Contrary to popular belief - indeed, to all reasonable expectations - the highlight of 2009 for Lucas Glover did not come June 22 at soggy Bethpage State Park's Black Course on Long Island, where against all odds he won the U.S. Open Championship, the first men's major golf title for a home-grown South Carolinian.
That's what Glover says, anyway.
For the 30-year-old Greenville native and former All-American at Clemson, the best moment occurred Nov. 7 in one of his favorite places on earth, the Tigers' Memorial Stadium. That evening, with 77,000 orange-clad fans cheering, Glover joined Dabo Swinney and his team in "the most exciting 25 seconds in college football": the run down the hill before Clemson's game vs. Florida State.
"I grew up over there and had seen that run down the hill 100 times," he said. "I always wanted to do that, and coach Swinney made that possible." His heart rate before dashing downhill was "probably a lot higher" than it was in the final round of the Open because, he said, "I could let it go, get out of control."
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Still, Glover knows that experience - and perhaps a more poignant one earlier, when he and his family (wife Jennifer, parents Jimmy and Hershey Glover, grandparents Dick and Lou Hendley and others) "dotted the I" in "Tigers" formed by the Clemson band - were the result of his control in that landmark Open victory. Fittingly, the same supporting cast of family and friends was in New York that Monday afternoon to see him hoist the USGA's top trophy.
Those are the ones who tell you he remains the same Lucas who learned golf from his maternal grandfather, the Lucas who loves to hit the local barbecue joints around Greenville.
And, PGA Tour colleague and former Clemson teammate Jonathan Byrd said with a laugh, the same Lucas who wore his trademark off-the-course wardrobe - jeans and old-school Converse All-Stars - when he visited the White House to be recognized for winning.
And yet, change is inevitable for Glover. He knows it. His friends know it, too.
"People say they don't want you to change, but that's impossible," Byrd said. "His whole life has changed. He's looked at differently (on Tour). His bank account, earnings, schedule, demands on his time - all of that has changed.
"(But) I don't think his personality will change. He and Jennifer are a great team: sincere, close to their S.C. roots. He loves those simple things. That won't change."
But then, some change isn't a bad thing. After all, it was a decision by Glover to change that helped set the stage for all the good things that followed.
Almost since the moment he rolled in the birdie putt at Bethpage Black's 16th hole to take the Open lead, then parred out for a two-shot win over such luminaries as Phil Mickelson and David Duval, Glover has been hit with a torrent of opportunities. Most, he said, have been pretty sweet.
Before his triumphant return to Clemson, he did a whirlwind tour of New York City, from the top of the Empire State Building to the studios of the "David Letterman Show." Best of all, "I got to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium and went to the first two games of the World Series," said Glover, a longtime Yankees fan.
"I don't know if I could've done any of that if I hadn't won that trophy."
The real rewards have come since. His agent Mac Barnhardt of Sea Island, Ga., has fielded a flood of offers. A one-time winner before the Open, suddenly everyone knows his name.
"The phone rings a little more," Glover said. "So many people ask what you think about a lot of different things. But it's a good problem to have." He laughed. "I'm still pinching myself a little."
He's not the only one. His coach at Clemson, Larry Penley, has fielded top-25 teams for the better part of a quarter-century, topped by an NCAA championship, but he said he's received more calls and letters about Glover's win than he did for that 2003 national title.
"That sort of did (surprise him), but then I thought, 'What a big impact (the Open was),'" Penley said. "We got way more attention, not so much around South Carolina, but nationwide. I had media crews at my golf camp," the same week as the Open."
Others are benefitting as well. Glover is taking part in a limited release of prints of artist Linda Hartough's official U.S. Open 2009 painting, each featuring a sketch imprinted on the mat of Glover holding the Open trophy. Sales (at $350 each) will benefit the S.C. Junior Golf Foundation; Glover bought five for himself and his family.
His voice recently could be heard on radio announcements promoting sales of tickets for the 2010 Verizon Heritage, which will lose its sponsor after next year. "We reached out to him, and there was no hesitancy," said tournament director Steve Wilmot, who once gave Glover exemptions into the tournament. "Lucas has always been there for us; there's obviously a friendship there."
His family, too, has basked in the reflected glow. Jimmy Glover is "a lot more popular at my local watering hole" and at his favorite Greenville restaurant, Chophouse 47. He tells how, returning from a celebratory trip into New York City following the final round, the family received a round of applause from its hotel's staff.
Hershey Glover worries that her only child's victory "puts your life more out in front than it used to be. But it also makes us count our blessings." One of those, she said, came the day Lucas walked into his grandparents' kitchen to announce Clemson's invitation to take part in dotting the "I."
"I was there when he said he wanted (her father, a former NFL player who, like his grandson, is in Clemson's Hall of Fame) to do it with him," she said, her voice catching. "Dad didn't know anything about it, but Lucas said that was one of the things he wanted to do with him."
Of his grandfather's reaction, Lucas said, "He was pretty quiet, so I think that meant he was happy."
