By Rick Weber
When STV caught up with Craig Kanada, he was shopping for shampoo at Target near his home in The Woodlands, Texas, accompanied by his wife, Brooke, and their three sons.
Nobody asked for his autograph. It is likely that nobody recognized him, even though at that time—five weeks into the PGA Tour season— he was outplaying Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy, Stuart Appleby, John Daly, Stewart Cink and many of the big names who had been padding their multi million-dollar portfolios while Kanada was piling up over 100,000 miles on a Chrysler minivan with malfunctioning locks.
Kanada’s remarkable rise from obscurity even caught newspaper copy editors by surprise. They were writing headlines like, “Oh, Kanada!” which is a fun takeoff on our northern neighbor’s national anthem, but totally wrong: He pronounces it Kuh-NAH-da.
The metamorphosis of this 38-year-old journeyman has been so dramatic that the conclusion is inescapable: God has been orchestrating this entire story for His glory.
“I guess the biggest thing I’ve realized is that God can do anything,” Kanada says. “I pray for His will to be done every day. I give Him control over everything I do on the golf course and with my family. He’s honored that by blessing me more than I even can believe.”
To understand how far Kanada has come, you must go back to September 2005. You must enter the soul of a defeated golfer. You must go to the 17th tee at the Idaho Open, a state tournament for guys like Kanada who had no status on any professional tour—guys who were dreaming big but leaking oil.
Kanada, in a nightmarish first round, had been finding the wrong side of the out-of-bounds stakes and the bottom of lakes with greater success than the fairways. He was six over par, had bogeyed No. 16 and was thinking of packing it in. Not for the tournament, but forever. He had a few minutes to kill on the 17th tee—time enough for a prayer.
God, I’m worn out. I really want to quit. I need to know what You want. So, I’m going to place an ultimatum on You. I know I shouldn’t do this, but I’m desperate. If I hit this green in regulation, then I’ll still play golf. If I miss, I’m done.
He fixed his gaze on the 17th green at the top of a hill 213 yards away. It called for a 3-iron—a vexing club he would later permanently remove from his bag. Would this be the end of his career? He brought the club back and followed through, striking the ball as cleanly as he had in weeks, dropping it 12 feet from the pin. Infused with gratitude, he drained the birdie putt, drained another birdie putt on the 18th, and made the cut the next day.
“It was a completely gracious gift from God and an answer to my prayer,” he says. “I knew from then on that I needed to hang tough, persevere and continue to play golf.”
It wasn’t the springboard to success that Kanada had envisioned. God still had some painful pruning to do.
The next year, Kanada was plodding along on the Nationwide Tour, cashing occasional checks that barely covered his travel expenses.
At the Chattanooga Classic (Tenn.) in June, playing for the fourth straight week, he missed his third cut. That Friday night, he and Brooke planned their drive home. They would head west on I-24, take I-59 south through Mississippi, I-10 west to Houston, then I-45 north to The Woodlands. They would be home in 12 hours.
At 5 a.m., Brooke woke up and had some quiet time with the Lord. She was concerned about her husband’s morale, so she asked God to lift him up. When she finished, she went in to talk to him. And that’s when a thought popped into her head: he had been talking about working an FCA golf camp that summer.
“Well,” she said, “let’s look at what’s going on now because we’ve got the time.”
They went on the Internet and discovered that a camp would be starting the next day at Osage National in Lake Ozark, Mo. He had participated in FCA Camps and Bible studies before, but he didn’t recognize the name of the director, Bill Stutz, and he wasn’t thrilled about taking a detour that would result in a 23-hour drive.
“If they don’t have a pro, we’re supposed to be there,” Brooke said.
“Ah, I don’t want to go,” Kanada replied.
“Well, I think you need to call. And if they have a pro, you’re off the hook.”
He called Stutz, who thought the call was a joke perpetrated by one of the FCA staff. Stutz had never featured a pro who hadn’t booked months in advance. Stutz was so mired in disbelief that he said, “Give me an hour, and I’ll call you back.” Stutz investigated Kanada, found out he had been involved with FCA and called him back. It was a deal.
