Monday, December 06, 2010

A tribute to a friend

This is a risky blog. Maybe more risky than any controversial theological or political statement I've ever made.

Today I want to write about a friend. A humble friend, and humble people are uncomfortable when people say good things about them. They know themselves, know their goodness is only by the grace of God, so accolades can be kinda scary.

But for the past few hours, I have not been able to get this friend out of my mind, and hopefully he'll forgive my intrusion on his life.

I got a treat today, I was home sick. Okay, so that's not normally a treat, but today my friend Paul Stankowski finished 9th at Q-school today, the most gruelling event in golf. And I got to watch it on TV. Okay, so I didn't see much of Paul's golf (I may have to fire off a cranky letter to the Golf Channel, doggoneit), but I did get to see the interview with Paul after he finished, after his 2011 Tour card was secured.

And it was priceless for me.

I first met Paul about 20 years ago, when he and my brother Daron were hanging out at UTEP. Daron was one of the FCA leaders, and Paul had gotten involved too. They were great together, it seemed. Daron even caddied for him some out on the Cali mini tours, amazing considering Daron's bad knee. The fact that he would subject himself to carrying a guy's golf clubs around on that knee says something about their relationship, and something about Paul.

Later, when Daron was leaving El Paso, Paul and I started hanging around. I was pastoring, Paul had just gone through Q-school for the first time. It was around that time that I beat him by a stroke in a round of golf at Cielo Vista Golf Course in EP. Yes, you read that right. Of course he had given me a stroke a hole; I shot 81 and he shot 65. He once tried to get me to switch to playing golf left-handed because he said my swing was more natural. I just think he thought I might beat him again...

When I was working for FCA, Paul came back to El Paso every year for the FCA Paul Stankowski Golf Events. We did scrambles, skills competitions, skins events, and one year a full-blown pro am where Paul got 17 professional golfers to come to El Paso for the benefit of FCA. He gave generously, and it sent many kids to camp and helped us start huddles.

I still remember his first Tour win. He outdueled Brandel Chamblee coming down the stretch to win in Atlanta on Easter Sunday. And proceeded to solicit an "amen" from the crowd during his post-win interview on national television.

Now I live around the corner from Paul and his family, and get to see them, but not enough. As virtually anyone who knows him will most likely attest, he's a blast to be around. Maybe the greatest thing about Paul, other than his faith, is his authenticity. I've never known the guy in 20 years to be anything other than what you see, whether it's on tv, in church, or on the golf course. He is exactly himself, all the time. He's seen success, struggled through injury, accomplished many things. If his career had ended this season, and he'd gone on to the next thing God had for him, it would have been a good career.

But it was what he said today that I can't get out of my mind. The interviewer had called him a "veteran" (hard to believe it's been 17 years Pablo) and noted that Paul still had passion for the game, passion to succeed. Paul said something to the effect of "my kids were both born after my last win. I want to see them running out onto the 18th green one of these days."

I know that I will cry when that day comes. Shoot, I cried when he said it today. It still gives me goosebumps just typing it.

Paul Stankowski. Husband, dad, golfer, friend. Passionate follower of Jesus Christ. Don't be too mad at me for writing about you. I just wanted you know that your example means a lot.


Anonymous said...

Hey,son,this blog was so good.You described Paul so true.Hopefully he won't mind you wrote about him. We should all hope we leave such an example for others to see.


Chelle said...

So true Arnie. Thank you for writing this post. Amen and amen. We will all rejoice with Paul on the day his kids run out on the 18th green!