Commentary

Time away from golf proved crucial

Originally Published: June 22, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Talk about guts. Yeah, Lucas Glover showed plenty of fortitude, knocking in that crucial birdie putt -- his first of the day -- at the 16th hole with the likes of Phil Mickelson and David Duval making the Bethpage mosh pit all the more uncomfortable.

But what about the cousins?

These guys truly had some nerve.

Todd Hendley, 25, and Billy Johnson, 29, are Glover's cousins. They saw Sunday how Lucas was faring at the 109th U.S. Open and decided they had to be here Monday -- even though they live in North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeTodd Hendley and Billy Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesLucas Glover's cousin Billy Johnson, left, drove all night with his friend Dave Yearwood, right, and another cousin of Glover's, Todd Hendley (not pictured), to see the final round at Bethpage Black.

"We were in Boone [N.C.] for Father's Day," Johnson said. "And we just decided if he was within 3 [shots of the lead], let's think about going up. So we got in the car and made the deal on the way."

By "deal," he meant purchase tickets. Apparently, they decided not to phone up ol' cousin Lucas to ask for any extras or put any extra pressure on him. So they finagled a deal on eBay for $40 passes, recruited a buddy named Dave Yearwood, 30, to drive with them, printed up some T-shirts that said "Lucas Locos" on the front and "Lucas We Got Your Back" on the back, and hit I-95 for the 10-hour drive.

"Stopped just once," Hendley boasted.

And boy, were they rewarded.

It didn't look good for much of the day, as Glover's oil leakage was surpassed only by that of third-round leader Ricky Barnes, who shot 76. But Glover, who played the front nine in 38, steadied himself on the back nine, making the crucial birdie at No. 16 that gave him the breathing room necessary to get off Bethpage Black without fainting.

Glover, 29, the pride of Greenville, S.C., starred at Clemson and had but a single PGA Tour victory. "I caught lightning in a bottle," he said -- and became just the second player in the past 25 years to win a major championship in which he had never before made the cut. He shot 73, but it was good for a 2-shot win over Barnes, Mickelson and Duval and moved him to 18th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Given Glover's penchant for being unable to close the deal the past several years, he didn't look to be a safe choice Monday, especially after Mickelson had the crowd in full roar when he rolled in an eagle putt at the 13th to tie for the lead.

But Glover hit a perfect 8-iron from 173 yards to 6 feet at the 16th to set up a birdie that gave him a 2-shot cushion. He made a good two-putt at the par-3 17th, backing off the par putt when the wind suddenly came up. Then he played it safe at the 18th, hitting a 6-iron into the fairway.

"I started thinking of some other majors where guys hit driver on the last hole and shouldn't have," said caddie Don Cooper, who could have been referring to Mickelson and his apparent gaffe three years ago at Winged Foot that led to a double-bogey and a crushing defeat.

Cooper has been on Glover's bag for six years and figured this day would have come sooner.

"He's so good," Cooper said. "He's got a good head, and he's a good kid. And he deserves it."

But Glover ran into some issues after winning his first tournament at Disney in 2005. Making the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team became an obsession, and he was within the top 10 in points nearly all year but dropped to 14th, then wasn't selected by captain Tom Lehman.

Glover knew he didn't deserve to be picked, but he was spent from the chase and beat himself up over it. It didn't help that his longtime instructor, Dick Harmon, had passed away suddenly earlier that year of a heart attack.

Harmon, brother to other well-known instructors Butch, Craig and Billy and son of former Masters champion Claude Harmon, left a void that is still felt today. Twice on Monday, Glover had to compose himself when answering questions about his former teacher.

"I think about him every day," Glover said. "He always told me I was good enough."

For a time after Harmon's death, that did not appear to be the case. Glover had just three top-10s in 2007, and last year he dropped to 108th on the money list. Frustrated and burned-out, Glover decided to shut it down after a September tournament.

"I was too hard on myself," Glover said. "And I just had a bad attitude when it wasn't going right. The patience issues and the bad attitude was because of expectations through the roof and not getting results, but practicing just as hard and not getting any better. That was the frustrating thing."

"He was so frustrated," said Glover's wife, Jennifer, who slogged her way through the Bethpage mud Monday to witness the victory firsthand. "When he decided to take all that time off, I knew it would be good for him. And it was."

Glover, whose best previous finish at a major was a tie for 20th at the 2007 Masters, had a different outlook this year. He tied for third at the Buick Invitational, tied for second at the Quail Hollow Championship, and made it through sectional qualifying to get into the Open field -- becoming the first qualifier since Michael Campbell in 2005 to win the championship.

Still, before this week, he had never made a cut at the U.S. Open. He had shot just one round in the 60s in 32 previous major championship rounds. (He accomplished the feat twice this week.) Then there was that stretch in the third round when he went bogey, double-bogey, bogey -- before shooting 32 on the back nine to position himself just 1 stroke out of the lead.

"Two years ago, if that would have happened ... no chance. I would not be sitting here," Glover said of the three-hole stretch when he went 4 over par. "No chance. But I've worked on it. My attitude's better. When something happens, I let it go. I doubled the first hole this week. Didn't slam a club. Didn't do anything."

With Glover's ball safely in the fairway at the 72nd hole, there was still some work to do. A Barnes birdie coupled with a Glover bogey would lead to an 18-hole playoff.

"I think I'm more nervous than he is," said Jennifer Glover, who walked with Glover's parents and couldn't rest easy until Barnes' birdie putt barely missed.

As Glover walked off the 18th green and into an embrace from family members, the crowd reaction was not nearly as boisterous as it would have been had Mickelson or Duval won the title.

But the cousins didn't know any better, nor did they care. The man they drove 10 hours to watch had made history, and they were delirious, screaming at the top of their lungs as cousin Lucas strolled past.

"Best day of my life," Johnson said. "Unbelievable."

Lucas Glover could not have said it any better.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com