Thrilla in Manila II: As Iron Sharpens Iron…

Late last night, I had no idea how I would formulate today’s post. Discount it as “religious” garbage if you may, but when I stepped out of bed at 3:23 a.m. today, this verse came to mind, and I believe it was straight from God Almighty.


“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” ~ Proverbs 27:17

as iron sharpens iron

First, a disclaimer, and a few definitions are in order.


For 25 years I’ve been proud to work as a professional journalist, who above all things, strives for objectivity in his work (unless it’s an opinion piece). And furthermore, at the outset of my career, I purposefully chose not to be a sports journalist. Why? Because I love sports too much, and I never wanted something I loved so much to be – well, work.

This follow-up post from yesterday is fully intended as an objective work, but I’m acknowledging how very difficult it is to write objectively when the I’m one of the subjects.


MULLIGAN: In golf, a “free or extra shot,” the terms to which the players have mutually agreed, prior to the match.

THE HONORS – A rule generally allowing the player with the lowest score on the preceding hole, to tee off first, on the following hole. E.G.- On hole #4, you take a 4, and I take a 5, YOU have the honors.

HANDICAP: Relative to par, the number of strokes a player is generally allowed to deduct from his score to enhance the competition among players at different skill levels. E.G. – If par is 72, and my handicap is 8, I can shoot an 80 and still claim par.


By Steve Watkins

The day began with a pre-match breakfast at the highly acclaimed Eat-A-Bite restaurant in Monette, Arkansas, just 8 miles west of Manila, the home of Big Lake Country Club. Eat-A-Bite is so highly acclaimed because it’s the only restaurant in the home town where Brady and I grew up. That should give you some sense of our rural roots.

as iron sharpens iron

My buddy on the links, watching a nice second shot.

Brady had a western omelet. I had two eggs, fried, with two sausage patties and toast. It was the perfect beginning to a perfect day.

Just a few hours earlier, I’d previously posted: Thrilla in Manila II: But This Time, It’s Two White Guys on a Golf Course, and the post was shared via several social media outlets. By 9 a.m., we’d had dozens of comments about our match among well-wishers who gave their support to one or the other of us.

“Dude, you could hype up two birds on a wire,” Brady said, as we scanned the breakfast menu. I laughed, but took it as a hopeful complement considering the fact that I’m about to launch a new marketing company on foreign soil. The new business, in its most fundamental of works, is all about “hype,” so I sure hope he’s right.


Our breakfast conversation focused, as it most frequently does, not on golf, but on life in general. We finished up, and because we were in a good mood and it was a beautiful day, left the waitress with a healthy tip, and traveled 8 miles east to Manila’s Big Lake Country Club. And it was on.



Brady and I’ve been very best friends since 1977, when we were fifth-graders. Thirty-six years later we frequently discuss the “red-state, blue-state” issues so prevalent among the conversations of all Americans over the last few months. Brady and I agree on 90 percent of these things fundamentally. We simply disagree on the government’s role in how certain legislation (especially on the ‘moral’ issues) should be implemented, i.e., gay marriage, abortion, immigration, death penalty, etc.

The great thing is that we agree to disagree without it effecting our friendship, and unlike so many others I’ve seen.

Brady and I had a bet, and a side bet, on the recent presidential election. His money was on Mitt Romney, mine was on Barack Obama. Up for grabs was a dinner for four at Texas de Brazil, and a dozen golf balls to the winner.

I won the bet.

as iron sharpens iron

My second shot form in a match earlier this summer.

The day after the election, I proposed a heads-up golf match to go double or nothing on the dozen balls. In no way was I about to risk losing a carnivore’s delight at Texas de  Brazil. It’s off the table.

For the match, and because I’ve never beaten him a single time in 36 years, I proposed an 8-shot handicap for myself, relative to his superior skills.

He took the bait, and I have him on record saying “there’s no way an 8-shot advantage is gonna be enough for you.”

The terms were agreed upon, and the match was set.


We rolled up to the first tee and offered God our genuine thanks for such a beautiful day. And it was a beautiful day. Crisp, clear, with a light north wind that became more prevailing through the day, and became a factor as we played on.

