Never give in. Never, never, never give in.
For the unacquainted, those were the words of Winston Churchill, delivered at the Harlow School in October of 1941, the darkest days of the war for Britain.
The message was about the hardships of a nation. But the lesson has universal appeal.
Before teeing off in the final round, Katie Rudolph, the new head golf coach at New York University who got semi-famous this week as the coach for U.S. Women’s Open low amateur and charismatic star Megha Ganne, told a story about how Ganne got into the final group on Sunday.
“After the first two qualifying rounds of the ANWA (Augusta National Women’s Amateur) we had a long talk,” Rudolph said. “I was angry because nothing was going right. And she gave up. She quit. I made the point that you never quit. Ever.
“Yesterday (Saturday) she had nothing (with her game). Most people would have shot 85 the way she hit it. But she kept grinding, putting on a short-game clinic. Afterward she said, ‘I didn’t quit. I didn’t want you to be mad at me. I didn’t quit.’”
Which brings us to Yuka Saso, our newest U.S. Women’s Open champion and the first major champion, man or woman, from the Philippines. With a bogey on 18 on Saturday, Saso started the final round a shot behind Lexi Thompson. She fell two shots back when Thompson piped a drive over 300 yards on the first hole and had a 6-iron that she left just below the hole. The eagle putt didn’t fall but a birdie by Thompson and a par by Saso seemingly set the tenor of the day.
Then, on the second tee, the part of the Lake Course at Olympic Club where the San Adreas Fault passes through - “Quake Corner” as the members call it - the earth shook a little as Saso hit a tee shot that whizzed over the heads of the spectators and ended up closer to the first fairway than the second. With a sidehill lie and the ball so deep in the rough that a weed whacker would have been more effective than a wedge, Saso took a mighty gash and advanced the ball about 20 yards, still in the high stuff.
From there she thrashed it out short of the green, pitched on and two-putted for double bogey. It was a heartbreaker.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the very next hole, the downhill par-3 3rd, Saso pushed her tee shot into a greenside bunker. She blasted out long and, with what looked like no confidence at all, she three-putted for her second consecutive double bogey.
That is where a lot of players would have called it quits. They would have finished the round, of course. But the intensity would have waned. The motions would have been less intentional. That is where a lot of people would have said, Today’s not my day. Let’s just get it to the house.
What did Yuka Saso do?
“I was actually a little upset,” she said. “But my caddie talked to me and said, ‘Just keep on going. There are many more holes to go.’ So, that's what I did.”
She played the next 12 holes in even par, and then birdied 16 and 17 to gain a share of the lead. Another birdie on the third extra hole, and she is the champion.
She didn’t do that all at once. She hit one shot, then another, and another, until things turned around.
It really is that simple. It’s just not easy.
To give another, more intense example of this, at a quiet gathering in Las Vegas a few years ago, Marcus Luttrel, the “lone survivor” from Operation Red Wing, who penned a bestselling book that was made into a movie starring Mark Wahlberg, told me in a matter-of-fact tone how he survived after being blown off the side of a mountain in Afghanistan.
“I had a broken back, a broken pelvis, both knees were torn up, I’d been shot, I had a broken nose, RPG shrapnel, most of the skin on the back of my legs was gone, I’d bit my tongue in half, my thumb was broken and my shoulder was dislocated,” Luttrel said to me as if he was readying a cocktail menu. “I was lying there thinking, if I stay here, I’m dead. But I can’t move. So, I reached up with my good arm and drew a line in the sand. I said, ‘Okay, I’m just going to crawl until my feet touch that line.’ It took over an hour. Then I drew another line and did it again. I did that for seven miles.”
No one compares golf to combat and those who do have never seen either in any meaningful way. But the point Marcus made to me in Vegas is the one Saso’s caddie made to her on Sunday and the one Katie Rudolph made to Megha Ganne after the ANWA.
Never give up. Never, ever. As long as you have breath in your body or holes left to play, stick to the moment and do your job. Do that and you too might find yourself standing in front of a large silver representation of your dreams, saying, as Yuka Saso did on Sunday.“I feel great, and I'm so thankful for everyone who's supporting me. Yeah, I'm thankful.”