by Stuart Hall
Farmingdale, N.Y. — Lucas Glover is a voracious reader, given to finishing a book every few days. To bide his down time at this week’s U.S. Open, he polished off four books alone.
But no written word could be more compelling to Glover than the swath of yards he read at the 16th and 17th holes, respectively, at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course on Monday.
The first resulted in a birdie that created a two-stroke separation from the nipping contenders for this 109th national championship, and the second all but etched his name on the champion’s silver trophy.
“I hit the shots that I had to hit in the situation, and that might be a little more gratifying,” said Glover, who closed with a 3-over 73 and finished at 4-under 276, but had built in some wiggle room heading into Sunday night’s final round. Though he trailed 54-hole leader Ricky Barnes by a stroke, he stood five shots ahead of third place.
Glover, a soft-spoken man of the South, was a sidebar story wedged in between headliners when play resumed play on a dry — finally — Monday morning.
Barnes (final-round 76), Phil Mickelson (70) and David Duval (71) tied for second at 2-under 268. England's Ross Fisher (72) was solo fifth at 1-under 279.
On the board were the unlikely Barnes, the 2002 U.S. Amateur champion who entered the championship No. 519 in the world; Mickelson, a four-time U.S. Open runner-up looking to exorcise the demons of his “idiot” finish three years ago down the road at Winged Foot Country Club; and even Duval, who had virtually vanished from the golfing eye from 2003-2009. Tiger Woods lurked way back at one over, but no one had completely written him off. He finished tied for sixth at level-par 280.
When the horn sounded to resume play, Glover sat atop the leaderboard with Barnes, who had bogeyed the opening hole when play was halted on Sunday night. Glover would never trail.
Glover went out in 3-over 38, but corralled his game and nerves throughout the back nine.
“I drove it probably the best I've ever driven it in the first three rounds here,” said Glover. “Not so much today. I think nerves had a little effect on my rhythm, and I didn't hit very many shots where I was looking or the shape I was trying to hit them.”
Then again, he wasn’t the only one.
Barnes, who at one point in the third round had become only the fourth player in U.S. Open history to reach double digits under par, began to show the strains of leading a major well before wilting on Monday. Barnes, who set the U.S. Open 36-hole scoring record of 8-under 132, made just one bogey through his first 42 holes, but made six in his final 13 to close out his Sunday. Barnes would then make six more bogeys in an eight-hole stretch on Monday that effectively negated his previous four days of work.
“I just didn't settle down very well late in the front nine,” said Barnes. “That was pretty sour.”
Barnes birdied the par-5 14th and then parred his way into the clubhouse. On the 18th hole he tried to put pressure on Glover, his fellow competitor. Barnes stood over an 18-foot birdie attempt but the hole somehow repelled the ball.
“I would have at least liked to have that putt go in the last hole to see what it would have done to Lucas' 4‑footer,” Barnes said.
Considering where Barnes has resided over the years — toiling on the Nationwide Tour and wallowing in the depths of the PGA Tour’s money list when he got the chance — this was not that bad of a major.
“If you told me I would have been two under, if you would have told me I was second, bridesmaid isn't too bad,” he said. “But when you know you're right there, it's a tough one to swallow. But I would say a lot, lot more good came out of this week than bad.”
A gentleman of the nicest sort on tour, Glover could have made the polite gesture of bowing to Mickelson, long the sentimental people’s choice in these parts and especially as wife Amy readies for breast cancer treatment in a couple of weeks.
Or even to David Duval. It had been a distant decade since he reigned as the game’s No. 1.
But Glover would not acquiesce to their spirited charges, though both finished where they began the final round — at two under par.
A three-putt triple bogey at the par-3 third plummeted Duval to one over par, at the time a distant six shots back of Glover and Barnes. Certainly no one at that point would have stopped believing in Duval had he just fallen away.
“I don't quit,” said Duval, the 1999 British Open champion who got back into the fray with birdies at Nos. 14-16.
No doubt the fire still burns deep within Duval.
“It's what I want,” said Duval, 37. “It may be arrogance, but it's where I feel like I belong. And I was glad to come up here and hit the golf ball and control myself like I've been saying I've been doing, and how I've been talking about how I know I'm playing a lot better than my results have been showing.
“I stand before you certainly happy with how I played, but extremely disappointed in the outcome. I had no question in my mind I was going to win the golf tournament today.”
As for Mickelson, he made history of an inauspicious sort by finishing as a U.S. Open runner-up for a fifth time. Bogeys at the sixth and seventh holes dropped him five back of Glover at the turn, but with the partisan New York crowd backing his every shot, he rallied. After birdie at the par-4 12th, the “people’s champion” stuck his approach to 5 feet at the 605-yard, par-5 13th and made eagle to reach four under and a share of the lead.
An uncharacteristic three-putt bogey at the ticklish 15th and then a bogey at the par-3 17th killed Mickelson’s momentum and effectively ended his run. This finish, though, was in stark contrast to 2006, especially given the off-course importance.
“I think maybe it's more in perspective for me … I feel different this time,” he said.
Mickelson was also able to shrug off yet another what-might-have been when the lone silver medal was about to be presented in the post-championship ceremonies.
“One of you guys choose it," Mickelson said to Barnes and Duval.
"Whoever is the oldest out of you two," Barnes replied.
To which Mickelson quipped, “I got four, I'm plenty good."
The biggest prize, though, was left for Glover.
Much was expected of Glover, 29, a former U.S. Walker Cup member, when he stepped off the Clemson University campus and turned professional in 2001, but the results did not come quickly. He joined the PGA Tour in 2004, and his only win came at the Funai Classic in October 2005.
Since then he’s played well, but 2008 saw him drop to 178th in the world, and it was at the end of his FedEx Cup run that he shut down his year. His patience had worn membrane thin and he was his own worst critic.
“That was the point of it, to get away … figure out why I got the way I got,” he said. “And I did. I was too hard on myself, and just had a bad attitude when it wasn't going right.
“The patience issues and the bad attitude and expectations through the roof and not getting results, but practicing just as hard and not getting any better. That was the frustrating thing.”
The more patient, more positive Glover obviously won out this week. And with Mickelson bearing down on him, he did not buckle.
“I knew I needed a birdie on 16,” said Glover of wanting to create some breathing room. “Had a good number with an 8‑iron. One of the best shots I hit all week was 17. It was right in between clubs, 4‑ and 5‑iron right to left wind. I'm a drawer, and I hit a fade up against the wind that I couldn't have been happier about.”
When Glover rolled in his 4-foot par putt on the 18th, he did a fist pump that lacked the enthusiasm that one might expect of a U.S. Open champion.
“I don't know if I have enough energy to do anything crazy,” he cracked. “And that's the first time I've contended in a major. And mentally, I was done. I don't think I could have thought up a good celebration.”
Hoisting the silver trophy is celebration enough.Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usopen.com.