Three Golf Bums Walk Into a Deli

Three Golf Bums Walk Into a Deli

Lucas Glover is not going to Italy, but he did make it to New York City for Fashion Week

By Michael Bamberger

It was Fashion Week in New York City and Lucas Glover was making the rounds. You wouldn’t call Glover—pride of Greenville, S.C., winner of the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black—a PGA Tour fashion god. Not even in the category of Swamp Chic, though he does wear his golf caps low and curved, like the old-timey bass fishermen. But Krista Glover, Lucas’s wife, is an active and fashion-centric Instagram poster, at ease with the runway crowd. Lucas enjoys New York City. He likes theater, bookstores, newsstands, people-watching, sidewalk sight-seeing, his wife. So Luke’s a yes for Fashion Week. It’s a semi-regular thing for the couple. Their two kids are not in tow.

Working with David Levien, my pal Brian Koppelman wrote the screenplay for the poker movie Rounders, a movie Glover has watched a thousand times. Golf has been worked into Billions, the Showtime series Koppelman created with Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin, nearly as often. The show’s resident billionaire, Bobby Axelrod, is a pizza-loving New Yorker who caddied as a kid and has carried his looper memories straight out of the caddie shack. I’ve written about Lucas, with admiration, here and there over the years, not only for his this-is-how-we-do-it grip (half knuckle strong with the left hand, neutral with the right, no glove) but for the equanimity with which he has handled the vagaries of life, as golfer and man. When I had the chance to get the three of us together, I took it.

We lunched at one of New York’s great temples for all-day breakfasting, Barney Greengrass, a sit-down deli on the Upper West Side, with thick, off-white ceramic coffee cups and a low hum. It’s named for its founder and a third-generation Greengrass family member, Gary Greengrass, runs the show today. Brian lives nearby. My grandparents and parents, going back to the early 1940s, lived nearby. Lucas, staying downtown, said he was happy to come on up. Lunch was called for two-ish.


I brought Lucas that day’s New York Times Magazine, with its famous, and famously daunting, last-page crossword puzzle. “Already did it,” Lucas said, though he took possession of the magazine anyhow. Lucas is a word guy. Brian brought up the documentary Wordplay, which features Will Shortz, the editor of the Times crossword puzzle. Lucas knew about Shortz and the doc.

All three of us drink our coffee black, and the waiters, in the tradition, are fast with refills. Tradition, tradition. When I asked for an egg bagel and avocado with my fried eggs, the gent in his industrial waiter whites said, “No pastel colors here.” You know, no cab-yellow bagels, no fluorescent-green avocados.  Really, I should know better, though H&H Bagels, at least the East Side location, does offer both. Barney Greengrass has one location. It’s a point of pride, three generations in.

Tennis was in the air. Tennis is always in the air on the Upper West Side, where public clay courts are part of the culture. But tennis is especially in the air during the U.S. Open, and the Djokovic-Medvedev final was coming up later on our Sunday afternoon. Brian mentioned an ESPN documentary he made with Levien about Jimmy Connors and the 1991 U.S. Open, when Connors, at age 39, reached the semifinals. That’s like Tom Watson playing his way into a playoff for the British Open title at age 59, which he did, one month after Lucas’s Open win. The co-directors were interviewing Connors when he said, “I may be an asshole, but I’m a happy asshole.”

“When we heard that, we knew we had our final line,” Brian said. “Now we had to figure out how to get there.”

Lucas listened attentively. He’s a plus-four listener. In golf, at every level, not getting ahead of yourself is a goal, but there are also elite players who, after arriving at the tournament, imagine themselves hoisting the trophy on Sunday night. They work backwards from there. They have their last line, their kicker. Lucas is more comfortable with see ball, hit ball. Anyway, he really doesn’t have much choice in the matter. You know: It is what it is (Tiger) and you are what you is (Zappa).

For his whole career, Lucas has been knocking down flagsticks with a tight draw that makes Butch Harmon get weepy. (Butch’s late brother Dick, a mensch, was Lucas’s principal teacher.) But then there’s the game within the game, the one Hogan didn’t write much about. That is, putting. For Lucas, putting excellence comes and goes and comes back again, but in a different way. He told us: you just keep trying to figure it out. What else you gonna do?

Brian asked Lucas how you right the boat when the keel is dragging, when the round is going south. Brian’s like a lot of us—he’s trying to become a regular 90-breaker (again) and looking for tips to get there. More than that, and this is Brian’s art, he is trying to understand how elites, in anything, think.

“You know it’s going to happen,” Lucas said. Things will go sideways, even within a single round. The pursuit of perfection, in anything, is a rally-killer. You just double-down on the things you know work, Lucas said. You don’t start over. You don’t reinvent the wheel. You don’t freak. 

Lucas knows what all recovering yippers know: It’s one day, and one putt, at a time. He won twice on Tour this year, in back-to-back weeks. Not every putt was perfect. There were imperfect putts that dropped and perfect ones that did not. Golf’s a funny game. Lucas is 43. You can see his laugh lines now.

