By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Golf takes no prisoners. Even when you think you've been given a lifetime parole from the purgatory of obscurity, the game still tries to trap you. Win the biggest event and you get just one day to figure out how to go from 71st in the world to U.S. Open champ.
Now, it's Lucas Glover's turn to see if he can avoid the pitfalls that, to one degree or another, have snagged so many who resemble him. No two "shock champs" are the same. But where U.S. Open champions like Steve Jones and Michael Campbell have gone, where other obscure major winners like Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton, Zach Johnson, Ben Curtis, Paul Lawrie and Ian Baker-Finch have lost their way, Glover must now tread. Some found their way back, though none has won another major. Some didn't.
Glover's trial by victory already has begun, though he may not know it. Two weeks ago, he won at Bethpage Black after a five-day event in which he was up before dawn three times. So, he took a little time off to relax, right? When you've won only one PGA Tour event, you have to recover from severe shocks to your system, even the shock of ecstasy.
No way. This is golf. It has its codes and obligations. One day after the Open, Glover kept his promise to play in Hartford, Conn. There, he shot three 65s, finished tied for 11th but was never asked about his play, only about the 800-pound Open gorilla that is now in his life.
This week, he's keeping his word again, playing Washington's AT&T National. Now that he's a marquee name, what is he going to do, stiff Tiger Woods? Next week, he'll honor an appearance in the modest John Deere Classic, then fly on to the British Open.
"I was committed. I needed Hartford, [Washington] and the John Deere to try to get myself into the British Open," Glover said yesterday at Congressional Country Club where, as the No. 17 player in the world, he is suddenly one of the favorites and will play the first two rounds paired with Woods. "I was scheduled. I won and I didn't want to change." Even though, by winning the Open, he was automatically in the British. Call it honor or silliness. At some point, it's both. The trick is telling them apart.
"You're asked to do a lot more things, you get a lot more opportunities at foreign events. And you can wear yourself out very quickly," said Jim Furyk, who won his only major at the '03 U.S. Open and fell to 116th on the money list the next year due to both wrist surgery and poor play. "Lucas is a very nice person, so he's going to have a difficult time saying no. Until he does, he's going to be hectic and frantic and just stressed out."
For now, Glover is still flying on adrenaline, a dangerous post-major drug. "I'm down to Cloud Four as opposed to Cloud Nine," the South Carolinian said. "There were a lot of times I said to myself, 'Really?' That has sunk in now. But it took a few days."
When Glover returns to earth, he'll have to figure out his own unique way of coping with the Open pleasure and Open curse that follows every utterly unexpected winner.
"You start worrying about what other people expect of you rather than what you expect yourself. That can't be healthy," Furyk said. "Most guys probably put more pressure on themselves than they feel from the outside."
That may be an issue for Glover. Last year, he found himself so frustrated and so angry so often that he quit the tour -- well, for seven weeks. But it changed his outlook.
"I had high expectations for myself. That's where my attitude issues came from, my anger stuff [throughout] my whole career until this year, to be honest," said Glover, who said he was an "underachiever" his first five years on tour. "Maybe lowering [the expectations] for this year might have helped," he said. On the first hole of the Open, he made double bogey. A year ago, I'd have pitched a fit going to No. 2, made a bogey there and goodness knows what."
So, let's get this straight: lowering his expectations helped Glover win the Open. But almost every unexpected Open winner is tempted to raise his expectations to prove his victory is no fluke. And Glover, 29, said, "I know I've got a lot of room to improve."
No, wrong. Listen to Furyk. After he won his Open, he refused to change anything, especially his famously eccentric swing. "I never considered it," he said. "If what I had was able to win at the highest level there is, what the hell would I want to change it for? I've already proved it worked. I wouldn't need the challenge of trying to do something else and prove that could work as well."
Nonetheless, the temptation to become a better player after you have won a major championship is a famous red flag, almost a proof of insecurity, of thinking you don't fully merit your honor.
"I was pretty established [in '03]. It wasn't a giant step [but] it put a lot of pressure on Ben [Curtis] and Shaun Micheel," Furyk said of the players who won the British Open and PGA in '03. "Maybe there was a little extra pressure on them to prove themselves, which I think is crazy. I mean, you teed it up and you shot the lowest score. You already proved yourself.
"I felt like I earned it and never had to live up to [being] the U.S. Open champion."
Among great players, this attitude of athletic arrogance is common. It may define them. Among the rest, those with one lonely major, it is rare indeed.
"Have I gotten more attention? Yes," Glover said. "Respect, I don't know. I can't concern myself with that."
If he focuses on the second part of that statement, he'll probably be okay.
Golf will be the winner if Glover becomes a fixture in the game. He's a little homespun, saying he knew he was ready for the Open when his grandfather, a former Clemson football star, told him, "Boy, you playing good." But he also reads several books a week, many of them mysteries. Who knew that the solution to the Bethpage Case would be Lucas Glover with an 8-iron on the 16th hole.
If Glover seems well grounded it may be, in part, because he didn't grow up a spoiled sports star but was, rather, the overweight kid. "I was 5 foot 2, 170 pounds. I was taller laying down than standing up," he said. Then he grew -- a foot.
Now, he's a blend of straight talk, with a syrupy Southern accent, and a pleasant reserve. The direct look in his eyes hints at a pride he keeps hidden. If Glover's star stays high in the sky, the game may have a player with some of Davis Love's gentlemanly mien and Ben Crenshaw's disarming, drawling directness.
"One of my pro-am partners [yesterday] said, 'Man, I'm glad I don't ask you too much. [If I do] you'll tell me the truth, won't you?' I said, 'Yes, sir,' " Glover said.
"That's just me."
The next two days, he'll be with Tiger. You might want to get to know him. He may be an exception to the rule -- a mystery Open winner who doesn't fall victim in the end.