NEW BIRTH: Battling cancer, professional golfer finds true success in Christ

NAPLES, Fla. (BP)--Mark Lye seemed to have the perfect life. He played 18 years on the PGA Tour, winning tournaments on three different continents, before launching a successful television career. But at age 50, a battle with cancer helped him realize that all the success was meaningless apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lye's path to salvation began in the 1980s when God brought several Christians across his path, including fellow golfer Steve Jones. Though Lye was largely focused on material concerns at the time, he remembers feeling a certain curiosity about Christians.

"I remember Steve Jones in the early '80s," Lye recounted. "He was a Christian. I said, 'Man, what's going on?' He said, 'Christ is my Savior.' I said, 'Well, I can't believe that's the way you feel.' He said, 'Yeah, maybe you'll understand someday.'"

Through two decades of golf, Lye remained unconcerned about spiritual matters. At one point, he and his wife, Lisa, began attending church. But, for him, it was merely an activity unaccompanied by any real commitment to Christ.

"I'd been only scratching the surface for a long time," he said. "We had been going to different churches for a few years, and we decided to go to the First Baptist Church of Naples [in Florida] and commit there, but it was only a surface type of commitment to me. Even though I had thought in a religious way a lot of times, I'd never really committed or anything."

Life seemed to be under control for Lye. He began a golf broadcasting career in the early 1990s and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle for the next decade.

Then tragedy struck in 2002. Lye was diagnosed with cancer, and doctors informed him that the prognosis was uncertain. Broken and frightened about his future, Lye journeyed to the empty sanctuary of First Baptist Naples the next day and committed his life to Jesus Christ.

"The day after I got my analysis from the doctor ... I just went to the sanctuary at First Baptist and I just said, 'I know You've been watching me, God. And today's the day.' I'd always thought about it for a long time, but I said, 'This is the kick in the pants that I need, and I'm just going to commit full boar right now from this day on.'

"I finally admitted to Him and myself that I had made so many mistakes. You never think you're a sinner. You think that you've done everything right, but you're just kidding yourself. ... You start looking and you start reading things, and you say, 'My gosh, I've been a bad sinner for all this time.'

"I told God ... 'You can do what you want with me, but I'm there for you.' I just made a personal commitment that day, July 3 [2002], and that was it," Lye said.

In the months immediately following his commitment to Christ, Lye underwent major surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy. During that time, he found comfort in his newfound faith and looked to fellow believers for encouragement.

"Going through the daily rigors of the chemo and all that stuff, my sanctuary was ... in church," Lye said. "I would just go there, just hang out and look forward to Sundays. Even though I wasn't physically able to go into the sanctuary and worship with the masses, I would lay out on the couch and watch pastor [Hayes] Wicker through the TV monitors" in the hallways.

In addition to his physical struggles, Lye also struggled with how to tell others about his commitment to Christ. But some advice from friend and 12-time PGA Tour winner Paul Azinger convinced Lye to make his Christianity public.

"A few days after I made that commitment I called [Azinger] up and told him and he encouraged me along and gave me some guidance and told me what to do as far as announcing it. With my Golf Channel job, it was kind of like, 'Do I want anyone to know this? That I have cancer, that I'm a Christian?' He said, 'No, you come out with it,'" Lye said of Azinger's counsel.

Lye's physical condition has improved greatly during the past year. Cancer treatments have proved so successful that Lye has resumed both his broadcasting with the Golf Channel and his golfing career on the Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA Tour). Much to Lye's delight, there is a network of more than 50 Christians on the Champions Tour who meet weekly for Bible study and fellowship.

"All kinds of guys and their wives are passing the Word," he said. "Not that many on the regular PGA Tour, but there are a lot of [Christians] on this tour, the Champions Tour."

Eighteen months have passed since Lye's initial commitment to Christ, and now his life is completely transformed. Becoming a Christian, he reflected, helped brought a new perspective on all of life.

"I'm getting on the right track," he said. "It's a daily journey ... but I'm trying to figure things out a little bit step by step."

Lye noted, "My jobs don't seem as life or death as they once did. My health is not such life or death as it once was. I can now deal with life ... and know that there's a big picture out there past what we're experiencing here."

To Lye, "The golf, the job ... they're things. The important things in our lives right now [for] my wife and myself are living like Christians and doing the right things and professing to others and being involved and doing what we can. It's just a whole different way of thinking. It's a whole different way of existing."


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ON TRACK and PRIORITIES IN ORDER.

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