Two weeks ago, when we left Jeff Maggert at the U.S. Open at Congressional, he was standing in the back of the press center as fellow also-rans Tom Lehman and Colin Montgomerie finished their interviews. Maggert was waiting to explain how he had fallen out of what had been a four-man race by finishing bogey, double bogey, bogey. But when the winner, Ernie Els, arrived there was no time for Maggert, so he briefly chatted with a writer from his hometown of Houston, then quietly left the building. Somehow the scene seemed emblematic of his career on Tour. He had given it a nice try and come close again, yet in the end hardly anyone noticed.
There are two essentials one needs to know about Maggert, a soft-spoken Texan whose game mirrors his personality—solid and reliable if unspectacular. First, he has a low profile, real Invisible Man stuff, because he lets his clubs do the talking. Writers hate that—it's easier to do a story on someone who can serve up a couple of one-liners. You also don't hear much about him because he's like the mailman: He doesn't deliver on Sundays. In seven full years on Tour, Maggert has only one victory, but nine seconds and six thirds. There are two ways to view such a statistic: The guy's either a choke artist, or he has played exceptionally well and simply didn't get the breaks. The interpretation says as much about you as it does the man in question.
The other thing one needs to know about Maggert is that he's going to win a major championship. He has the ability, the patience and the intensity beneath that placid exterior to win one. His record in the majors—seven finishes in the top 10 in the last six years—indicates that he's ready. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that you add placing a wager on Maggert to win the British Open at Troon to your list of things to do next month in Scotland. Troon's narrow, bouncy fairways will put a premium on straight driving. The players who hit it in the rough won't make many birdies. That's perfect for Maggert, Mr. Fairways and Greens, who finished fifth last year at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
Until the big breakthrough, though, the question remains: How is it that a player like the 33-year-old Maggert, who's good enough to play in the 1995 Ryder Cup and should make the team again this year, hasn't won more often? "That's a hard question," he says. "I thought I would've won half a dozen times the way I've played the last six years. I'm fairly young. Time is on my side, I guess."
After Lehman had failed to hold the lead in the U.S. Open for a third straight year, he wondered what might be missing from his game. Maggert, too, has been second-guessing himself, trying to identify the secret ingredient that will produce victories. His putting, he admits, could be better, but that doesn't explain the charges that fell short, like the closing 69 that lifted him to a tie for third with Els at the '95 PGA; the slipups, such as at the '92 PGA at Bellerive, where he held the lead on the back nine but succumbed to the pressure, the rough and Nick Price; or the disasters, like the Tour stop at The Woodlands outside Houston, where he lives, in '91, when he blew up with an 80 in the final round.
Maggert has built a base of experience in the majors. He has two fourths and a ninth in the U.S. Open, a third and a sixth in the PGA, a seventh at the Masters and last year's fifth at the British. Maggert should be on everyone's list of the top five players to have never won a major, which only makes a bullet like Congressional hurt that much more. "You battle your brains out for four days and then watch it vanish," Maggert says. "It's no fun. It was one of the most disappointing 30 minutes of my career. But when I woke up on Monday, I'd never been more motivated to make things happen. I feel like I can win golf tournaments."
He almost made it happen last week at Westchester, where he again went head-to-head with Els down the stretch. This time Maggert closed with a 68 but it wasn't enough—another second-place finish. Yet he wasn't down. He chose to take the long view. He has turned around what had been a bad year. "Last week was a negative leaving the Open," Maggert said. "This week was a proving ground. Now I'm playing well and expect to make the Ryder Cup team."
Even though he had come up short, to the same guy no less, Maggert left Westchester in a better frame of mind than he had been in when he arrived. When someone asked him how many times he had finished second, he didn't know. What's more, he didn't want to know. "If I can win as many tournaments as I've finished second in," he allowed, "I'm going to have had a hell of a career."
He grinned as he delivered the rare quotable quote, but there was something in his voice that led me to believe that he wasn't joking.
Hardly anyone noticed.