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3:00AM

RealClearSports: Open But Not Shut Case for Jeff Brehaut

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- It was golf's version of Waterworld, the non-Olympic 18-hole breast-beater stroke. No Michael Phelps. No Dara Torres. And if you were looking at the top of the leader board, no Tiger Woods, who told us in what wasn't breaking news, "It was pretty wet and windy.''

But there was a Jeff Brehaut, unexpected Jeff Brehaut, persistent Jeff Brehaut, upbeat Jeff Brehaut and, as anybody else who managed to get on the course Thursday during the first round of the splish-splash-I-ain't-taking-a-bath U.S. Open, a very damp Jeff Brehaut.

Jeff Brehaut, in only his second major in 27 years as a pro, in front of Tiger Woods and everyone else. If only temporarily.

"But it's still totally cool,'' said Brehaut, pronounced as the French would, "Bray-Oh.''

Asked if he'd ever been ahead of Tiger in a tournament before this one, Brehaut -- 46 and from Los Altos, Calif., down the road from San Francisco -- responded, "Yes, but not in a major.''

Particularly a major that virtually floated away to Long Island Sound. Especially a major in which nobody played more than 11 holes before the Bethpage Black course in places literally was underwater.

Tiger and his playing partners, Masters champion Angel Cabrera and PGA and British Open champion Padraig Harrington, made it six holes. Brehaut, in the first group off the 10th tee, got in 11, and he was 1-under par, while Tiger was 1-over.

When Brehaut, Greg Kraft and J.P.Hayes made it to their 11th hole, or the second at Bethpage, it was 10:15 a.m. EDT. It was also the end of the round. "It,'' Brehaut explained about Bethpage, "couldn't handle it any more.''

That Jeff Brehaut, a graduate of the University of the Pacific, 12-time failure at the PGA Tour qualifying school, has been able to handle it, meaning the struggle, is the real issue.

"Not everyone is a college All-American,'' he said, "and gets on Tour their first or second crack. And I'm living proof. I went to Q-School 13 times before I got through when I was 35. I played mini-tour golf the first four, five, six years. I played the Nike Tour, now the Nationwide Tour, for six straight years in the '90s. When I finally got on Tour it was a big deal.''

As big a deal as leading the Open, if it's not quite a full round of leading. As big a deal as holing a couple of shots from a bunker at the 9th hole back-to-back in Wednesday's practice round while fans waiting for Phil Mickelson applaud and scream.

"I was jumping up and down like Bob Tway when he beat Greg Norman," said Brehaut, referring to Tway's holing a shot off a bunker in the 1986 PGA. "I pumped my fist. I signed half an hour worth of autographs. Afterwards, I felt like I had just won the tournament.''

And a day later he was leading the tournament, if only through 11 holes.

Twenty-five years he was a professional golfer before qualifying for a major, the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. By a shot, he missed gaining exemption to last year's Open at Torrey Pines, the one Tiger Woods won on a bad leg.

Now Brehaut has returned.

"My journey is different from that of most guys,'' he conceded. Jeff has a family. Jeff has had some decent payoffs, his earnings now past $3.7 million, but there were months of driving with his family from one event to another with little progress.

"But it's been worth it. What kept me going? Desire. I love golf. This is what I always love to do. I like the competition. I like the camaraderie.''

Gene Brehaut, 76, Jeff's father, was out there slogging through the rough and rain, proud, delighted. "He was jumping out of his skin,'' said the son.

Jeff Brehaut rarely gets the spotlight. He stays back in the chorus, a necessity instead of a star. "A lot of us,'' he said without rancor, "have to be the guys everybody else beats up on.''

He almost left golf. Almost. An option was to flip houses, buy one cheap, fix it up, and sell it at a higher price. That was before all the foreclosures. That was before he regained his confidence in the early'90s.

That was before he played in his first U.S. Open.

The third round at Oakmont in 2007, as he was about to hole out for birdie at 18, Brehaut paused to watch Tiger drive from the adjacent 12th tee.

"I wasn't going to miss that opportunity," Brehaut said.

Two years later he had an opportunity to lead in another U.S. Open. He didn't miss that opportunity either.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/06/18/open_but_not_shut_case_for_jeff_brehaut_96397.html
© RealClearSports 2009
9:13PM

RealClearSports: Phil and His Not-So-Private Struggle

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- We are taking part in Phil Mickelson’s private life made public. We are listening to his words, feeling his pain, understanding his fears, wishing him and Amy only the best.

It is never easy for any family when cancer strikes. It must be worse for someone famous, a movie star, an athletic hero, a face we know, a golfer we respect.

Always there is another good wish, always another tear, always another request for an interview.

The 109th U.S. Open starts today at Bethpage muni’s Black Course, where Mickelson, who played so well in the Open seven years ago, hopes to find success. And perhaps relief.

The country was made aware a few weeks ago. Amy Mickelson had breast cancer. Pink ribbons fluttered. Phil dropped off the Tour.

A week ago, at Memphis, the tournament named for St. Jude, ironically the patron saint of desperate causes, Phil returned. His game did not.

Mickelson closed with a 75, a tie for 59th. And now it is the most difficult tournament of any year, America’s national championship, the event with the high rough and slick greens where any mistake is magnified.

Phil says he is ready. Ready for the competition. Ready for what lies ahead. The family, Amy, the three children, normally at every tournament, is home in southern California. Where Phil’s thoughts will be is the question.

This is Mickelson country. Tiger remains the attraction, as well as the favorite, but here on Long Island, where both Bethpage and Shinnecock Hills are located, and across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Phil is idolized.

