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Allen has a reputation as a wine man, and it is true that he once won a tournament in Bordeaux and a barrel of wine accompanied his victory. But he also won the 1989 Scottish Open, and he likes the malts. This is a man who visits museums, plays chess and has a dream about owning a pied-à-terre in San Francisco. He's not your ordinary touring pro. Earlier this year he won a Champions tour event, the Legends of Golf, with another wine buff, David Frost.
It wasn't that long ago that Allen was a teaching pro at Winged Foot—a lousy one, in his assessment—trying to get a job at a Donald Trump course. He figured out golf at (roughly) age 47, with the help of a California teacher named Mike Mitchell, who put him in clubs that are four degrees flatter than standard. "On my worst days I know I'm going to be in the ballpark," Allen says. To borrow a phrase, he owns his swing.
Allen watched Tiger make a few swings on Sunday and said, "It's a way better swing than it was under Hank. Hank gives you so many things to do, there's not enough time in a day to practice it all."
As for the new swing, Allen didn't need to see Tiger's weekend scores to realize that he did not yet own his own new action. Ten years ago, when Woods won the U.S. Open at Bethpage, Allen played behind Woods for the first two rounds. He couldn't believe how quickly Woods pulled clubs and played shots. At the '08 Open at Torrey Pines, in the Woods-Haney heyday, Allen couldn't believe how many practice swings Woods made before he played shots. Tiger won the hardware but didn't own the swing. The pros see a different game than we do.
They say the Eskimos have 100 words for snow, and native San Franciscans, like Allen, have a goodly number for fog. There's summer fog and winter fog. There's pea-soup fog and misting fog and something called tule fog. (The Scots have haar.) Fog comes thick and thin and in between. Shortly after Allen finished his Sunday round at 2 p.m., the Great 2012 U.S. Open Heat Wave (78° and beautiful) came to an abrupt end, leaving behind brown and crispy fairways and greens. By the time Furyk and McDowell headed off the 1st tee, with Allen turning his attention to the marathon TV broadcast, a chilly fog bank had rolled in.
"It's not so much that the course conditions will radically change," Allen said. "It's that the guys won't know how to allow for the changes." To the players the greens looked slower than they were. Bounces in front of the green and on them were unpredictable. Els and Furyk and McDowell got fooled again and again.
Allen could see the confusion in Furyk's expressive face. He could see it when Furyk stood on the tee of the par-5 16th, played from a spot about 100 yards forward from where it had been in the first three rounds. The duck-hook tee shot didn't surprise Allen a bit. "It was coming," he said.
Allen wasn't trying to sound like the Answer Man. He said, "This is what I do." As a junior golfer at Olympic and as a college golfer at Reno, Michael Allen was never anything special. He didn't really get serious about golf until about 1984, after college. The U.S. Open was coming to Olympic, and Allen made it a goal to play in the 1987 Open at his home course. He didn't make it. When the Open returned to Olympic 11 years later, he wasn't in the field again. For Allen, the third time was the charm.
At the start of last week he thought three under would be a winning score and believed he could shoot it. "I'd have to do everything right, but I thought I could," he said. Viewed through that narrow prism, his week was a disappointment. Viewed every other way, it was a smashing success. The next oldest finisher was Stephen Ames, age 48. There's something to be said for being a late bloomer. Webb Simpson and Tiger Woods wouldn't know about that, but Allen does. Maybe those guys will be done with golf at 53. Allen has a long bucket list.
He has never played in a Masters. He figures his only chance to get in is to win on the regular Tour. As soon as the 2013 schedule comes out, he'll be looking for the dates of the Mexico tournament. As for the '13 U.S. Open at Merion, you can sign him up for qualifying right now. He got into the Olympic Open as a qualifier.