Lost and Found

One dear old duffer on our course has given up on golf altogether. Oh, he doesn't mind hitting a ball now and then, but if you're standing near the tee box when he swings, you'll notice that he purposely aims for the creek. And when the ball goes where he intended, he feigns disappointment.

"You go on ahead," he smiles, "I'll catch up later."

As he says this, he slides his ball retriever from his bag and slips over the edge of the bank where the shanked balls hide. Every other club in his bag has failed him, but not this one.

It is a sad thing to watch the hunter become a gatherer.

I asked him one day about the secret to finding lost golf balls. It was like I asked a fisherman to show me his favorite fishing hole. He squinted at me suspiciously.

"I'm not gonna follow you in there," I assured him. So he whispered some things. Top secret things.

"You drag your feet," he said, "like this. And you wear bigger shoes than you need. They cover more ground. I'd say 25 percent of all the balls I find are found with my feet. I used to bring a rake out here to pull them out of the creek, but the manager made me stop."

He seemed surprised I wasn't taking notes. Like he was giving away the Great Caramel Secret or the directions to Atlantis.

"When you golf, you gotta notice where people lose balls. You keep track. Then you go back later, after they're gone. I wear gloves and long pants. They plant thorns on purpose, you know. Stinging nettles. Poison oak. You can't be too careful," he said. "I don't bother with the creek much. It's too murky. I shuffle my feet along close to it, but I face away. I look up the bank, the opposite direction from where the balls came in."

"Did you ever fall in?"

It was like asking a fisherman if he'd ever hooked himself in the ear.

"Oh, yeah," he laughed, "many times. See this?" He rolled up his pant legs. His shoes were wet and mucky, his calves were laced with thorny scratches.

"Is it worth it?" I asked.

He wouldn't even dignify my question with a response. His eyes were darting now, but he couldn't stop himself. "I haven't bought a sleeve in 20 years."

"What's the craziest thing you've done to find balls?"

"Sometimes I lay right down in the grass," he confessed, his eyes far away now, remembering wistfully. "I roll around. I don't do it so much anymore though."

"Why's that?"

"Thorns," he said. "And arthritis."

"How many balls do you think you've found?"

He chuckled humbly, but I knew it was the one question he was dying for me to ask.

"Three thousand this summer. They're in my garage. Buckets of them."

"Did you find any with my name on them? You know, Callaway?"

He stopped chuckling.

"Those are mine," I said, "you should give 'em back."

I had one more question for him. "What's the strangest, most bizarre golf ball you've ever found?"

He had to think about that one, so he did. "I found one with a fish on it," he said. "I think it was someone's way of sharing the gospel. There were words on the other side. It said, `I once was lost, but now I'm found."'

When I was a little boy, a picture hung on our wall. I shut my eyes tightly, and I can see it even now. It is of the Good Shepherd hugging a lost sheep tightly to his chest. Beneath it a verse of Scripture stands out, forever reminding me of the extraordinary lengths the Master has gone to redeem lost sheep like me: "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10).

Though I cannot understand it, He somehow found me worth looking for. No price was too high for our redemption. He paid it with His life. No distance was too far for Him to travel. The Creator of the universe came to earth as a creature. He came to die that we might live with Him forever. He came because He would rather die than live without us.

What is left to us but to live thankful lives, passing God's grace along every day?

The dear old guy on our golf course would agree, I think. This morning when I arrived at work I found half a dozen golf balls on my desk. Each one had my name on it.

Phil Callaway, Golfing with the Master. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2006, p. 88 - 91.

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