The Rookie, PGA's Lee Janzen

No, Lee Janzen is not new to golf, but he is relatively new at another aspect of his life--one that brings him new discoveries everyday.
by Art Stricklin

Lee Janzen

In the eyes of those who know golf, Lee Janzen is a veteran star - a two-time US Open champion with eight PGA Tour titles to his credit. But when Janzen looks at his situation, he seems someone different. He sees a rookie - a neophyte who is seeking to improve his game and enhance his personal relationship with Jesus Christ every day.

It took Janzen until 1996 to discover that Christianity doesn't come on the family plan. It was only then that he realized it's up to each person to make a decision about his or her spiritual relationship.

The product of a family that went to church only on traditional occasions, Janzen grew up with head knowledge of a faith, but he didn't translate that to the heart until 1996 when he was talking with his wife at home one day.

"We were talking and I just said, 'I sure hope I get to heaven one day.' She said, 'you don't have to hope, you can know for sure,'" Janzen says. "That just struck me that I needed to get Jesus in my heart and live for Him all the time.

So he did. He trusted Jesus as his Savior and Lord.

But like most believers, Janzen has had his newfound faith tested. In his case, it has been the events of his up-and-down professional golfing career that have challenged him.

After winning his second US Open in 1998 at the age of 34, Janzen was projected as one of golf's next superstars. However, after that dramatic five-shot comeback win over Payne Stewart at the famed Olympic Club in Northern California, the golfing wins stopped coming.

"That's when we're thankful for faith because the game can be pretty tough out there." Say former US Open champion and fellow believer Scott Simpson. "It's exciting to see Lee's growth and what he's doing for the Lord. He reminds me of Payne [Stewart] with his walk and his faith."

While a believer for the past 6 years, Janzen truly is a rookie in attempting to tell others about his faith in a formal way. He has just recently begun speaking about his faith and the challenges he faces on the PGA Tour.

"When I became a Christian, I didn't know what I was supposed to do with golf. I didn't know if I was supposed to leave the sport and try something else, but I discovered that golf is really useless without God.

"You have to give God the glory in all that you do and golf has many opportunities to give God the glory," Janzen says.

Janzen, who has always been known as one of the quieter players on the PGA Tour, made his first public speaking engagement for his newfound faith last winter near his home in Orlando, talking to a group of local high school athletes. He also participated in Moody's Tour Players Dinner held the Monday of the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic in May. On that night, five Tour players of all ages and playing status shared about their faith in Christ before a crowd of more than 500 people."

Janzen grew up in cold and sometimes snowy Maryland, but his golf game began to blossom when he moved with his family to Florida at age 12 in 1976. A lifelong Baltimore Oriole's fan, Janzen found a new love in sunny Florida.

Janzen won his first tournament at age 15 as a member of the Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association. "As I won tournaments as a junior, I fell in love with it and my career took off from there. Finally I improved enough that I was able to get a college scholarship," he added.

After graduating from Florida Southern University with a degree in marketing in 1986, Janzen set out on his dream of playing professional golf. After a few years traveling on golf's mini-tours, Janzen joined the Tour full-time in 1990, playing 30 times with two top 10 finishes and finishing 115th on the money list.

He married his wife, Beverly, in 1989, the same year he got his Tour card. Lee and Beverly have an 8-year-old son, Connor.

"I always say I overmarried," Janzen says, "and getting married the same year I qualified for the Tour is something I will always remember."

Now in his 12th year on the PGA Tour, Janzen has been a steady if not spectacular performer, winning more than $9 million in prize money and thousands of fans, but at times lacking in real satisfaction.

His first PGA Tour win came at the 1992 Northern Telecom Open in Tucson, Arizona. The next year he reached golf's peak with a win a the US Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey, defeating Payne Stewart by two shots and tying Jack Nicklaus' scoring record with a 72-hole total of 272.

Three years later, Janzen made a full-time commitment to serve Jesus and have Him as the Lord of his life. "Following his three-victory season in 1995, during which he finished third on the PGA Tour money list with more than $1.3 million dollars won, he endured a 2-year victory drought. In 1998 he captured his second Open title, joining current players Tom Kite and Andy North who have achieved that milestone, again defeating Stewart by a single shot at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

"I don't know how I did it," Janzen says. "I felt so humbled to win the second time. I felt the authority of God in the win. It was amazing."

"The difference is Jesus Christ," PGA Tour Chaplin Larry Moody says. "It's a wonderful thing God has done in Lee's life.

"He had a brother who was a minister, but he didn't understand what it fully meant to have God in his life," Moody adds. "He thought he had the group plan. He was US Open champion; but that wasn't good enough. He finally came to a place where he realized that none of us are good enough on our own."

Janzen has also played on two US Ryder Cup teams, represented his country at the Dunhill Cup Matches at St. Andrews in Scotland and played on the winning 1998 President's Cup team.

"I've had a lot of great highlights playing this wonderful game of golf," Janzen says.

While he entered the mid-point of the 2002 season winless since his second Open title and written off by much of secular media as a forgotten player, Janzen says he is still working hard on his game and had no plans to slow down anytime soon.

"I want to still get better to compete and to win. Sometimes, I wonder if golf is really useful, if I would love life less if I didn't play, but this is the way God has given me to support my family. Once the Holy Spirit hits you, you're truly free, and He has allowed me to spend a lot of quality time with my family."

To keep himself on the right path during the sometimes lonely days and weeks on the road without his family, Janzen takes his well-worn Bible with him wherever he goes. He also phones home regularly to talk with his family, is active in a local fellowship in his home in Orlando, and is involved in the regular Wednesday night Bible Study on Tour conducted by Moody or one of his associates.

He's also coaching his son's baseball team when he is able to stay off the golf road and concentrate on his duties as a husband and a father.

Part of his fun is family time snow skiing during trips to Colorado and Utah. And, of course, part of his newfound enjoyment comes from talking to others about the good news of Jesus Christ.

And what about retirement plans? "Who knows what I will do? Maybe I'll become a preacher."

There is only One who knows Janzen's final details in life and work. Whatever fairway Janzen travels, the soft-spoken Floridian is determined to honor God in golf's good times and bad - both as a veteran US Open champion and as a self-proclaimed rookie follower of Jesus Christ.

Taken from Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. For subscription information call 1-800-283-8333.

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