PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – He may be the defending U.S Open champion but Lucas Glover knows he still is not in the league with the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
And that is not something the 30-year-old South Carolinian is expecting.
“I’ve always tried to focus on working on my weaknesses and getting better,” he said. “And I didn’t see a point in changing me or my golf swing or anything like that.”
The Glover win was part of a strange 2009 at the majors – a year where the runners-up, in many ways, made bigger news than the winners.
– Y.E. Yang stood toe to toe with Woods at the PGA Championship and became the first player to beat Woods after he had led entering the final round of a major.
– Stewart Cink broke the heart of 59-year-old Tom Watson and golf fans everywhere at the British.
– Angel Cabrera beat out Chad Campbell and 48-year-old fan favorite Kenny Perry at the Masters.
– Glover was steady over five days of rain and muck at Bethpage and beat out Mickelson and David Duval, the former world No. 1 who came in ranked 882nd and, like Mickelson, held a share of the lead on the back nine.
It marked Glover’s second career victory, and though he hasn’t won since, he did finish third at The Players Championship last month, yet another sign that he can no longer be ignored.
He opened last year at Bethpage with a double-bogey. He knew the only way to recover at a U.S. Open, “the toughest test in golf,” was to stay patient, which he did – all the way through his 3-over 73 in the final round that was good enough to seal the win. Anticlimactic? Maybe. But for Glover, it was a sign of how far he’d come.
“Had that been two or three years ago, I don’t think I would have even recovered and made the cut,” he said of his double-bogey start. “But that was from working between the ears a little bit, and just realizing that it had to be that way to succeed.”
The game plan will almost certainly have to be the same this year.
The tournament is being held at Pebble Beach, but this is hardly the same course that hosts an annual PGA Tour stop – the famous AT&T National Pro-Am – every February.
The rough is growing, the greens are drying out. The wind off the Pacific blew during practice rounds Tuesday, foreshadowing the threat of a speedy, greenish-brown course where club selection will be difficult. Players could need anything from a 6-iron to a sand wedge at the famous, downhill, 109-yard, par-3 seventh.
“You just have to understand that it’s a long haul,” Woods said. “It’s a long grind. It’s different than most major championships. You’re not going to make a lot of birdies and the whole idea is to not make any big numbers because it’s hard to get them back.”
Woods, of course, set the standard for U.S. Open success 10 years ago – here at Pebble Beach.
In a nearly flawless week of golf, he shot 12-under par and won by 15 strokes – a couple of records that don’t figure to be matched anytime soon.
Not even by him – at least not this week, if the results during this, an abbreviated season so far, are any indicator.
Since his fourth-place finish at the Masters, Woods has missed a cut at Quail Hollow, pulled out of The Players Championship with a neck injury and finished 19th at the Memorial.
Asked about the state of his game Tuesday, he sounded like a man trying to convince himself everything was OK.
“The more I play, the more I get my feel back,” Woods said. “Where I was in the beginning of June is where a lot of the guys are in January and February – the amount of rounds they competed and played in. So I’m just starting to get my feel back. And I know I have to be patient. It’s coming along.”
As everyone knows, the U.S. Open is not the place to be rounding into shape. It’s an unpredictable endurance test, and because of that, it’s not the easiest place to pick a winner. For every Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Tom Watson, there’s a Jack Fleck, Michael Campbell and, yes, a Lucas Glover.
Going from a one-time surprise to something even bigger is the defending champion’s next goal.
“It’s been a good year and it’s hard to believe it’s been a year,” Glover said, “but that reality set in when I had to send the trophy back.”