Adventist golfer puts his faith ahead of on-course success
BY JIMMIE TRAME, Tulsa World sports writer, reporting from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Reprinted by permission of the Tulsa World.
[Editor’s Note: Seventh-day Adventist golfer Louie Bishop loves his game, but he loves the Sabbath more, a passion clearly captured by the Tulsa World daily newspaper, which featured the story prominently on the front page of its daily sports section on August 24. This story is reproduced as published.]
field of 312 golfers will tee off Monday [August 24] in the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills and Cedar Ridge.
One of them — 24-year-old Louie Bishop of Murrieta, Calif. — knows he has zero chance of advancing to Sunday's finals and, yes, he's at peace with that.
Bishop is a Seventh-day Adventist. He doesn't compete on Saturdays because of his Sabbath — sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
That means Bishop would have a decision to make if he was fortunate enough to reach Saturday's match play semifinals.
Pursue a very significant trophy?
Or stay true to his faith?
SABBATH-KEEPER: Despite being unable to play on Saturdays, Louie Bishop earned a scholarship at UC-Davis and qualified for the 2003 U.S. Amateur. [Photo: © James Gibbard/Tulsa World, reprinted by permission]
"I would love to make it that far, and it would be an easy choice for me," Bishop said.
"I would withdraw and be happy to share the reasons why. I wouldn't try to make a scene out of it ... but I would be happy to make it that far and whatever happens, happens."
What's the point of traveling halfway across the country for a no-win situation?
Bishop, who also qualified for the 2003 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont, said, "The pleasure is more in just being there and playing the golf course. And competing at that level is a good experience and a lot of fun."
The Sabbath issue means Bishop — no matter how good he is, and he was record-breaking good as a college player at UC-Davis — will never be on the PGA Tour. That was tough for him to accept when he was a kid, because he said he didn't really understand his family's religious faith.
"I liked golf so much and I idolized the professional golfers so much that I really did want to play professional golf when I was older," he said. "At some point, the Sabbath thing was kind of a controversy for me. I saw it as more of a restraint than I saw it as something that was true.
"But once I realized what I now believe, that the Bible is the standard of truth, I am totally willing to lay aside anything that stands in the way, so it's not a problem anymore."
Was it a problem when Bishop sought a college scholarship? If you were a coach, would you enlist a kid who couldn't play on Saturdays?
Bishop wasn't a coveted recruit, in part because he said he didn't make a name for himself until after his junior year of high school. He recalled one college coach who offered a roster spot, but no scholarship.
But UC-Davis coach Cy Williams didn't balk at giving a scholarship to a six-day-a-week player.
"He earned the scholarship," Williams said. "I don't think we give anything away. I have an amazing respect level for him and his entire family. They are the most beautiful people. I was very fortunate to have them in the program for four years, and I was lucky to be friends with him. They were amazing."
By the time Bishop completed his eligibility in 2007, he owned the second-best career stroke average in school history. He set single-season school records for stroke average (70.66) and rounds under par (17) as a senior, when he was UC-Davis' scholar-athlete of the year. He also was the school's first Division I golf All-American.
Looking back, Williams can't find a negative side to having a Seventh-day Adventist on the roster.
"If he wasn't there, you wouldn't have him for any tournaments," the coach said. "Now you are getting him for all the tournaments that aren't on a Saturday."
Bishop said the Saturday issue reared its head in only two or three college tournaments a year. Williams originally planned to substitute another golfer in place of Bishop during tournaments with a Saturday round. Instead, Williams learned his team could post better scores by using Bishop whenever possible and playing shorthanded, if necessary, on Saturdays.
"We did the math. We did the calculations," Williams said. "But it made no sense for us to substitute. That's how good he was. Obviously he still is to make the U.S. Amateur."
Bishop's faith became stronger while he was in college. He said his parents' religion became his religion because he read the Bible and made a personal choice. He has worked for churches since his college golf career ended and went door-to-door asking people if they would like to study the Bible. He said he attended the last two quarters at La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist Church [-owned college] in Riverside, Calif.
Bishop said his father will caddie for him at the U.S. Amateur. Dad is likely proud, and not just because of golf.
"He's probably a little more excited than I am," Bishop said.