Glen Day has a classic U.S. Open demeanor. Between shots, his
face--a perfect oval, blank and unlined--reveals nothing. On the
course you see neither his joy nor his disappointment. You see
neither the miles he has logged nor his back-road smarts.
Ernie Els, Hale Irwin, Lee Janzen, Larry Nelson, Andy North,
Scott Simpson--they're all pretty much like Day. They won their
Opens without ever showing their teeth. Day did not win the U.S.
Open last week at the Olympic Club, but watching him closely,
you realize he has the game and the temperament to win a
national championship--if not ours, maybe the one being played
in Great Britain next month.
You realize that his position on the money list this year--he's
ninth after winning $33,960 for finishing 23rd at Olympic--is
not a fluke. You get the feeling he'll be an effective player
for the U.S. on the Presidents Cup team, which he's in the
running to make. Yes, he's 32 and doesn't have much of a track
record. He hasn't won in the U.S., where he has played since
1994. He didn't win in Europe, where he played for three years
before that, and he won only once in Asia, where he played for
two years before that. But give him time. That's what he gives
When he wins, there'll be a big ol' party. Off on the side,
sitting on a beach chair, will be the mellow host, drinking a
Coors' Light out of a can, pinching his wife's bottom in front
of the guests, telling an old story about trying to beat the
price of a hotel room by taking an all-night drive from Spain to
France in his caddie's raggedy, foul-smelling mobile home. He'll
talk to you like a long-lost brother, even if he has never met
you before. "I come from nothing," he says in a brogue that is
pure Mississippi. "Who am I to get all uppity?"
June 28, 1998
Who he is, is one of the best putters in golf, highly skilled in
all the fine arts (chipping, pitching, bunker shots), with a
fade-only ball flight that never gets him in too much trouble.
(He's a recovering hooker.) Where he's from is Poplarville,
Miss., a town so tiny it was a half-hour drive to the nearest
movie theater (which comes out thee-A-tur when Day says it).
From his childhood home--"nothing special, not one of them
old-timey houses you're probably thinking of"--to the nearest
golf course, Pearl River Valley, was a 20-mile drive. "It was a
field with nine holes and they mowed it," Day says. "My
granddaddy helped build it. Knocked off the top of a hill, and
that was a tee. Did the same thing for the greens."
Poplarville High had no golf team until Day talked the school's
principal into starting one. "First year, I was the only guy on
it," he says. "Then I got other guys. I told 'em, 'Hey, man, you
don't have to go to school on Tuesdays when we got matches.' We
might've had one other guy who could break a hundred."
In some ways Poplarville remains the center of Day's universe.
"Poplarville was a great place to grow up," he says. "We were
sheltered from the problems of the world. Didn't need money to
do anything. I'd go down to the store to get bread. They knew
Glyndol Bass was my granddaddy and Jeanne Day was my mother.
That's who I lived with, 'long with my sister. [Day's father
died when Glen was eight.] They'd say, 'We'll put it on the
tab.' There was no crime in Poplarville. No drugs. I was a
fifth-year senior at Oklahoma before I ever saw drugs. My wife,
same deal. Small-town all the way. She's from Perryville,
Arkansas. Population: 1,141." Now Day and his wife, Jennifer
Ralston-Day, along with their two daughters, Whitney, 3, and
Christina, 2, live in Little Rock. But they ain't exactly yuppies.
"I am fixing to kill that marshal!" Jennifer was saying on
Friday afternoon while walking the Olympic course in pursuit of
her husband. Glen was either trying to make the cut or trying to
get in contention, hard to say which. She knows a thing or two
about golf-course etiquette. Her father, two uncles and brother
are all golf professionals. (Her father, Bob, paid for his
daughter's wedding by teaming with Glen in the Lake of the
Ozarks Pro-Am in Missouri. The duo spent $2,500 betting on
themselves in a Calcutta and won back about $15,000.) Jennifer
knows the game, and she knows an inept marshal when she
encounters one. "I'm trying to get this woman's attention," she
says, "so I can cross over and see Glen's birdie putt, and she's
off staring at some tee where Fred Couples is at, drool running
down the side of her face."
Jennifer was hiking the course with Keds on her feet, a Donna
Karan knapsack on her back and a Danielle Steel novel in her
hands, which she would read while her husband was making swings.
Once the ball was in the air, she would look at Glen and
interpret the quality of the shot from his body language. Day's
is exceedingly subtle, but Jennifer understands it. "Eight years
of practice," she says.
Each knows the other's moves. Late on Wednesday afternoon, after
the final practice round, Day waited patiently in his courtesy
car in the players' parking lot while Jennifer went on a
souvenir-buying spree in the USGA merchandise tent. While she
shopped, Day chatted with his practice-round partner, Jack
Nicklaus. Nicklaus's son Gary and Day became friends when they
played on the European tour, and now whenever Day and Jack play
in the same tournament, they have a practice round together.
"It's no big deal," Day says. "Mr. Nicklaus is a very nice man
who happens to be the greatest golfer who ever played."
Jennifer returned from the jammed and frenzied souvenir tent.
