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Glass Slipper Fits Like a Glover: Lucas wins 2009 U.S. Open
Cybergolf's Jay Flemma was at Bethpage all last week and through Monday's final round covering the U.S. Open. Here's his final piece on what turned out to be an exciting - and unexpected - finish.
This is a Cinderella story that reads not only like a fairy tale, but also like one of Clive Cussler's "Dirk Pitt" spy stories, the espionage novels newly-minted U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover loves so much, that he reads three or four of them in a week. Indeed, Glover not only came out of nowhere as a storybook sectional qualifier who previously had zero success in the U.S. Open, but he also displayed the courage, tenacity, resourcefulness, and fortitude of Cussler's celebrated fictional hero in winning the 109th U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
Time will tell whether this Open will be regarded as an afterthought - known for never-ending, torrential rain, and an obscure, unlikely winner - or whether Glover will go on to have a career defined by several major victories. But no matter what, he was as gritty and phlegmatic as any U.S. Open winner in holding off charges of far more celebrated and decorated major champions. His 4-under score was two better than fan favorites Phil Mickelson and David Duval, who each clawed into ties for the lead before missing short putts in the clutch.
Mickelson's fate was especially grim. Playing in front of a crowd that supported and adored him as much as their beloved Yankees, he touched off an ecstatic celebration after an eagle at the par-5 13th vaulted him into a tie with Glover. It looked like the finish was what everyone wanted: Mickelson celebrating in the gloaming and bringing home the hardware to his cancer-stricken wife, and the tournament would instantly turn from pedestrian to legendary.
Instead, the final holes had shades of Shinnecock and this year's Masters, as Phil missed two short putts, putts that proved the difference between a playoff and defeat. "On 15, I played a lot less break than it had," he remarked about the curling 4-footer on the savagely contoured green. "But on 17, it was slightly uphill and I didn't hit it at all. It was not a good putt."
He now owns a dubious record: his five runner-up finishes are the most in U.S. Open history. Three of them have come in New York. People are starting to whisper his name alongside that of Sam Snead, another iconic Hall of Fame golfer, but one who never won a U.S. Open.
Duval also thrilled the galleries with his gallant charge this week. Ranked No. 882 in the World, Duval remembered something we didn't: they play golf for the U.S. Open trophy, and the silver cup doesn't care one jot about any records or stats except the score. He endured. Despite taking a triple-bogey six at the par-3 third that might have disheartened lesser men, Duval hung tough.
"I never quit" has become his mantra and rallying cry; he repeated it at post-round interviews Sunday and Monday. The three straight birdies at 14, 15, and 16 to surge into a tie for the lead were a lightning strike to the tournament, and the galleries across Bethpage responded with thunder. The 2001 British Open champion stood on the brink of an all-time great comeback in sports history, a story everyone wanted, but a cruel lip out on 17 - the ball was more than halfway down - and a Glover birdie at 16 ended his comeback.
"I'm certainly happy with how I played, but extremely disappointed with the outcome," he said with conviction. "I had no question in my mind I was going to win the golf tournament."
Still, other than Duval, you wouldn't find a person disappointed with his result. Americans love a comeback, sports fans especially. Having the colorful, brutally frank, and swashbuckling Duval back after years in the doldrums can only be good for the game, and on the day he finally does win a second major, watch the outpouring of affection from the golf world.
Even Tiger Woods got into the act briefly. Birdies at 13 and 14 put him only two back of the faltering leaders. The fist pumps, steely gaze and steam in his stride gave the impression he was finally going to take the lone career albatross from around his neck and come from behind to win a major. [Author's Note: That's a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."]
What a comeback in would have been! At one point in the third round Woods stood a staggering 15 shots behind leader Ricky Barnes. Now he was just two out of the lead and had all the momentum. For once, the Phil-Tiger major championship script - one that's overplayed so often, and which so rarely occurs - finally it seemed golf's biggest rivalry might be played out in a major. "I was on the edge of my seat," said the USGA's Beth Murrison, who was a breakout star this week in her media center interviews with the players.
