His secret to success: Just try, try again

By , Senior sports columnist of The Christian ScienceMonitor

Perseverance is celebrated in theory and in all high-minded conversations.

It's universally considered a good thing, like brushing your teeth. No one ever rails against perseverance.

The problem is that while the quality always has high approval ratings, the art of persevering is the pits. That's because typically a little bit of persevering goes a very long way. It's just too difficult. This explains the popularity of a quasi store anthem for Bloomingdale's: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

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Of course they do. Persevering in no way is fun. Ever hear anybody say, "I spent the whole day persevering, and it was great?" Certainly not.

So say hello to Jeff Maggert. You've probably never heard of him. He's a professional golfer. When the sun sets on his career, he likely will be little noted nor long remembered.

Since 1993, when he won his only pro tournament - a routine event in Florida - he has finished second 13 times. Already this year, he has been second once; last year he was second twice; in 1997 he was second twice; in 1996 he was second three times. His young son repeatedly phrased the question properly: "Dad, how come you can't win?"

Jeff Maggert has no idea. What he does know is second.

Along the way he has led both the PGA Championship and the US Open before blowing up.

In 1991, John Daly and Jeff Maggert battled to see who would be the top rookie money winner. Which one was second? You got it.

Maggert once had a superior chance of winning the National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach when he was leading after 36 holes. But the event was canceled because of bad weather. He probably would have ended up second anyway.

While Maggert is a sensational golfer by local standards, he's just one of the boys in the band on the exquisitely talented pro tour. He's nowhere near Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, David Duval, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, Mark O'Meara, Fred Couples, and Payne Stewart on the celebrity scale. In our star-obsessed culture, someone like Maggert is revered on a par with zucchini.

But, glory be, Jeff Maggert persevered until he was blue in the face and last Sunday won - yes, won - the Match Play Championship in southern California.

Nothing was needed to make his triumph any more special, but there it was: By chipping in a fluke chip shot of 20 feet to defeat Andrew Magee, he won $1 million, the most ever paid to a PGA Tour winner. Further, essentially all the best golfers were there.

Among the attendees was Woods, whom Maggert blew away like a birthday candle in the quarterfinals. Not bad for a guy who was 143rd last year on the tour in driving distance. This year, he is a sparkling 129th.

"I knew in my heart I would win another tournament," insisted Maggert afterward. Why? He had no legitimate reason to believe he'd ever advance to top billing, just as Costello could never get ahead of Abbott on the marquee lights.

That Maggert could accomplish what he did is a tonic for millions of others encumbered by sagging spirits. For him to keep charging up the hill, only to be smacked and pummeled and driven back as he neared the summit, is a lesson worth contemplating.

How many times are you willing to fail before you conclude you'll just go shopping?

The harsh truth is that most don't want something badly enough to remain in its quest. What athletes - and the rest of us - routinely do is try to trick ourselves and others into thinking we gave all we had, but we just couldn't quite get it done. And then we give up. The national mantra is, "Oh, well, I tried."

That's why Maggert is - or should be - America's newest hero. What a fine fellow to hold up to our youngsters as a perfect example of sticking to it. He demonstrates what it means to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. He's a man who for years has stared defeat in the eyes while harboring the resolve to turn things around.

Jeff Maggert never blinked.

As Maggert finally began to unwind after his day of all days, he mused, "I've been around this game a long time, and I've seen a lot of things good and bad happen."

Yeah, but everyone has.

The difference is Maggert refused to succumb to the bad because his goal was the good.

*Please send comments to looneyd@csps.com

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