At the ’02 Open at Bethpage, the ’04 Open at Shinnecock, the ’06 PGA Championship at Baltusrol in Jersey, the support and the shouts were overwhelming.

It was a Yankees crowd. A Mets crowd. A crowd boisterous and partisan. A crowd that called Phil Mickelson “The Mick.” A crowd that may be exactly what he needs this week, along with an accurate game off the tee.

“It could be that support helps carry me through on emotionally when I’m on the course,” Mickelson said Wednesday. “I’m certainly hoping for that.”

So are many others. Phil has won two Masters and one PGA. He’s never won an Open. He lost one, as we recall, not far away from here, in 2006 at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck up the road from Manhattan, when he blew a final-round lead with a double bogey on the 72nd hole.

It was agony. “I am such an idiot,” he said that fateful Sunday. This is agony of another sort. This is trying to keep one’s mind on a game where any slip could mean failure while 2,500 miles away a wife waits with her doubts.

There are expressions of sympathy. There are comments of understanding. Darren Clarke went through this torture a few years back. For Tiger Woods it was a similar ordeal as his father was dying from cancer.

“Is it easy?” Tiger asked rhetorically when discussing Mickelson’s situation -- and his own. “No, it’s not easy.

“Everywhere you go, people are reminding you of it, and you can’t get away from it. And you think that the golf course would be your escape, but it’s not. You’re surrounded by people wishing you well . . . but then again they keep reminding you of the circumstance you’re dealing with on a daily basis, and you can’t get away from it.”

Mickelson, whose 39th birthday was Tuesday, said the timing for the Open could not have been better. Amy is awaiting treatment and probably surgery. The future is a blur. So Phil will grasp the present.

“It will be a fun week,” he said of the Open. In 2002 he finished second at Bethpage, three strokes behind Tiger.

“I'm putting everything I have into this week, because I don’t anticipate being able to play for a while.”

A vacation is planned. Then comes the treatment.

“You’d never know what she was going through,” Mickelson said of his wife. “When we get started it will be different, but she’s an amazing person . . . how she treats people, how she interacts . . . and I think it’s hard for me to see somebody who is such good person go through something so difficult.”

Mickelson insisted despite his finish at Memphis he hit the ball well, attempting to replicate shots he would need at Bethpage. He has mapped out a game plan, when to be bold, if ever on an Open layout, when to be prudent.

Amy Mickelson offered her advice. “She’s left me a number of little notes, texts, cards, hints,” said Phil, “that she would like to have a silver trophy in her hospital room. So I’m going to try and accommodate that.”

The rest of us, invading Phil’s world, can only say good luck.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/06/18/phil_and_his_not-so_private_struggle.html

© RealClearSports 2009
9:59PM

SF Examiner: It's Tiger's U.S. Open to lose



By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Kobe one week, Tiger the next. From a large leather ball to a small dimpled one. From a hardwood court to soft fairways. From one champion to another.

The NBA playoffs, Kobe Bryant’s showcase, are done. The U.S. Open, Tiger Woods’ stage, is here, starting Thursday. What we got from Kobe — excellence, success — we’re expecting to get from Tiger.

“I like my chances in any major,” Tiger said Tuesday. We all like his chances.

The national championship, that’s what the Open is for golfers, a test of skill and will, an event of thick rough and high pressure where brains count no less than brawn.

“I just enjoy having to think your way around a golf course,” Tiger said.

This is the damp greenness of Long Island, 30 miles from Manhattan. This is where the Open went public for the first time when the 2002 Open was held at a muni, if you can call Bethpage Black a muni when it has a sign warning it is “An extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.”

This is where Tiger, or as crowds here pronounce it, “Ti-guh,” won and very likely could win again.

Some asked him, “In your opinion, who do you think at this point is the best golfer of all-time and why?”

“Jack,” responded Woods. He didn’t feel obligated to add, “Nicklaus.”

And Tiger? “He’s got 18. I’m at 14.”

Meaning major pro championships. Kobe is at four, meaning NBA championships, and Tiger, the Lakers fan, who grew up in Southern California, identifies with Bryant.

“His work ethic is phenomenal,” Tiger said of Kobe, as certainly Kobe could have said about Tiger.

“The hours he puts in, from just shooting on his own,” Woods pointed out, “to all the film study. Look at how he guides his team.

“That’s steady. That’s knowing the offenses, the defense you’re going against, basically all the chess pieces.”

That’s preparation, something of which Tiger prides himself.

Woods could become the first person ever with 10 U.S. Golf Association championships. He has three junior amateurs, three amateurs and three Opens, a total of nine.

Woods also could become the first to win back-to-back Opens in 20 years, since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 and the second in 70 years, Ben Hogan finishing first in 1950-51.

“Generally,” Tiger said of why the repeat is so rare, “this is the hardest major we face all year.”

Tiger took the 2008 Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, also a muni, on a left knee so painful he winced after every shot. Surgery on the anterior-cruciate ligament a few days later kept him out of the game eight months and there were struggles after his return in February.

But he won the Memorial, Jack’s tournament, a week and a half ago, hitting every fairway from the tee in the final round, and Nicklaus not-so-boldly predicted Woods would win this Open.

Next year, the Open returns to Pebble Beach. In 2012, it’s at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Every Open is different. Every Open is the same.

“You’ve got to grind it out and make pars,” Tiger said. “How you do is up to you.”

Tiger will find a way. As in another sport, Kobe found a way.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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http://www.sfexaminer.com/sports/Spander-Its-Tigers-US-Open-to-lose-48214222.html
Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company
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