By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
FARMINGDALE, N.Y., June 22 -- Golf is a maddening game, and it has infuriated far more established players than Lucas Glover, legends included. Last fall, then, was Glover's time. He was unhappy with his play, and therefore his life. He was bringing frustration home. He wasn't, he said, himself. So he did what he could to bring himself back: He quit playing.
"I was too hard on myself," Glover said, "and had a bad attitude when it wasn't going right."
There was no way to know back then, but that time off -- six or seven weeks, time spent in the just-off-the-Interstate burgh of Greenville, S.C., his home town -- helped Glover on Monday afternoon, in the waning holes of the U.S. Open. Bethpage State Park's Black Course used a breezy Monday to seek revenge on a field that had carved it up during a soggy week, and while others fell aside -- most notably Phil Mickelson, but David Duval and Tiger Woods and the unknown Ricky Barnes as well -- Glover held it together. His time away from golf had made him a better golfer, and that, in turn, made him a U.S. Open champion.
Glover won the title with a number that might not look sexy on paper, a final-round 73 that gave him a four-round, five-day total of 4-under 276. But it was a nervy round for a player who had won only once in his six seasons on the PGA Tour, and it was plenty good enough to beat the names that kept coming at him on the leader board -- Mickelson (70), Duval (71) and Barnes (76), all two shots back at 278.
"I didn't expect this Thursday," Glover said, "to say the least."
Nor, frankly, did anyone. Monday at the Open came about only because rains hampered the tournament from the start, and Glover's final round actually began near nightfall Sunday. The field began with something of a shotgun start at 9 a.m. Monday, with Mickelson, more than anyone else, lurking.
No player, now, has been runner-up in the Open more than the 39-year-old Mickelson, who came here thinking almost completely of his wife, Amy, who last month had breast cancer diagnosed. The New York crowds, who years ago embraced this southern Californian as their own, were well aware of the situation -- the letdowns in Opens past, Amy's upcoming surgery on July 1 and the treatment to follow, the family vacation Mickelson intends to wedge in before that -- and they responded unlike golf galleries for any current player at any current venue.
"The people here are incredible," Mickelson said, and he nearly provided reasons for them all to boast that they skipped work to watch ol' Lefty, dealing with personal problems, overcome it all to win the Open.
Just before noon, that became a distinct possibility. Glover and Barnes shared the lead coming into the final round at 7 under, but they were frittering away shots, and the sense was the stars -- Woods and Mickelson foremost among them -- could sneak back in. Glover himself made three bogeys on the front side. Barnes was, as he said, "all over the map."
"You knew Tiger and Phil were going to make a move, and they did," Glover said. "And Ricky and I started coming back. That probably motivated them more."
Woods, who was trying to overcome an opening round in which he played the final four holes in 4 over, birdied the par-3 14th to get to 1 under. Yet he gave that shot back on the next hole, and finished even for the tournament. Mickelson's move was more significant. After a 35-foot birdie putt at 12, he not only reached the massive par-5 13th in two, but he did so with a wedge that stuck to three feet. The resulting eagle -- the only one the hole yielded all tournament -- put him at 4 under, tied with Glover.
"I thought that eagle put me right in position," Mickelson said.
It also brought out chants worthy of an international soccer match -- "Let's go Phi-il!" followed quickly by "clap-clap-clapclapclap" was most popular -- and for a moment, Mickelson seemed the favorite. But he hit a poor putt from the back fringe at the difficult par-4 15th, then missed the four-footer he had left. At one point, briefly, Mickelson, Duval and Glover were all tied at 3 under -- Glover with a bogey at 15, Duval with a birdie at 16 -- but Mickelson gave another shot back with a blocked tee shot on the par-3 17th and a missed six-footer.
Two short putts. Two shots given back. The two shots he needed to put pressure on Glover. "Certainly, I'm disappointed," Mickelson said. But Amy's situation, it seemed, meant this would not go alongside his 72nd-hole collapse at Winged Foot in 2006, when he needed bogey only to force a playoff, and made double.
"Now that it's over, I've got more important things going on," he said, "and, oh well. . . . Maybe it's more in perspective for me."
That one word -- perspective -- might have been what won Glover the Open. He drilled his best drive of the day at 16, struck a dead-pure 8-iron, and made his only birdie of the final round. Duval gave another shot back with a bogey at 17, and headed to the final two holes, it was only Glover, his nerves, and his rebuilt thought process.
"He used to be frustrated all the time," said his wife, Jennifer, a Greenville gal who, by her telling, "chased him down in high school" a dozen years ago.
Here, though, he was not frustrated. He was patient, until recently an incomprehensible word for him. He held a two-shot lead on the 18th tee, and took a club to calm his nerves, a 6-iron. When Barnes's birdie putt slid by, Glover had the Open in hand. He made his par, and thought back to the time he gave up the game just so he could get better at it.
"My attitude's better," Glover said. "Something bad happens, let it go."