But the 15th hole had other ideas. Woods not only made an ugly bogey in the final round, air-mailing the green by two clubs, he played it 4-over par for the week. He finished four shots behind Glover, who played the hole 2-under through 72 holes despite carding a final-round bogey with his only three-putt of the tournament.
As he did all week, Woods blamed his putter. "I gave myself so many chances, and made nothing." Woods played terrific from tee to green. Increasing the loft on his Nike Dymo 380 prototype driver to 10 degrees, made him more accurate off the tee - Woods's old 9-degree loft was one of the lowest launch angles on Tour, and this week he hit exactly two-thirds of his fairways. But by returning to the forged-iron model he used in the past in lieu of Nike's later model VR TW clubs, he also hit two out of every three greens. But Woods finished with an average of 30 putts per round, tied for 27th in the field.
Still, Glover didn't falter in the grueling crucible of the final round of a major. On paper, he had every reason to shatter. He'd missed the cut in the only three previous U.S. Opens in which he played. In 11 previous majors, he had zero top-10 finishes, and his best result was a T-20 at the Masters. His lone career win came in 2005 at the Funai Classic at Disney. His last three starts were a missed cut, T-41, and T-45. He was a sectional qualifier, and only five other men had won the U.S. Open that way: Michael Campbell, Steve Jones, Jerry Pate, Orville Moody, and Ken Venturi. Right on cue, Glover double-bogeyed his first hole of the tournament.
The glass slipper didn't seem likely to fit, and this time Dirk Pitt looked to be too late to save the world from destruction.
Then suddenly, Glover turned into David Graham and became a fairways-and-greens machine. The first three days he hit 78.6% of his fairways, and 81.5% of his greens to go to bed Sunday night tied for the lead with Barnes, who led him by six strokes just 10 holes earlier.
He survived an up-and-down ball-striking day - just seven fairways and eight greens in regulation in a final-round 73 - by taking just 27 putts. More importantly, he silenced all the naysayers who predicted he would join Barnes in collapsing.
"I hit the shots I needed to hit today in the clutch," Glover said as he cradled the U.S. Open trophy. "There were so many great players and the course is hard, and I knew someone was going to make a run, but I hit the right shots when I had to." Glover not only played the back nine better than anyone in the field, 6-under for the week, but he gutted out a birdie after bogeying the 15th to fall into a tie with Duval.
"He held on when Phil and Duval were trying to run him down," said Glover's caddie, Dan Cooper. "They both made us nervous by making birdies, but Lucas made a big one on 16 after the three-putt on 15."
It seems Cooper was just as integral in Glover's staying patient, a trait he lacked in the past, but channeled at the right time. "I just told him to stay steady, and he did. I knew he could win, he held on just great in the face of those charges by the other guys. He can do a crossword faster than I can brush my teeth."
On the 18th tee, Cooper told Glover that "driver was the only club that could go wrong. Let's go fairway and greens and play for the same spot we've played from all week." Glover took a 6-iron, found the fairway, and hit a simple 9-iron approach safely to the back of the green.
In the end, Bethpage got the excitement it was lacking all week. The vociferous, ardent fans that came got what they hoped for: high drama and dominant golf personalities playing on the game's grandest stage and a storied public course that also has Woods's 2002 victory as a part of its heritage. "This is the ideal spot to hold a Ryder Cup," gushed Mickelson, sincerely thankful for the overwhelming fan support for both he and Amy. "We'd have a big advantage."
You might just hear Glover echo the same sentiment. That is, if he can put down the spy novel long enough to give his opinion. This wasn't the storybook finish we all wished for, but it's a great story nonetheless. A modern Cinderella won in the end; a real-life Dirk Pitt overcame all odds and saved the day by keeping cool under pressure. Clive Cussler would have loved this ending. It's so good, who knows? With the way Glover keeps cool in the clutch, maybe we'll get a sequel.
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.