Glen day has a classic U.S. Open demeanor. Between shots, his face—a perfect oval, blank and unlined—reveals nothing. On the course you see neither his joy nor his disappointment. You see neither the miles he has logged nor his back-road smarts.
Ernie Els, Hale Irwin, Lee Janzen, Larry Nelson, Andy North, Scott Simpson—they're all pretty much like Day. They won their Opens without ever showing their teeth. Day did not win the U.S. Open last week at the Olympic Club, but watching him closely, you realize he has the game and the temperament to win a national championship—if not ours, maybe the one being played in Great Britain next month.
You realize that his position on the money list this year—he's ninth after winning $33,960 for finishing 23rd at Olympic—is not a fluke. You get the feeling he'll be an effective player for the U.S. on the Presidents Cup team, which he's in the running to make. Yes, he's 32 and doesn't have much of a track record. He hasn't won in the U.S., where he has played since 1994. He didn't win in Europe, where he played for three years before that, and he won only once in Asia, where he played for two years before that. But give him time. That's what he gives himself.
When he wins, there'll be a big ol' party. Off on the side, sitting on a beach chair, will be the mellow host, drinking a Coors' Light out of a can, pinching his wife's bottom in front of the guests, telling an old story about trying to beat the price of a hotel room by taking an all-night drive from Spain to France in his caddie's raggedy, foul-smelling mobile home. He'll talk to you like a long-lost brother, even if he has never met you before. "I come from nothing," he says in a brogue that is pure Mississippi. "Who am I to get all uppity?"
Who he is, is one of the best putters in golf, highly skilled in all the fine arts (chipping, pitching, bunker shots), with a fade-only ball flight that never gets him in too much trouble. (He's a recovering hooker.) Where he's from is Poplarville, Miss., a town so tiny it was a half-hour drive to the nearest movie theater (which comes out thee-A-tur when Day says it). From his childhood home—"nothing special, not one of them old-timey houses you're probably thinking of"—to the nearest golf course, Pearl River Valley, was a 20-mile drive. "It was a field with nine holes and they mowed it," Day says. "My granddaddy helped build it. Knocked off the top of a hill, and that was a tee. Did the same thing for the greens."
Poplarville High had no golf team until Day talked the school's principal into starting one. "First year, I was the only guy on it," he says. "Then I got other guys. I told 'em, 'Hey, man, you don't have to go to school on Tuesdays when we got matches.' We might've had one other guy who could break a hundred."
In some ways Poplarville remains the center of Day's universe. "Poplarville was a great place to grow up," he says. "We were sheltered from the problems of the world. Didn't need money to do anything. I'd go down to the store to get bread. They knew Glyndol Bass was my granddaddy and Jeanne Day was my mother. That's who I lived with, 'long with my sister. [Day's father died when Glen was eight.] They'd say, 'We'll put it on the tab.' There was no crime in Poplarville. No drugs. I was a fifth-year senior at Oklahoma before I ever saw drugs. My wife, same deal. Small-town all the way. She's from Perryville, Arkansas. Population: 1,141." Now Day and his wife, Jennifer Ralston-Day, along with their two daughters, Whitney, 3, and Christina, 2, live in Little Rock. But they ain't exactly yuppies.
"I am fixing to kill that marshal!" Jennifer was saying on Friday afternoon while walking the Olympic course in pursuit of her husband. Glen was either trying to make the cut or trying to get in contention, hard to say which. She knows a thing or two about golf-course etiquette. Her father, two uncles and brother are all golf professionals. (Her father, Bob, paid for his daughter's wedding by teaming with Glen in the Lake of the Ozarks Pro-Am in Missouri. The duo spent $2,500 betting on themselves in a Calcutta and won back about $15,000.) Jennifer knows the game, and she knows an inept marshal when she encounters one. "I'm trying to get this woman's attention," she says, "so I can cross over and see Glen's birdie putt, and she's off staring at some tee where Fred Couples is at, drool running down the side of her face."
Jennifer was hiking the course with Keds on her feet, a Donna Karan knapsack on her back and a Danielle Steel novel in her hands, which she would read while her husband was making swings. Once the ball was in the air, she would look at Glen and interpret the quality of the shot from his body language. Day's is exceedingly subtle, but Jennifer understands it. "Eight years of practice," she says.
Each knows the other's moves. Late on Wednesday afternoon, after the final practice round, Day waited patiently in his courtesy car in the players' parking lot while Jennifer went on a souvenir-buying spree in the USGA merchandise tent. While she shopped, Day chatted with his practice-round partner, Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus's son Gary and Day became friends when they played on the European tour, and now whenever Day and Jack play in the same tournament, they have a practice round together. "It's no big deal," Day says. "Mr. Nicklaus is a very nice man who happens to be the greatest golfer who ever played."