time and seeing the fruit of that. It’s just a real enjoyable process from.
Obviously bearing fruit is a biblical thing. You plant the seed and put the time in with God by serving and reading your Bible. You plant seeds in your life and it bears fruit in your life. The same is true in the game of golf. If you put the time in and you practice the right things, you can always improve. That whole process is something that I, and a lot of other guys, enjoy the most about the game.
Bonham: What are some things that golf inherently teaches us about integrity?
Byrd: Honesty is one thing that you learn. I remember as a young guy, sometimes I would keep my score and the other guy’s score. I must confess, I wasn’t always the most honest guy. That was a lesson I learned growing up playing golf. If I made a five, I had to write down a five. If I made a six, I had to write down a six. No matter how painful it might be to have a bad hole, you have to be honest—even if you’re just playing by yourself.
Humility is another great quality. There’s nothing that humbles you more than the game of golf. It can really humble you sometimes and having a bad golf score can teach you a lot about humility. The minute you think you have the game figured out and you become boastful about it, the game will humble you right around the corner and you’ll struggle.
Bonham: What about the Bible inspires you in your quest to live with integrity?
Byrd: Proverbs 3:5-6 is grossly overused in sports. But I think people use it in sports a lot to say, “Trust the Lord and He’ll make things right for me. He’ll help me win.” But I think it means we’re supposed to trust the Lord with everything. I’m bombarded every day with situations where God asks me, “Are you going to trust Me?” And He’s saying, “Trust me with this difficult relationship” and “Trust me with this financial decision.” The part about not leaning on my own understanding really grips me. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense when my dad passed away two years ago of a brain tumor. Why did that happen? My dad didn’t do anything to deserve that. It doesn’t make sense. It won’t make sense on this side of Heaven. So I have to continually and daily, with little things that dig at me, trust God. That is the only way to live. Any other way is futile.
To read more about the game of golf and the concept of biblical integrity from star athletes such as Stewart Cink, Aaron Baddeley, Webb Simpson, Kevin Streelman, Jonathan Byrd, and Bernhard Langer, check out the book Life in the Fairway.
(Photos: Jonathan Byrd; Jennifer Perez/PGA Tour)