It was in the final hours of an arduous five-day run that the U.S. Open finally took shape, when its muddy and slippery story line coalesced into something beautiful. If the U.S. Open has always been golf’s greatest self-examination, the 109th edition at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., was about a handful of golfers playing for much more than themselves.
The least known was a Southern gentleman, Lucas Glover, who three years ago buried his swing coach, Dick Harmon, after an emotional mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in Houston. The reserved Glover stood before 1,200 mourners and eloquently paid tribute to a teacher and a friend.
The best known was Phil Mickelson, inspired by his wife, Amy, who last month
learned she had breast cancer and was watching the drama unfold in San Diego, wishing for a prize she would put at her bedside.
And there was David Duval, once the world’s No. 1 golfer before injuries and a loss of confidence sent him spiraling from that perch, happy again in simply trying to win tournaments for his family.
On a cool, cloudy Monday it was Glover finding stability in the soft ground, rolling in a go-ahead birdie putt on 16 and a knee-knocking par attempt on 17 to win the Open by two shots over Duval, Mickelson and Ricky Barnes. “Lucas earned it,” said Glover’s father, Jim, his chin quivering in the Bethpage clubhouse. “He’s worked so hard his whole life.”
It seemed incongruous that the 29-year-old former Clemson Tiger and the pride of Greenville, S.C., would achieve greatness in the heart of Long Island. But sometime during his youth Glover became a closet New Yorker. He roots for the Yankees, owns a copy of every Seinfeld episode and reads Lee Child. In December 2005 he married Jennifer Smith, and the two picked New York City for their honeymoon.
It snowed the day before the newlyweds arrived in Manhattan, blanketing the city in white just as they had hoped. They stayed near Columbus Circle, across from Central Park. They ate at Koi, saw The Producers and went ice skating at Bryant Park.
Last week Glover mentioned to Jennifer that it would be nice to have a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. She started checking out Manhattan real estate prices. “A million dollars later,” she said, “we’ll be staying put.”
Snow was about the only thing missing at this Open, which had tee times at dusk, Biblical rain and players and fans wondering when they’d see the sun again. Before the tournament Bethpage Black had one water hazard, the pond fronting the par-3 8th; once it started, there were countless muddy streams. “It was so wet,” said Boo Weekley, who shot 79-72 and missed the cut, “I saw frogs climbing up the clubhouse walls trying to get out.”
The buildup to the championship had been immense, fueled by Tiger Woods’s comeback victory at the Memorial on June 7 and more so by Mickelson’s return to New York after he had left the Tour to be with Amy. Yet it was Barnes and Glover who unexpectedly shot to the top of the leader board. Theirs was a comfortable pairing — they had played their first U.S. Open rounds together at Bethpage Black seven years earlier, both missing the cut — and the two enjoyed the tee-time draw with the best weather for the first two rounds. (The scoring average of the afternoon starters in the first round, 72.87, was nearly two shots better than the morning groups’ 74.75.)
But neither was accustomed to spending much time in contention at a major championship. In his first 11 majors Glover missed six cuts and finished no better than 20th, at the 2007 Masters. Barnes won the 2002 U.S. Amateur and scored better than Tiger Woods in the Masters the next year. With his long drives, square jaw and chiseled frame, Barnes looked like a budding star, but he languished for five years on the Nationwide tour before finally earning his PGA Tour card. Entering the Open, he had not finished in the top 10 in a Tour event. “It’s humbled me,” he said last Saturday of his journey.
“I told him, once he got his Tour card, ‘What separates you from [Tour veterans] is attitude,'” says Barnes’s older brother and caddie, Andy, an assistant men’s golf coach at Arizona. “Those guys think they can win every week. Ricky’s never lacked confidence, but he’s beat himself up at times. He’s a perfectionist.”