We flipped for honors. I won, and deferred the honors to Brady.

Through the first two holes we both went bogey, bogey, and so I maintained my 8-stroke cushion. Through the remaining front nine, Brady gradually cut the margin to two. Front nine scores: Brady 41. Me 47. We both played fairly well, and but for a few lipped putts, I’d have been at least two strokes to the better.

At the turn we bought a quick snack at the 19th hole, and the stage was set. If the back nine played out like the front nine, he was going to take me down to China Town.


We matched with two bogies on 10. He gained a stroke on 11, and I took the honors back on 12.

Thirteen and 14 – even up.

He gains one of 15. I get it back on 16.

With two holes remaining (and with the handicap) I’m up two, and we both know the match is on. And I know his mind games could set in at any moment. He always does it when it’s close. But it’s not a surprise, because I know it’s coming.


as iron sharpens iron

This man, Chuck Gschwend, was generous enough recently to give me an hour of his time. His lessons changed my golf game entirely. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

In all my years of golf, I’ve had a terrible slice. Thanks to a lesson from my friend and church pastor, Chuck Gschwend some three weeks ago, my slice hasn’t disappeared entirely, but it’s MUCH less frequent. I’m hitting the ball straighter and longer, and my iron skills are a thousand times better than before. I can’t explain in words how magnificent it feels to hit a driver straight down the gut, 200 yards and change, or to flop a wedge 10 feet from the hole from 40 yards out. My adrenaline skyrockets just thinking about it.


I had the honors on 17. There was pressure on us both to hit well-placed drives on BLCC’s most difficult hole, a 407-yard par 4 with an ever-so-slight left-to-right fade.

At this point on the back nine, forget the handicap, we’d played heads-up, mono-e-mono golf for 7 holes. I’ve never hung that close with Brady over 7 holes.


I launched a baby-fade drive, some 220 yards down the gut. (insert sigh of relief here), and Brady followed with a good drive of his own, only a yard or so behind me, and to the left. Our respective second shots both landed on the fringe of the green, and we both got up and down in 5.



I have the honors. The north wind has picked up, about 10 mph, dead in our face. About 300 yards down the fairway lies a very big lake.  It’s historic how many times that lake has changed a match. A short drive on this fairway means you’ll flirt with disaster on the second shot, and you’ll have to make a crucial decision as whether to “lay up,” or go for it.

My drive sends a high long ball straight down the middle. My best drive of the day, especially under pressure. Brady’s drive is also long, only a few feet behind mine, and just to the right. NEVER before have I out-driven Brady on two consecutive holes. As we approach the second shot, and just as I expect it’s coming Brady surprises me and says: “No mind games. May the best man win. If you clear the lake, I’m beat.”

Second shot. It will take 150 yards to clear the lake safely, and just beyond are two bunkers, left and right of the green. I pull out a three wood, praying for a sweet stroke. All I want to do is clear the lake and avoid the trap.

The three wood goes just left, but straight, clears the water by 50 yards, and I’m left with a 15-yard wedge to get up and down. I believe Brady hit a 4-iron (not his favorite club), and he clears as well, five yards inside me.

Again, we both get up and down for two 5’s, and the match is over.

With the 8-stroke cushion, I win by two strokes, but more importantly, lose outright, only by six, and we played stroke for stroke on the back nine, both chalking up a semi-respectable 44.

It’s the best nine holes of golf, I’ve ever played. We shake hands and embrace in a man hug, and the day is done.


So I win the bet with all its nuances, but still come up short six for an outright win. Brady knows I don’t care about winning the bet. He knows I long to beat him heads up over 18 holes, and that I’ll never be satisfied until it happens.

Sort of like kissing your sister, Lou Holtz might say. Actually, I’d submit, it’s even a bit better. Perhaps as if you’d kissed a really good-looking second cousin. Nevertheless, sans handicap, it’s a loss.



Driving home, I reflect on an absolutely exquisite day – not so much about the play, as the meaning of the day itself. Two buddies in fierce competition, yet cheering one another on at every stroke. It’s the rarest of things.

