PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Barring a miracle — we’re talking Johnny Miller at Oakmont in ’73, and more — Lucas Glover’s gracious reign as U.S. Open champion will come to an end on Sunday. He tried to do what nobody’s done since Curtis Strange won back-to-back Opens in ’88 and ’89. Glover tried to defend.
He came here feeling good about his game, and aware of the awesome thing Strange did at the Country Club and at Oak Hill when Glover was still in grade school. Glover opened with back-to-back 73s. Not exactly a pair of aces, but he wasn’t out of it, either. But after making the turn in 39 on Saturday, the deal was pretty well done. All he could do was play for pride, and he did.
He’s a beauty. With his curved-brim hat low on his forehead and his downwind spitting, Glover, who lives in Greenville, S.C., looks like an old-timey minor-league pitching coach, working the Southern League, maybe. He’s can be hard on himself. On Saturday, when he took 77 swipes, he often trudged through the rough as he marched off various tees, leaving the little courtesy path to his playing partner Scott Verplank. Waiting on tees, he bounced his ball not off a clubface, but off his chest. When he hit his chip shot long on 17, he looked disgusted with himself. When it started rolling off a bank and toward a hole, he looked disgusted with himself. When it finished on the lip of the hole and all he had to do was tap-in for par he … you know.
He is the kind of old-school golfer Curtis Strange loves. Verplank, too. When Glover and Verplank came out of the scorer’s trailer on Saturday, the Ryder Cup veteran gave a big ole slap on the back to the Ryder Cup hopeful. If Scott Verplank likes how you go about your business, you must be all right.
“What Curtis did, it’s amazing,” Glover told me after he finished his third round. Glover’s a reader, of golf and other things. He knows all about Curtis. “On Monday, I thought I was going to win. I’m a better golfer now than I was a year ago, in part because of what I did last year at Bethpage. But I didn’t get it done. This course, you never know if you’re going to get a big bounce or if the ball’s going to hit a soft spot and just stop.” He wasn’t making excuses. “I never figured it out.”
In the Miss America contests, there’s always that poignant moment when the crown leaves one head and is placed on another. Actually, it’s not poignant. It’s hokey, but you know what I mean. Some color commentator says, “She wore the crown well.” Well, Glover wore the crown well, he really did. He posed for pictures, came to press rooms, signed for fans. He made himself available, without making himself overexposed, without changing who he was. He’s happy with who he is. His play hasn’t been great — he has only two top-10 finishes and he’s not close to making the Ryder Cup team now. But he could still do a lot between now and September. His game’s solid, and he is, too.
Next month he’ll play his fifth British Open and his first one at St. Andrews, the ultimate links course. The Pebble Beach Golf Links might look linksy on TV, but it’s not, not in Glover’s mind. “Over there, it’s a bouncy game. You play for the bounce. The bounces are consistent.”
So Strange’s place in the game, as the last man to win consecutive Opens, is safe for now. I saw him in May, at a senior event. He was sitting on the stern of a beautiful yacht — home port Greenville, S.C., it so happens — just chatting, talking golf, drinking a cold one, watching the football draft on a flat screen TV. The name Fred Corcoran came up in conversation. Fred Couples, Jay Haas and a couple others took stabs at the name, trying to identify the man. “Fred Corcoran,” Couples said. “Better known as Freddy. Won back-to-back British Ams a hundred years ago.” Couples had no clue.
Curtis shook his head and said, “Fred Corcoran. Golf promoter. Agent to, I wanna say, Sam Snead. Ran tournaments. Hall of Famer.” He named that tune in four seconds.
Curtis is here this week doing commentary for ESPN, with his familiar Virginia drawl. He knows his stuff. He knows, of course, that he was the last person to do it, to win back-to-back Opens. He knows the person to do it before him was Ben Hogan, in ’50 and ’51, at Merion and Oakland Hills. He knows how hard it is to do, to defend a U.S. Open title, or to even try to do it.
Now Lucas Glover knows, too.