It was in thefinal 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. Ifthe U.S. Open has always been golf's greatest self-examination, the 109thedition at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., was about a handful of golfersplaying for much more than themselves.
The least knownwas a Southern gentleman, Lucas Glover, who three years ago buried his swingcoach, Dick Harmon, after an emotional mass at St. Michael Catholic Church inHouston. The reserved Glover stood before 1,200 mourners and eloquently paidtribute to a teacher and a friend.
The best knownwas Phil Mickelson, inspired by his wife, Amy, who last month learned she hadbreast cancer and was watching the drama unfold in San Diego, wishing for aprize she would put at her bedside.
And there wasDavid Duval, once the world's No. 1 golfer before injuries and a loss ofconfidence sent him spiraling from that perch, happy again in simply trying towin tournaments for his family.
June 28, 2009
On a cool, cloudyMonday it was Glover finding stability in the soft ground, rolling in ago-ahead birdie putt on 16 and a knee-knocking par attempt on 17 to win theOpen by two shots over Duval, Mickelson and Ricky Barnes. "Lucas earnedit," said Glover's father, Jim, his chin quivering in the Bethpageclubhouse. "He's worked so hard his whole life."
It seemedincongruous that the 29-year-old former Clemson Tiger and the pride ofGreenville, S.C., would achieve greatness in the heart of Long Island. Butsometime during his youth Glover became a closet New Yorker. He roots for theYankees, owns a copy of every Seinfeld episode and reads Lee Child. In December2005 he married Jennifer Smith, and the two picked New York City for theirhoneymoon.
It snowed the daybefore the newlyweds arrived in Manhattan, blanketing the city in white just asthey 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 Glovermentioned to Jennifer that it would be nice to have a one-bedroom apartment inNew York City. She started checking out Manhattan real estate prices. "Amillion dollars later," she said, "we'll be staying put."
Snow was aboutthe only thing missing at this Open, which had tee times at dusk, Biblical rainand players and fans wondering when they'd see the sun again. Before thetournament Bethpage Black had one water hazard, the pond fronting the par-38th; once it started, there were countless muddy streams. "It was sowet," said Boo Weekley, who shot 79--72 and missed the cut, "I sawfrogs climbing up the clubhouse walls trying to get out."
The buildup tothe championship had been immense, fueled by Tiger Woods's comeback victory atthe Memorial on June 7 and more so by Mickelson's return to New York after hehad left the Tour to be with Amy. Yet it was Barnes and Glover who unexpectedlyshot to the top of the leader board. Theirs was a comfortable pairing—they hadplayed their first U.S. Open rounds together at Bethpage Black seven yearsearlier, both missing the cut—and the two enjoyed the tee-time draw with thebest weather for the first two rounds. (The scoring average of the afternoonstarters in the first round, 72.87, was nearly two shots better than themorning groups' 74.75.)
But neither wasaccustomed to spending much time in contention at a major championship. In hisfirst 11 majors Glover missed six cuts and finished no better than 20th, at the2007 Masters. Barnes won the 2002 U.S. Amateur and scored better than TigerWoods in the Masters the next year. With his long drives, square jaw andchiseled frame, Barnes looked like a budding star, but he languished for fiveyears on the Nationwide tour before finally earning his PGA Tour card. Enteringthe Open, he had not finished in the top 10 in a Tour event. "It's humbledme," he said last Saturday of his journey.
"I told him,once he got his Tour card, 'What separates you from [Tour veterans] isattitude,'" says Barnes's older brother and caddie, Andy, an assistantmen'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 aperfectionist."
Over the firsttwo 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 asecond-round 65 to take a one-shot lead over Glover. Barnes extended his leadto six shots midway through Sunday's third round—he reached 11 under par withan eagle on the 4th hole, becoming only the fourth player in Open history toget to double figures under par—but then he started to look shaky. He beganyanking drives left, and, in a blink, his putts lacked conviction. During a24-hole stretch starting at number 7 in the third round, he was 10 over par andsurrendered the lead with four consecutive front-nine bogeys on Monday.
"I justdidn't settle down very well late in the front nine," said Barnes, who grewup in Stockton, Calif. "That was pretty sour."
Woods, shootingfor his 15th major, had his own things going on. Though he finished tied forsixth 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 Woodslagging, the stage was set for Mickelson, who seemed on the verge of the mostemotional win of his career. Last month, when Phil and Amy saw on TV thatfellow Tour players and wives, as well as fans, had dressed in pink for Amy andbreast cancer awareness at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in Fort Worth, theycried together. Then Amy, whose treatment will begin on July 1, did somethingher husband hadn't expected. "Amy pushed him to play," says ButchHarmon, Mickelson's swing coach.
Phil finished59th at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, then flew home to spend two nightswith Amy and their three children. Before he set off for Bethpage, Amy had onerequest. "She would like a silver trophy in her hospital room," Philsaid at a midweek press conference. "I'm going to try to accommodatethat."
All of New Yorkseemed bent on helping Mickelson get it. Four of his record five runner-upfinishes in the Open have come in the state—at Bethpage to Woods in 2002, atShinnecock Hills to Retief Goosen in 2004, at Winged Foot to Geoff Ogilvy in2006, 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, sendingroars around the back nine as his score was posted, he was undone by bogeys atthe 15th and 17th holes.
"CertainlyI'm disappointed," said Mickelson, who will most likely skip the BritishOpen next month. "But now that it's over, I've got more important thingsgoing on."
For most of theweek, heavy rains softened the course and robbed the championship ofdefinition. In fact, Bethpage was so defenseless that 60 under-par scores wereposted, 34 more than the field registered in 2002. On top of it all, the USGAhad to overcome a public relations disaster when officials announced onThursday that first-round ticket holders would not receive refunds despitewitnessing only three hours of waterlogged golf. After the New York stateattorney general's office threatened legal action and New York City's tabloidsand talk-radio stations took turns skewering the USGA (BONEHEAD POLICY SOAKSFANS screamed the Post), officials reversed course and offered Thursday ticketholders entry onto the grounds on Monday or a 50% refund had play concluded onSunday.
The championshipwas saved, as most tournaments are, by the compelling theater of the golfitself. There was Sean O'Hair, who used to tool around mini-tours in a 40-footRV, in weekend contention while his wife, Jaclyn, was expecting the couple'sthird child. And Duval, who entered the week ranked 882nd in the world, makinga bold reentry into major championship golf. And Barnes, his big brother on thebag, carding 13 birdies and an eagle while playing in a painter's hat.
Glover, who likeBarnes 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 startedreceiving text messages from Harmon's family. He also got a surprise visit fromtwo cousins and a friend who drove all night on Sunday from Boone, N.C., andarrived 10 minutes before the resumption of the final round. "We boughttickets on eBay for $40 apiece off a guy in New Jersey," said BillyJohnson, a cousin from High Point, N.C. "We told ourselves yesterday thatif 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. Gloversaid he learned that happiness isn't based upon the circles and squares on ascorecard, and that patience in golf is everything. "Two years ago, nochance 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.
"Amy would like a silver trophy in her hospitalroom," Phil said. All of New York seemed bent on helping him get it.
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