Arriving home, I send my friend a message thanking him for a day of wonderful memories. I tell him I know my improving play will only enhance his drive to become better, and that next Spring, we’re going to be one hell of a team.

He replies in concurrence, and said he was proud of me. And yes, he said, a fire now burns within him to get better with age. “It’ll be a great day when you beat me, he says, but I’ll never throw a single shot to let you do it. You’re gonna have to beat me.”

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.


Intentional Stress

My book editor, Bradley Harris - stretchmaster.

Without even knowing it, I’ve created intentional stress in my life … and those who are doing the pushing and pulling tell me it’s a good thing.

That’s easy for them to say.

I’m trying so hard these days to keep focused on what’s important: Study of the Word; using my gifts for a higher purpose; family; health; business; personal time; and investing financially in the future.

It’s time to forget the Harley Davidson, the dream of being a BBQ grillmaster and making a fortune …for now.

For now, it’s time to stay focused on what’s important, the theory being that all of the above may come later.

Earlier this week, I had my first meeting with my career/spiritual coach, Dick Savidge of Ministry Coaching International. His number-one job is to keep me focused on these things. Keep me disciplined. Keep me harnessed. Reign me in from the tasty distractions that satisfy my fleshly appetite. Oh, the mouth-watering hunger…

Then there’s my book editor, Bradley Harris, a Canadian born, expatriate, now living in the Deep South of Memphis, TN, who informs me now that his job is to stretch me, take me beyond what I might imagine and savor all the possibilities.

Then, there are my respected bosses and colleagues at my day job who envision a new product line, and want me on the front line of sales to make it happen. They don’t express it as sink or swim, but if you’re a guy like me, my self-imposed nature sure makes it feel that way.

So I pointed out to Brad yesterday “…you guys are pulling me in half a dozen different directions, when what I’m looking for is FOCUS.”

“So?” he responds.

He says it’s a good thing.

Have you ever bent an iron bar, or even a coat hanger back and forth. When bent back and forth, to and fro, the properties of certain metals have a tendency to heat up as the molecules become more and more active.

And you know what eventually happens as the bending and stretching continues? It breaks.

Lord, don’t let me break. I asked for the tension and the stress and you handed it to me on a silver platter.

You know what You’re doing. I sure hope I do.


You Can’t Handle the Truth!

An exchange from a great scene in the movie: ” A Few Good Men.”

Judge Randolph: *Consider yourself in Contempt!*
Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*
Judge Randolph: You *don’t* have to answer that question!
Col. Jessep: I’ll answer the question!
[to Kaffee]
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.
Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*
Kaffee: *I want the truth!*
Col. Jessep: *You can’t handle the truth!*

It was one of the few mornings when I woke up not knowing exactly what I would post today.

Then I reflected on my day yesterday. I had the opportunity to have lunch with the pastor of a local church and dinner with a man from the church I attend most regularly.

It was great. We met. We talked. We shared.

And it caused me to reflect on the last year and the great opportunities I’ve had to come across “a few good men” in my life.

There are some wise men from my church whose widsom and sage advice I value. It’s a privilege just to watch them and be in their presence.

There are some great men in my workplace who are among the best I’ve ever come across. They are brilliant, visionary, entrepreneural, real and deep. It is my honor to work with these men. And if you read this blog, you know who you are.

There’s a guy who was my best friend in high school and for a period of 20 years or so we lost touch. We’ve recently been reunited and it’s as if time never passed. He’s the kind of man who would cut out his heart for me if I needed it and he knows I would do the same for him. More than a brother, I consider this man to be.

Through sheer circumstance arranged by God, I was recently reunited with my junior high basketball coach – a man who helped shape a young 14-year-old in ways that would last forever. We now stay in regular contact and have an upcoming adventure together that I know will make more memories that will last a lifetime.

All these men are the type that can handle the truth. I can share with them. I can be transparent with them. I can be MYSELF with them and they pass no judgment.

There was a time in my life when I shut myself off from others for reasons that are too complex to explain. But never again.

I know have a few good men in my life. Thank you Jesus.