The next day, after introducing Kanada, Stutz felt called to turn to him and add something: “Craig, I just have a feeling that something more valuable and special is going to happen this week than winning a tournament and raising a trophy.”
His words would prove prophetic.
That night, the camp’s chaplain, Rod Janzen, broke from tradition and gave an invitation for campers to accept Christ, an act that is typically reserved for the last night of camp. His invitation drew silence for 15 or 20 seconds—none of the 60 campers stood up.
“Typically, all it takes is one to stand up, to be courageous and go first,” he told the group. “I can almost guarantee that in a room of this size, some of you are feeling the need. You know it’s the right thing, and you want to do it.”
Off to the side, away from the campers, a boy stood. It was David Kanada, Craig’s 9-year-old son.
“I need Christ in my life today,” he said.
David had gone with Kanada to the FCA’s fellowship meetings on the Nationwide Tour. Kanada had noticed that he was actively participating and seemed to be growing. Still, Kanada was caught off guard by the sight of his son standing there. As tears streamed down Kanada’s cheeks, 16 other campers stood and accepted Christ.
-FCA’s Bill Stutz
“I thought to myself, ‘There’s power in prayer.’ Show these kids. Who knows what could happen?”
“I didn’t know why I had missed the cut until that moment,” Kanada says. “It was very emotional for me. It was more important than anything I can do in golf.”
The next morning, Kanada—who described himself as a “30-handicap when it comes to public speaking”—told the campers his story. He was upfront with them about his reluctance to serve God that weekend. He told them he had made just $26,000 on tour that year. He was discouraged, upset, tired. But all that changed when David stood up. The picture was crystallizing.
He told them he had two dreams: to get his PGA Tour card without going to Q-School* and to play in The Masters. Stutz, moved by Kanada’s story and his bare-bones honesty, decided he’d do something he’d never done in seven years as Camp Director. He pulled Kanada and his family into the center of the room, gathered the campers around them, laid hands on them and prayed to God to make Kanada’s dreams come true.
“I did it because this is a guy who poured out his heart to these kids,” Stutz says. “How many people are truly genuine enough to say, ‘I didn’t want to come; I didn’t want to serve Christ’? I thought to myself, There’s power in prayer. Show these kids. Who knows what could happen? It was powerful to see 12-year-old kids pray for a 37-year-old man and his family. There was a real unity of the Spirit—an immediate attachment to who Craig Kanada was and an understanding of who God is in his life.”
After that camp, Kanada made 11 of the next 14 cuts. He won the Utah Energy Solutions Championship, earning his first pro victory in his 212th start and qualifying for the Nationwide Tour Championship.
Playing in the season-ending event just 50 miles from his home in The Woodlands, he chipped in on the final two holes to win the tournament. His $135,000 check vaulted him from No. 32 to No. 11 on the money list, earning him a PGA Tour card. For the first time in 17 years, there would be no Q-School for Kanada.
He took that and ran with it. In his first five events on the PGA Tour this year, he made every cut, never finishing lower than 27th while earning $317,747—twice what he had made in his first 58 Tour starts.
The only change he made to his golf game was to put a Graphite Design Pershing 75 shaft into his Callaway FT-3 driver. God did the rest.
“That FCA Camp was such a jolt of energy,” Brooke says. “It does so much for you to know that your child, your heritage, your generation to come accepts Christ; and it happened in such a warriorlike way that really turned the tide in the battle for the Kingdom. That got us ready for what the Lord had prepared for us concerning golf. It was OK to go on to big things because the main thing was taken care of.”
Other than trading in the Chrysler minivan for a Yukon XL, life is pretty much the same. And that’s the way Kanada wants it. “I always want to remember where I’ve been and where I’ve come from,” he says. “I don’t want to get sucked up in some kind of fantasy life. I want to stay well-grounded. I’m thankful for what we have and want to use it for good. If I get put up on a higher platform, I want to do good and help other people out. I’m looking into how I can do that. This has all happened very fast. I’m leaving that up to God.”
*The term "Q School" refers to Qualifying School, the Tour's annual qualifying tournaments.
For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Courtesy of Bruce Rehmer