Brian asked Lucas how many times he had won on Tour before his U.S. Open win. Once. He was practically a kid, a young 29, and he won his Open on a Monday, the finale delayed by torrential rain. I remember Donald Trump at that Open. You couldn’t get a car anywhere near the clubhouse, but Trump drove right on up in his Rolls.

The next night, as the new champ, Lucas delivered the top-10 list on David Letterman’s show, shot in the Ed Sullivan Theater, in Midtown. The top 10 things Lucas Glover would like to say after winning the U.S. Open. No. 6 was a keeper: “I had Phil Mickelson in the office pool.”

(This stop won’t take a New York minute: For nearly 25 years, starting in 1991, one of Letterman’s writers was Bill Scheft, a funny man and golf-savvy guy whose uncle was Herbert Warren Wind. Bill’s mother, Herb’s sister, ran the Francis Ouimet Caddie Scholarship Fund in Boston for years. The family played at Thorny Lea.)

The following day, the Wednesday after his Open win, Lucas showed up at Hartford, the Tour’s next stop. He wasn’t going to skip Hartford just because he won his national open. That would be . . . weak. He once told me, years ago, that the best part of winning the Open wasn’t hoisting the trophy or being on Letterman or any of that, enjoyable though those things were. The best part was walking on the range at Hartford on that Wednesday and realizing the guys were looking at him . . . different.

It’s understandable. We all want higher status within our peer group. It’s in our nature. I mentioned that Hartford driving range moment to Lucas. He said that was then. He’s grown since then, his thinking has evolved. (His agent, Mac Barnhardt, is one of the great waiting-in-the-Delta-terminal philosophers in the game, with a special interest in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.) Lucas told Brian and me, 13 years after Bethpage and Letterman and Hartford, that he now looks for validation from deep within, not from others. The Tour leans young and Lucas will be 44 in November. He does his own thing, keeps his own counsel, is comfortable with a book as a dinner companion. Luke’s an old soul. 

Brian and I were adamant: Lucas should have been chosen for the Ryder Cup team this year. Keegan Bradley, too. Lucas offered only one firm opinion on this subject: Keegan should be going to Rome. I said that I didn’t think Brooks Koepka, famously a LIV golfer now, should be on the U.S. team. Brian (below) and Lucas felt otherwise, that he had earned his spot. It was all very civil. On the Upper West Side, debate is a way of life, now that the Sharks and the Jets aren’t rumbling anymore. West Side Story. Maybe you saw the new Spielberg version.

We probably talked about books as much as anything. In college, at Clemson, Lucas wasn’t much of a reader. For one thing, he didn’t take his read-this assignments well. For another, when he wasn’t playing golf he was often doing, let’s just say, fraternity activity. Now there’s little more he’d like to do than read, fiction and nonfiction. You can’t do crossword puzzles unless you read widely. Some of his favorite writers are Daniel Silva, Erik Larson, Ken Follet, John le Carré, early John Grisham.


Brian brought up Lawrence Block, Tim O’Brien, Harvey Penick, Sadhguru.

Lucas knew Block’s work, had heard of O’Brien, was very familiar with Penick and his whole take-dead-aim thing and was all ears on Sadhguru, a popular Indian philosopher, lecturer and writer who is 66, though to look at him, or listen to him, a better guess is ageless.

I am not qualified to try to summarize Sadhguru’s teachings, but my best guess, listening to Brian offer a two-minute discourse, is this: You have to clear out the clutter in your pursuit of joy. Lucas was all in on this subject. He told us he has been on that path with his own teachers as he has attempted to make more putts and lead a more fulfilling life. Who among us would not respond to those two goals? Speaking for myself, I’m all in. I’m guessing Brian is, too.

It was a splendid lunch, but short. I mean, not even two hours.

Nodding (covertly) to Fashion Week, I wore a white, old-style golf shirt (found on the great virtual yard sale, eBay) stenciled with the words USGA Executive Committee to our lunch. Yes, a very back-door path to the shirt, worn, I’d like to say, with a soupçon of irony. I prefer clothing that does not turn you into a walking ad for some kind of manufacturer.

Paul Reiser, a writer, actor and New Yorker, was one table over. On his way out, he said goodbye to Brian. I asked Reiser if he minded a quick fashion question: On his head was a plain dark baseball cap, no logos on it. Where could a fella get such a cap?

Reiser removed his chapeau, examined its fine print and said, “James Perse!”

The name meant nothing to me, but Lucas knew it.

“Yeah,” he said. Lucas showed me a tiny rectangular tag on the right shoulder of his shirt. As they say in the trade, he was wearing James Perse.

OK, two quick follow-ups. On Sunday night, after the tennis, I went to the James Perse website. He sells a “Scuba Trucker Hat” (waterproof? I have no idea) for $95.

The next day, Lucas sent a text to Brian and me: “I smell a book club starting.”

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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