At one point during the U.S. Open telecast on Monday, NBC showed a series of pictures of Phil Mickelson hugging his wife, Amy, over the years. And then the network played the audio of Phil telling reporters earlier this week that, prior to the tournament, Amy had left him a series of notes mentioning that she hoped to have a big silver trophy next to her in the hospital when she goes in for breast cancer treatment early next month.
I'd heard that clip a few times already, so it didn't really affect me, but my wife had not heard it. And so I wasn't surprised to look down toward the other end of the couch and see tears running down her face. And because of that, I got a little choked up, too. How do you not get sucked in, even if you're a cynic, to pulling for the guy whose wife has cancer? Mickelson said after after his wife was diagnosed, he'd sometimes be driving in his car, alone, and burst into tears for reasons he couldn't quite explain. And when I heard him say that, I understood completely. I thought to myself, "That's exactly how I'd react."
I didn't want to tell my wife that, deep down, I knew we were only being set up for disappointment. Mickelson was leading at the time, having just made an eagle to pull into a tie for the lead, and our hearts were racing, but there was no way he was going to win that trophy. I wanted so desperately to believe it was going to be different this time, but I knew it wouldn't be. Mickelson is forever destined to be Charlie Brown to the U.S. Open's Lucy. Every time it looks like he's going to finally kick that football, it get snatched away at the last second, often in agonizing fashion.
Watching the U.S. Open together has become a bit of a tradition for my wife and I in recent years. I root for the players that I like based on their personalities and their games, and she roots for players based on how they're dressed and how nice their wives seem, while at the same time rooting against those she feels are dressed poorly. (Despite my pleading, she refused to pull for Rocco Mediate last year over Tiger Woods and his impeccably tailored shirts.) Mickelson sort of represents the perfect storm for us. He's my favorite golfer, and she thinks he's become a much better dresser in recent years. (She liked his pants this year.) The way his kids run onto the green to hug his leg after victories also makes her infectiously happy. (I confess, I have daydreams about my own kids doing the same, to me, at our family golf tournament some day.)
I think, though, that I've realized this about Mickelson today: Just like my wife and I, he can't really bottle up his emotions. At least not long enough to win a U.S. Open. This is the fifth time he's finished second in this tournament, and in every instance, he'd made just enough mistakes to let it slip away at the end. Golf is such an emotional game, and that's the main reason why Tiger Woods, when he's all finished, will probably have more than 20 majors. (He's practically an android under pressure.) You can't get too excited, and you can't get too upset.
Lucas Glover played that role perfectly Monday. Even when he rolled in a 3-foot putt on 18 to win, he looked like a guy who had just won a Nationwide Tour event, not the United States Open. He raised his right hand, waved to the crowd, and barely smiled. I thought, "What a surprise. The most boring guy won the tournament."
But the more I heard and read about Glover, the more I realized how wrong I was. During the numerous rain delays this week, Glover spent his time reading books, and polished off four of them in as many days. He told reporters he usually reads about a book a week, which pretty much blows my mind. (I can count on one hand the number of professional athletes I've encountered who are big readers, although David Duval is one.) And Glover is also a big Seinfeld addict, having seen every episode multiple times.
As Glover came off the 18th green, he made a beeline for his wife -- his high school sweetheart -- and then hugged her for a good, solid minute before finally moving on to sign his scorecard. My own wife had already left the room, eager to attend to some tomato plants in her garden, so she didn't see their embrace, which was too bad.
Because while Mickelson will always be our guy, Glover was just a cool pair of pants, and a couple of little kids away, from being the kind of golfer we could both root for in future U.S. Opens.