Evidently, her shopping trip had been work. "I'm going to write
a book," she said. "I'm going to call it Glamour Golf--Not." Day
was starting the drive home when he noticed the fuel gauge. "You
didn't get any gas, did you?" he said. Since arriving in San
Francisco, the Days had done driving tours of the city day and
"Oh, please," Jennifer said. "The light's not even on."
Day pointed to the glowing low-fuel warning light. The car was
running on fumes. "Shoot," Jennifer said. "But you love me."
"I love you so much, you can go out and push if we run out of
gas," said the golfer.
They made it home, to the house they had rented for the week
from an Olympic member. Two other couples, friends from Little
Rock, were staying there, along with Day's Australian caddie,
David Munce. In 13 hours Day would be hitting his opening shot
in just his third U.S. Open. (He played in 1994 and '95 without
making the cut.) He was soon sitting at the dining room table,
sipping a Coors' Light, and his mood grew serious. "I'm excited
about tomorrow, 'cause I know I'm going to hit it in the rough,
and I know how I'm going to handle it," he was saying. "My
granddaddy--God rest his soul, he's been dead forever--used to
say, 'The harder you try, the behinder you get.' Corny old
saying, but it's the truth. Now I laugh at the mistakes and stay
calm when I'm playing well. That's why I'm playing better."
There was a time when he thought he might not be playing golf at
all. Day was a superb junior golfer in Mississippi and a good
collegiate player at Ole Miss. He played as a freshman, but in
his sophomore year he started battling with his coach, Ernest
Ross. Ross wanted Day to practice harder. Day, who believed then
and still believes in practicing on the course, wanted to party
harder. In the middle of the season he quit the team and stopped
playing golf cold turkey. He figured he would get his degree, go
to New York, become a stockbroker and maybe play Sunday golf.
One night after his third year at Mississippi, in a bar in
Oxford, Day bumped into the Oklahoma golf coach, Gregg Grost. "I
heard you stopped playing," Grost said. "That's stupid." In a
series of telephone conversations, Grost persuaded Day to come
to Oklahoma, without a scholarship, and resume his golf career.
Day's mother thought the move was a waste of time. "She said, 'I
am not going to pay for you to go there so that you can party,'"
Day says. But Day went, dedicated himself to tournament golf
again and became an All-America his first year in Norman and
again as a fifth-year senior. "After I graduated, somebody said,
'Asia,'" Day says. "I didn't even know where Asia was, but off I
went to play there. My granddaddy staked me the money. I wasn't
very good, I was learning how to play, but I did all right."
Day is still learning how to play. Who isn't? His game is
mellow. He barely holds on to the club, and there's no moment of
violence in his swing. He's not long, doesn't hit the ball high
and rarely tries to play a draw, but he's in control of his ball
from start to finish. His swing is lazy and unhurried. In fact,
everything he does is unhurried. That's why Nicklaus stuck him
with the nickname All Day, which he has stamped on his golf
balls. Now that he has sped up, his nickname has been upgraded
to Half Day.
His emerging philosophy--laugh at the bad shots, stay calm when
you're playing well--is ideal for Open play and served him well
at Olympic. Day hit tee shots that landed in the middle of the
fairway and wound up submerged in six inches of rough, and he
did not so much as shrug. In the second round, on the 18th
green, Day stroked a 25-foot birdie putt that looked for all the
world as if it would die on the lip. Instead it rolled down the
hill and left him with a 25-footer for par, which he missed. He
was five blades of grass from being three over par for 36 holes.
Instead he was five over. He did not get into a staring match
with his ball, as Payne Stewart did in that same situation.
Instead Day waved playfully at the ball while it rolled past
him. He may have missed a putt, but he had won over the crowd.
Day left it to his alter ego, Munce, to let a USGA official have
When the Days were audited last year, the auditor didn't
understand why Glen's psychology bills, paid to Bob Rotella,
were a business expense. The auditor should have been at
Olympic. Day spent four days on a grueling course without ever
losing his head. Anyone who has played in an Open will tell you
that's an immense victory.
It was Day's best Open, by far. He would have had a top-10
finish were it not for the 16th and 17th holes, which he played
in seven over for the week. But in the end he was disappointed.
"I thought I could win this tournament," he said on Sunday
evening in the locker room as he packed up for Chicago and this
week's Western Open, "but I never got on top of this course."
U.S. Open Sunday, Father's Day, was drawing to a close. Day's
little girls were back home, far away. It was not a satisfactory
day. It was not a satisfactory week. Day is not just another guy
content to make good paychecks, a man with a Southern accent and
a devoted wife and a face that reveals nothing. He wants to win
more than he wants anything in the world. He is eager and ready
Glen's granddaddy used to say that good things come to those who
wait. Corny old saying, but it's the truth. Glen Day is willing
to wait. It took him a decade to get where he is, to learn what
he has learned. He knows what the next decade will bring, he
just knows it.
"My granddaddy...used to say, 'The harder you try, the behinder
you get,'" says Day.
Day's philosophy--laugh at bad shots, stay calm when you're
playing well--is ideal for Open play.