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Updated: 03/15/2014 08:00:02AM

Armstrong to take his best swing Thursday

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A man who has played in 340 PGA outings says his faith in God has led him throughout his life. And on Thursday, Wally Armstrong is going to show how, as he is the guest speaker at the Mayor’s Prayer Luncheon.

“I want to share a little bit about my life’s experiences with God and competing,” he said. “I want to share about how in my life my relationship with Jesus has given me strength and to get through some of the difficult decisions I had to make in life.”

He said he was raised with an alcoholic and abusive father and still was able to find an ample outlet and something that interested him as golf has. Through his years he feels his faith has helped him through it.

“I know have great grandchildren and I feel really blessed.”

While many casual sports fans know the name Wally Armstrong, he fashions himself an ordinary guy whose faith has led him to where he is. In the golfing world he was in awe of playing with the greats in the 1960s, such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer, to name just a few.

“You don’t realize that when you’re out there playing because you’re one of the guys. But when you look back it’s really amazing,” he said. “What a privilege.”

But to the observer, Armstrong is one of the men. Usually in the top tier of finishers, he said his highlight could be in the best tournament he played in: the 1978 Masters where he finished fifth, three strokes from the championship.

Player won that tournament shooting a 64 in the final round and Armstrong played just behind in that tournament.

“I played right behind the winner and I watched him win the tournament,” Armstrong recalled. “Ten years before I was caddying for him and here I was, playing right behind him. I wouldn’t have been out there probably without the encouragement from him.”

Finding someone like Armstrong to speak at the Mayor’s Prayer Lunch has always been the goal, said committee chairman Hal Wallace. The idea is to find someone fairly well-known and to bring the message of how faith has guided them to a usually-packed house. At least it has been usually packed every year the event has been held in its 31 years.

Wallace said when the program was started ,the chairman of the Chamber of the Commerce, Al Holland, the executive director Mamie Burdin-Smith and he wanted to start something similar to the prayer breakfasts or events that are common in other towns. But they wanted to focus on speakers who were not preachers but stalwarts.

“The first year our speaker was Pat Williams, the founder of the Orlando Magic,” Wallace said.

The attendance was standing-room only and has been that way ever since. That is something that is not a surprise to Wallace.

“Bartow is not typical at this standpoint. Religion is not awkward in this city and I think the tone of the program of lifting people up to God and showing love to him with good testimony goes a long way,” he said.

Having someone like Armstrong plays along with that idea. Armstrong said his faith has led a boy who grew up in the cornfields of Indiana into a successful life; without his faith, he doesn’t believe he would be where he is today.

A fairly good athlete as a youth in many sports, one of Armstrong’s hobbies was getting golf balls from the cornfields and selling them to golfers for a little money. That got him on the course where eventually he started to caddy and was encouraged to start playing and then playing in tournaments, where his talent was discovered by others.

“I just thought, wow, I was really excited. I felt like this is something I can do and be my own boss,” he said. “Whatever I put into this I can get our of it. It’s just you and a dumb little ball.”

But it was his faith, he said, that has led him to where he is.

“He knows the course. He knows the greens and He knows the layout and if you can’t communicate you can’t get through the rounds.”

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