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Six years without a victory did not change Steve Jones. His
first public remarks after he won the U.S. Open on Sunday paid
homage to a higher power. "First of all," he told a television
reporter on the 18th green, "I just thank the Lord Jesus
Christ...." And then, "Even with God on my side, I was still
pretty nervous."

His words drew cheers from the still-crowded grandstands. But in
seminaries, convents and temples across the land, the response
was probably more restrained. The Jesus of the Bible, after all,
spent most of his time ministering to losers. The Messiah was
conspicuously absent from the luxury boxes and winners' circles
of imperial Rome.

Not that those golf fans in suburban Detroit who sprinted from
their places of worship to reach Oakland Hills Country Club
before Jones teed off were making a spiritual statement with
their cheers. They were merely honoring Jones, a clean-cut
champion with a humble manner, a helpmate wife and two adorable
children. We like it when good things happen to good people.
Heaven knows, it occurs infrequently enough.

Still, there's no getting rid of this notion that God picks
winners. Jones was well-known, before a motorcycle accident
interrupted his career in 1991, for making it sound as if Jesus
were reading his putts for him. But if God, and not Jones,
deserved credit for winning the 1989 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic,
whose fault was it when Jones missed the cut the year before? Or
blew a lead? And, really, were we supposed to believe that
Jones's victory in the 1989 Canadian Open proved that it was
God's plan for him to play tournament golf? Instead of, say,
filling the rice bowls of starving children in Somalia?

It's not as if one has to labor to find evidence that God plays
no favorites. The championship ring goes so often to the
wife-beater, the cokehead, the adulterer and the cheat. Consider
this: The all-pro pass receiver of our Super Bowl champion team
has been indicted for possessing drugs. The star of our national
championship college football team dragged his girlfriend by the
hair down a flight of stairs. The newly crowned NBA champs have
a captain with a gambling jones, a forward with a thing for
cross-dressing and a coach with New Age beliefs that would
dismay a Sunday school teacher.

You think golf is different? Not by Christian Coalition
standards. The current Masters champion, Nick Faldo, won at
Augusta just months after leaving his wife and children to take
up with an American coed. The reigning British Open champ, John
Daly, is on his third marriage and has struggled with alcohol
abuse, compulsive gambling and domestic violence. If moral
rectitude is a prerequisite for golfing success, someone hasn't
gotten the message.

Clearly, Jones didn't intend for his "God's on my side" remark
to be taken for arrogance. Neither did he mean to slight Davis
Love III and Tom Lehman, who tied for second. Lehman, in fact,
shares Jones's Christian convictions and is a regular at the
Bible study meetings held every Wednesday at PGA Tour stops. But
Lehman conveys his faith without proselytizing. When asked what
he thinks about on the golf course, Lehman may respond, "Joshua
1:9, all day"--as he did on Saturday after shooting a
course-record 65. But Lehman is careful not to confuse his
spirituality with his golf skills. "By studying the Bible," he
says, "I have the faith to be calm. I can allow myself to be
still in trying situations."

Put simply, his faith has helped him keep his once volatile
temper under control. That self-control, in turn, makes Lehman a
better golfer--"a winner"--but not necessarily God's chosen
golfer. Other athletes derive similar benefits from meditation,
bio-feedback and hobbies like fishing or gardening.

That is the distinction Jones needs to make the next time he
wins a tournament. His God may indeed be at his side when he
wins. ("Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid. Neither be
thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever
thou goest." --Joshua 1:9)

But the Lord his God careth not whether Steve Jones winneth.