When members of the PGA Tour think of integrity, they inevitably think of Joe Durant. Durant, who began his professional career in 1987, has competed on the Nike Tour and PGA Tour since 1993. And while Durant enjoys winning a golf tournament, he doesn’t let his status as tour professional interfere with his priority commitments to his faith and his family.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing Joe Durant on “Religion for the Public Square,” a program appearing weekly on WUWF, the University of West Florida television station. My co-host, Rabbi Leonard Zukrow, joined me in talking with Durant about ethics and integrity in professional sports.
Durant is a native of Pensacola, Fla., who played golf at Escambia County High School and Huntingdon College. After a discouraging start as a professional golfer, Durant spent some time soul-searching before returning to the tour. Upon his return, Durant has consistently ranked near the top in driving accuracy and greens hit in regulation.
Chosen by his peers to serve on the policy committee for the PGA Tour, Durant is highly respected for his integrity. As a conscientious person of faith, Durant has been careful to keep his success on the golf course in perspective. He chooses corporate sponsors with intentionality, he prioritizes and nurtures family relationships, and he contributes time and resources generously to community organizations.
In the second half of 2006, Durant was the hottest golfer on tour, getting seven top ten finishes, winning the Disney Funai Classic, and coming in second at the Tour Championship. He completed the 2006 season at 13th on the money list and moved up to 32nd in the World Golf Rankings. The win at Funai was his first tour win since winning the Bob Hope Classic and the Doral Open in 2001. Last year as Durant was approaching the 18th green in Orlando, the television analysts noted how appropriate it was for Durant to win at Disney because Durant is known for his family values.
Family is among Durant’s highest priorities. Durant loves spending time with his wife and children. To nurture family relationships, the Durant family has a rule that Joe will not be away from family for more than two weeks at a time. On those rare occasions where the Joe’s schedule does not include a planned break, Durant flies the family to join him on tour. In fact, Durant has been known to pass up an opportune tour event to spend quality time with family during a holiday week or weekend.
With gratitude for his success on the tour, Durant has given much back to the community. Durant is actively involved in junior golf programs, especially First Tee, an organization that “provides young people of all backgrounds an opportunity to develop life-enhancing values such as confidence, perseverance and judgment through golf and character education.”
Durant is also an avid supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Each year the Northwest Florida chapter of FCA hosts the Joe Durant Classic, a tournament underwritten by Durant to support the ministry of FCA throughout the year. At the tournament Durant not only greets the golfers, he participates in the entire tournament, playing a hole or two with each team throughout the day, and sharing in a question and answer time just before prizes are awarded.
Like many professional athletes, Durant’s generosity is not limited to his own community. Last year when Durant placed sixth in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, he donated his entire winnings, $248,000, toward Hurricane Katrina Relief.
While many professional athletes make the headlines for their inappropriate behavior, there are many more professional athletes who are guided by their faith and who consistently live according to strong moral, ethical, and family values. Whether on tour or at home, Joe Durant is one of those down-to-earth guys who represents the world of sports with class, character and integrity.
Barry Howard serves as senior minister of First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Fla., and is co-host of “Religion for the Public Square.”
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.