Over the first two rounds the 28-year-old Barnes was nearly flawless. He set the 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record at eight-under 132, lashing at the Black course with a second-round 65 to take a one-shot lead over Glover. Barnes extended his lead to six shots midway through Sunday’s third round — he reached 11 under par with an eagle on the 4th hole, becoming only the fourth player in Open history to get to double figures under par — but then he started to look shaky. He began yanking drives left, and, in a blink, his putts lacked conviction. During a 24-hole stretch starting at number 7 in the third round, he was 10 over par and surrendered the lead with four consecutive front-nine bogeys on Monday.
“I just didn’t settle down very well late in the front nine,” said Barnes, who grew up in Stockton, Calif. “That was pretty sour.”
Woods, shooting for his 15th major, had his own things going on. Though he finished tied for sixth and four shots behind Glover, he remained on the perimeter of the chase. Woods’s downfall came at the par-4 15th hole, which he played in four over par, including a bogey on Monday after he had pulled to within three of the lead. (When he won in 2002, Tiger played the 15th in one under par.)
With Woods lagging, the stage was set for Mickelson, who seemed on the verge of the most emotional win of his career. Last month, when Phil and Amy saw on TV that fellow Tour players and wives, as well as fans, had dressed in pink for Amy and breast cancer awareness at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in Fort Worth, they cried together. Then Amy, whose treatment will begin on July 1, did something her husband hadn’t expected. “Amy pushed him to play,” says Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s swing coach.
Phil finished 59th at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, then flew home to spend two nights with Amy and their three children. Before he set off for Bethpage, Amy had one request. “She would like a silver trophy in her hospital room,” Phil said at a midweek press conference. “I’m going to try to accommodate that.”
All of New York seemed bent on helping Mickelson get it. Four of his record five runner-up finishes in the Open have come in the state — at Bethpage to Woods in 2002, at Shinnecock Hills to Retief Goosen in 2004, at Winged Foot to Geoff Ogilvy in 2006, each loss more excruciating than the one that preceded it. This time, after an eagle at the 13th had pulled him even with Glover on Monday, sending roars around the back nine as his score was posted, he was undone by bogeys at the 15th and 17th holes.
“Certainly I’m disappointed,” said Mickelson, who will most likely skip the British Open next month. “But now that it’s over, I’ve got more important things going on.”
For most of the week, heavy rains softened the course and robbed the championship of definition. In fact, Bethpage was so defenseless that 60 under-par scores were posted, 34 more than the field registered in 2002. On top of it all, the USGA had to overcome a public relations disaster when officials announced on Thursday that first-round ticket holders would not receive refunds despite witnessing only three hours of waterlogged golf. After the New York state attorney general’s office threatened legal action and New York City’s tabloids and talk-radio stations took turns skewering the USGA (bonehead policy soaks fans screamed the Post), officials reversed course and offered Thursday ticket holders entry onto the grounds on Monday or a 50% refund had play concluded on Sunday.
The championship was saved, as most tournaments are, by the compelling theater of the golf itself. There was Sean O’Hair, who used to tool around mini-tours in a 40-foot RV, in weekend contention while his wife, Jaclyn, was expecting the couple’s third child. And Duval, who entered the week ranked 882nd in the world, making a bold reentry into major championship golf. And Barnes, his big brother on the bag, carding 13 birdies and an eagle while playing in a painter’s hat.
Glover, who like Barnes had to survive a 36-hole sectional qualifier to get into the Open, wasn’t without support. Over the championship’s final few days he started receiving text messages from Harmon’s family. He also got a surprise visit from two cousins and a friend who drove all night on Sunday from Boone, N.C., and arrived 10 minutes before the resumption of the final round. “We bought tickets on eBay for $40 apiece off a guy in New Jersey,” said Billy Johnson, a cousin from High Point, N.C. “We told ourselves yesterday that if Lucas was within three shots of the lead, we were coming.”
Late last year, his PGA Tour card already secured for 2009, Glover took seven weeks off, frustrated that his only Tour victory was the Funai Classic in 2005. Glover said he learned that happiness isn’t based upon the circles and squares on a scorecard, and that patience in golf is everything. “Two years ago, no chance I would be sitting here,” said Glover, a silver trophy at his side, his long, wet week on working-class Long Island an unqualified success.