I spent part of Wednesday in San Francisco and found myself driving in the vicinity of the Olympic Club, site of next month’s U.S. Open in golf. And it made me think of California political reform.

Olympic is one of America’s most difficult courses, and the U.S. Open is the closest thing professional golf has to torture. The winner often fails to break par. The course is made as tough as possible so professionals struggle to pull off even basic shots. To cope, professionals must have a mixture of persistence and patience. And most of all, since they will have many bad holes and many bad shots, they have to keep going and not be discouraged by failures and defeats.

As a result, it is often said that you don’t win the U.S. Open. The open wins you – the most persistent competitor is still standing after everyone has self-destructed or fallen away.

That’s a big lesson for anyone who wishes to fix California.

The kind of big reform that California needs is not something you can win – not with a great political strategy or with one election. Big reform will win you.

The current conversation about initiatives misses this point.

Molly Munger is told to give up and stand down because her initiative can’t win this year. As a practical matter, that’s almost certainly right – her initiative is almost certain to lose. But, depending on her persistence (and her willingness to keep pursuing greater education funding even after she gets beat in November), the changes she wants may happen. Giving up now may make sense in this election, but not in the long run. The open could always win her.

The same thinking should influence California Forward, which is under pressure to drop its complicated budget and governance reform initiative. The political reasons for backing down are the intense opposition and threats from groups, particularly on the left, who don’t like the measure. That kind of opposition certainly would make it harder to win this year.

But if you’re pursuing reform, opposition is inevitable. And even a defeat this year, if it’s part of a campaign that broadcasts messages that make the case for bigger reform in California, could lead to long-term victory. California Forward and other good government reformers could win by losing this year. Giving up denies them the progress they can make by running a strong campaign, win or lose, this year.

Those of us who believe the state needs a wholesale constitutional revision – either via convention or commission – should understand this too. Before that happens, there will be years of defeat. On the road to the reform trophy, you’ll spend a lot of time digging out of bunkers and the rough.