Almost lost in the personal joys are the economic benefits. Glover finished the year with a personal-best $3,692,580, ninth on the PGA Tour money list.
Even without the Open, Glover's year was sensational: five other top-10 finishes topped by a fifth-place finish at the PGA Championship, and a spot on the winning Presidents Cup team. His week at Hazeltine National in Minnesota was particularly rewarding, he said.
"I said after the Open, 'I'll use that (win) as motivation,'" Glover said. "It can be a springboard to motivate myself to get in contention at majors, and Sunday at the PGA, I was right there.
"That felt great, to get back in the mix at a major, (and) that might've given me more confidence than the Open, because I was there again."
Those close to him believe he will continue to contend in the biggest events. "He's not going to back down, and he should have the confidence to know he can win," Penley said.
But if he never wins a Masters, British Open, PGA or another U.S. Open? So what, Byrd said. "I don't want to debate that; who cares if he's a 'one-hit wonder'? He just won it. Let him enjoy it."
LEARNING TO RELAX
Glover knows about enjoyment. He also knows about frustration, which is where he was a year ago, coming off a disappointing 2008 season during which, it seemed, the harder he tried, the worse he played.
It was then, he said, that he made a decision that would impact not just 2009, but the rest of his career. A notoriously hard worker even in the offseason, Glover stowed his clubs in a closet for six weeks; when he finally returned from football-family-fun time, the difference was obvious to everyone.
"I think I needed to learn then that I need to take a little more time (off)," he said. "In the past offseasons, I'd take a week or two and be back to the grind. Well, I'm 30 (now), I'm not 24 any more. It's a little different."
Concurring is Dr. Morris Pickens, the sports psychologist-turned-performance coach who has worked with other Clemson players as well as 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson and 2009 British Open winner Stewart Cink.
"One reason (taking time off worked for Glover) is because Lucas works very hard, is really into it," the Orangeburg native and Clemson graduate said. "He goes at it hard, and he needs a little time away from golf to gain perspective."
Glover, Pickens said, is a classic dichotomy: mellow on the outside, churning on the inside. "He needs time off to get refreshed," he said. "He knows how he's gotten into trouble in the past, being too much into results and expectations. He doesn't know how to go out and work a little bit.
"If he goes out next year and thinks, 'I've got to have a great 2010,' he could struggle. Zach did that in 2008," the year after his Masters triumph. "But once (Johnson) refocused on his game, on improving, he had a great end of 2008 and 2009. Hopefully, Lucas will follow that pattern."
Glover has an excellent chance to do so because, in another benefit from the Open, he now can control his schedule. That, he said, is a change he's looking forward to enjoying, too.
"I've got opportunities; I'm in the majors the next five years, in the U.S. Open the next 10, and that's a great feeling," he said. "Other than a couple of (years), I've been fighting for my (PGA Tour) card since I started. ... Now I've got that (cushion) for the next five years."
Now, the mellow image Glover always has presented to the world has a chance to be matched by a calm feeling within.
Jimmy Glover has been a fan of his son since marrying Hershey when Lucas was a tyke. He says he's seen him grow and mature over the years, and "I've watched him deal with his celebrity, and I'm amazed how gracious he is," he said.
"Wherever he goes in public, when the stranger or semi-acquaintance steps up to shake his hand, he treats that person as if he's the only one in the room."
Now, though, the elder Glover said there's a new air about Lucas - one he expects the rest of the world soon will see as well.
"There was a threshold that was crossed," he said. "It's hard to determine whether to label that confidence or maturity; there's definitely some vindication in there, too.
"For years I'd tell people when he didn't play well, 'I'm not worried. He's a winner.' But now it does show in him, and winning the Open contributed to that. There's not even a question about that; it changed him.
"When you step into that elite club, it can't be taken away. Your name is never coming off that trophy."
Its presence, in fact, serves as inspiration for future generations of young players from South Carolina, especially those at Clemson. And that's without mentioning the current crop on the Tour.
"If Lucas can do it, that changes your whole mind-set," Byrd said. "You think, 'Why can't I, or Charles (Warren), win a major? I've watched two of my friends (Glover and Zach Johnson) do it, guys I play with all the time.'
"Before it seemed so lofty a goal; now you think, 'OK, I'm closer to it than I thought.'"
It's a gift that keeps giving. Glover knows the Open and his play at the PGA got him onto U.S. captain Fred Couples' Presidents Cup team, his second such appearance.
Glover called it "a great chance to hang out with guys I don't get to do that with: Tiger (Woods) and Phil, guys at the top of their games. I got to pick their brains, listen and have a good time with them."
Now, at least potentially, Glover IS one of those "guys at the top of their games."
In many ways, Glover always will be the lanky kid who battled in S.C. Junior Championships at the Country Club of Lexington, who won three consecutive S.C. Amateur titles, the last, memorably, when he was matched up for one round with Byrd and another future PGA Tour player, D.J. Trahan. In other ways, it's different now.
He smiled, remembering that long-ago day. "To get to play with two of your buddies for something that means that much to all of us - that was OUR major event," Glover said.
Now he owns America's major. And his life never will be the same.