Divine help can repair your swing

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The Independent Online

THERE IS a well-known quip, usually attributed to Lee Trevino, golf's Oscar Wilde, suggesting that the safest policy if caught on a golf course during an electrical storm is to hold up the most unforgiving club in the bag, a one-iron, on the basis that not even God can hit a one- iron.

THERE IS a well-known quip, usually attributed to Lee Trevino, golf's Oscar Wilde, suggesting that the safest policy if caught on a golf course during an electrical storm is to hold up the most unforgiving club in the bag, a one-iron, on the basis that not even God can hit a one- iron.

Other golfers are less flippant about the Almighty. The God-fearing Bernhard Langer was overwhelmed to win the 1993 US Masters on Easter Sunday. And it was indeed a remarkable achievement, given the years of torment he had endured with his putting. By making an epic comeback on Easter Sunday, he was, moreover, in good company.

Religion and sport have often rubbed shoulders. As we know from Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, capped seven times for Scotland as a rather nippy rugby wing three-quarter, refused to participate in the 100m heats at the 1924 Olympic Games because he, unlike Langer, considered Sunday a day of rest. Yet he unexpectedly came good in the 400m.

"The secret of my success over 400m is that I ran the first 200m as fast as I could, and then, for the second 200m, with God's help, I ran even faster," he later recalled. For God, these days, read steroids.

Not many sportsmen have been as holy as Liddell, but even fewer have turned into bishops, such as the England cricketer David Sheppard, who became Bishop of Liverpool. He once took a spectacular running catch in a Test match, prompting his teammate Fred Trueman - cricket's Lee Trevino - to mutter that "when t'Reverend David puts 'is 'ands together, 'e stands a better chance than most."

All of which brings me to Tom Lehman, who in the words of Sam Torrance's now-famous post-Ryder Cup sneer, is another who "calls himself a man of God". At Orlando Airport on Friday, my eye fell upon a book called In His Grip - Foundations for Golf and Life, by Jim Sheard and Wally Armstrong, with an introduction by Dr Billy Graham and a foreword by Lehman. I snapped it up, a bargainous $12.99.

I have read funnier golf books than this, by the likes of PG Wodehouse and John Updike, but the crucial difference is that they were meant to be funny. In His Grip is deadly serious, yet an absolute hoot. On every page there is a verse from the Bible, chosen for its relevance to golf. For instance, the apostle Paul's words, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). In this key verse, explain the authors, it sounds like Paul "is describing the unspeakable shank. Anyone who has experienced this dreadful malady senses that Paul is writing out of his own experience with the shanks or perhaps the dreaded yips in putting."

In fact, they considerately add, Paul was not writing about shanking but sinning. And they offer us a "swing thought", that "Jesus wants to forgive you and give you peace this day and for eternity. Yes, you will shank the ball both on and off the course. But your Instructor is close by." And so it goes on for 125 solemn pages, with even the word golf presented as a precious acronym - God Offers Love and Forgiveness.

Speaking of Love, I watched Davis Love III on American television last Thursday, accusing the Europeans of rank hypocrisy in the Ryder Cup furore. In Europe, he said, the Americans have for years seethed silently as fans try to trip them up with umbrellas, and refer to their wives as flight attendants. I sincerely hope he hasn't offended Greg Norman, who did marry a flight attendant. But Love has a point. I was guilty myself, at the Belfry 10 years ago, of writing that when the American wives filed across the course in matching kit - all blonde, svelte and with 1,000 megawatt smiles - I instinctively asked one of them for a Bloody Mary and an extra pillow.

The serious point is that we should not be too self-righteous about all this, although my friend Ron Lowry, a lawyer in Atlanta, was outraged on our behalf when Steak Shapiro, a local shock-jock, fumed on his show: "At least we don't have to put up barbed wire to keep soccer fans apart." Ron, a low-handicap golfer himself, blames Tim Finchem, the US Tour commissioner, for tolerating and even encouraging increasingly boorish behaviour at USPGA events, so that as soon as Tiger Woods, notably, hits his tee-shot on a par three, the entire gallery goes bananas.

As for the biblical quotation which best suits what we saw at Brookline, may I suggest: "O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps." (Psalms 79:1).

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