Oh So Close

About 10 years ago, MaryJo McCloskey came to me and asked if I might be interested in developing a women’s golf program at George Fox. She had previously coached at Lewis & Clark and was looking for a university that might support her efforts fully. Those of you who know me understand that I do not play golf. When I was a kid I spent my time playing football, basketball and running track. Even if I had thought of playing golf, our small community did not have a course. Given my own history, I suppose you might wonder why I said “yes” to a golf program. It has everything to do with the coach – MaryJo. She is an excellent coach, but more than that she is the type of person who draws people to her cause. The cause in this particular case was women’s golf, and I believed in her and what she could do.

Fast forward 10 years: We have won eight conference titles in the past 10 years and have consistently finished among the top-10 programs in the nation. At this moment, we are consistently one of the three best programs in the U.S. That is quite an achievement, and it is entirely MaryJo and her women athletes. She has recruited the type of athlete who excels in the sport, performs in the classroom, and supports the mission. It was with a great deal of pride that I went with the team to watch them play in this year’s national championship tournament just outside of Houston.

I graduated from Texas A&M and know personally that Houston is quite different from Newberg (in many ways). In particular, the weather is hot and humid in May and presents unique challenges to athletes from the Northwest. But our women were ready and came into the tournament ranked No. 1 in the nation. The national championship is really a grueling event. The women play 72 holes over four days. During the entire event, we were never worse than third and, entering the final day, we had a small lead over Rhodes College and Williams. The competition was close all the way to the final holes, and we had a one-stroke lead as we cleared the 16th and headed down the final stretch. By now you know the full story, as Rhodes caught us in a great duel and took the championship on the final two holes. Coach McCloskey and the team were bitterly disappointed.

In the hours that followed, I remember MaryJo writing and noting that they felt like they had let the university and their supporters down. I suppose in some ways I understand how they might feel that way. When the goal of any event is to win – when you are a competitor – you want to take away the top prize. At the same time, I have never understood why we cannot appreciate the importance of finishing so well. Ten years ago we did not even have a team, and this year we finished second out of literally hundreds of schools that sought the prize! Yes, I would like to have won, but this team did not let anyone down. In fact, they lifted the entire community on their backs and raised our spirits. Many in the community sat by their computer screens and hit the “refresh” button hundreds of times to see how the match was going. Others were texting me trying to get the latest news. It was great fun!

Following the championship, I flew to Shanghai, China. While there, one of the great runners of our era, David Rudisha of Kenya, was at a track meet in the city. David won the 800 meters in the last two Olympics and reigns as the current world champion. In the Shanghai event, David could only manage a fourth-place finish behind his Kenyan teammates. When reporters gathered to ask him how he felt about such a disappointing finish, he said, “My father always told me that there is always more value in failure than in success. The winner rarely evaluates his performance because he gained the prize. In any competition, I want to win. I did my best. But I’m happy. I can now go back and see where I can improve from here. This is just the beginning. At least now I have a point from which to build on.”

I think David Rudisha is right. The joy of sport comes in the striving and coming back again and again to win the prize. Kristen, Sydney, Iris, Rachel, Madison and MaryJo did their best, and we are rightly proud of their effort! I can tell you from their conversations with me that they’re already working on improving on their finish. In the past four years, we have finished fourth, third, and this year second. There is just one place left, and if I know this team and their coach they won’t quit until they have achieved that goal. Team: Thank you for a great year!

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