Lessons in Perseverance

By Mercer BaggsJune 19, 2005, 4:00 pm
Sons and daughters should learn from their fathers.
 
My father, my Pa, taught me how to play golf. I havent done much with that. He taught me to act like somebody. Im still working on that one. And he taught me that you can always learn something from someone else. That one took.
 
Ive always believed, regardless of situation, that you can always learn ' or at least be reminded of ' something, anything, no matter how irrelevant or repetitive it may seem.
 
Each year, the U.S. Open reapplies the virtue of patience. And thats something of which every father can associate the importance ' and something of which he must constantly be reminded.
 
But this years U.S. Open taught us something else ' something we already knew, but something of which we occasionally need a refresher.
 
The 105th U.S. Open taught us: never quit.
 
Michael Campbell never quit. He could have faded into golf oblivion after blowing the 54-hole lead in the 1995 British Open and injuring his wrist soon thereafter.
 
But he didn't.
 
He persevered through five winless seasons on the European Tour, trying not to drown under the weight of expectations, before collecting his maiden title at the Johnnie Walker Classic in late '99, against a field that included Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. That counted as one of three official wins on the 2000 season. He also won in 2001, and again '02 and '03.
 
Campbell, who had to qualify just to get into the event, easily could have given up this week, having started the final round four shots back of two-time champion Retief Goosen.
 
But, of course, he didn't. He took the elevator up the leaderboard as Goosen rapidly descended down. And along the way, he managed to stay just outside of Tiger's clutches.
 
And now he's not just a winner. He's a major champion. A U.S. Open champion.
 
The lesson began this week with Olin Browne.
 
The 46-year-old father of two so much as asked an official the proper way to withdraw from his sectional qualifier after opening in an insubstantial 73. He then thought: I cant just quit.
 
That decision to move forward resulted in a 59 in the second round, a spot in the Pinehurst field, a share of the lead after 18 and 36 holes, and an eventual tie for 23rd.
 
The lesson was reaffirmed with Jason Gore, who just happens to sport a bracelet which reads: 'Never Give Up.'
 
The day Gore, a highly successful amateur, turned professional, his father died of a heart attack. Heart-broken, he could have given up immediately. He may have wanted to, but he didnt. Difficult as it was, he went on to win three times on the Nationwide Tour and twice earn his PGA Tour card.
 
Last year, however, he lost his full exempt status on the developmental circuit. With a wife and a new-born son to support, he could have quit and sought more steady employment. But he didnt.
 
Instead, he played a stint on the Golden State mini tour earlier this year, before rejoining the Nationwide Tour under his Past Champion status.
 
Gore is now 31. He's still married, and his son is 8 months old. He now has some confidence and some renewed perspective. And after this week ' despite his 84 finish, hell forever have his own little nook in the game.
 
The lesson was everywhere, if you looked for it. It was as plentiful at Pinehurst as Payne Stewart memories.
 
Everyone in this years field has his own story of perseverance.
 
Theres Mark Hensby, who once lived in his car in the parking lot at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club back in 94 ' and that was before he even became a struggling professional. Last year, he won the John Deere Classic and made more that $2.7 million. This week, he tied for third in his first-ever U.S. Open appearance.
 
Theres the chronically injured Rocco Mediate, who estimates that he has had to alter his swing at least six times to accommodate his ailing back. After finishing 176th on the money list last year, the 42-year-old is using his one-time Top 50 Career Money List exemption to try and resurrect his career. Hes not quitting.
 
A tie for sixth this week and the roughly $200,000 that came along with it were good payback for his adherence.
 
Theres Paul Claxton, the 37-year-old journeyman who was 0-for-5 in trying to qualify for his National Championship, including three playoff losses in the sectionals. Claxton, a resident of Claxton, Ga., finally made it on his sixth attempt. And in his first Open, he made the cut. He also came within one shot of getting a free trip to Winged Foot in 2006, tying for 23rd.
 
The lesson was measured in subtlety with Davis Love III.
 
The North Carolina native was 11 over par at one point in the second round, but he battled back on his back nine, with four birdies to no bogeys. He made the cut and then shot his second-straight, even-par 70 on Saturday, a day in which only two players broke par. He went on to shoot 1-under 69 in the final round to tie for sixth.
 
It doesnt seem like much of an accomplishment. But Love didnt quit. He persevered, if only out of pride.
 
It was pride that kept Justin Leonard from quitting earlier this season.
 
It didnt take place at Pinehurst, but its an incident well worth noting in relation to everything that took place this week.
 
Leonard had only one hole remaining in his second round at the Buick Invitational when play was suspended for the day. He was far removed from the cut line, yet unlike many of his peers in a similar situation he returned Saturday morning to complete his final hole.
 
It just wasnt in me to quit, he said.
 
Leonard birdied the hole and then joked, Look at all the momentum I gave myself for next week.
 
He had the last laugh when he won his next start at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
 
Those four extra swings Leonard made on the par-5 18th on the North Course at Torrey Pines didnt directly catapult him into the winners circle at the Hope. And maybe outside of playing with a clearer conscious, it had no effect at all.
 
But its a good example Justin can teach to his two daughters.
 
This lesson of perseverance is no more apparent than in the lives of the Stewart family.
 
Each day, Paynes widowed wife Tracey and their children, daughter Chelsea and son Aaron, must live life with the absence of a husband and father who was inexplicably taken away too soon.
 
The pain is unimaginable. But they must keep going. They can't quit. They must persevere. And thats what they do every day.
 
And that should be a lesson to us all.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - 105th U.S. Open
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open
  • Getty Images

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