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No player in the 112th U.S. Open had more experience than Michael Allen. Not in life (he's 53) and not at Olympic (he has played a thousand rounds there). Like Tiger, he has logged a lot of hours with Hank Haney and moved on. (Allen is way better for the distance.) Like Jim Furyk, he's come to the 18th on the Lake course desperate for a birdie. Furyk on Sunday was playing for a second U.S. Open title. Allen has stood on the home green playing for junior titles he was never good enough to win and, in his fallow years as a pro, for money he did not have.
What a golfing life this guy has led. On Sunday afternoon, when his workweek was over, Allen sat in the Olympic clubhouse and watched Jason Dufner and Michael Thompson and Webb Simpson go by in the flesh, and Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington go by on a grill-room flat screen. Forty years in the game have left him with some kind of connection to those six and a thousand others. He played the Tour with Spencer Levin's father, and with Spencer Levin. It was only a few years ago that Allen was playing in minor Tour events with the new U.S. Open winner, one guy starting his career, the other trying to extend it, each trying to keep a Tour card. The whole point of Michael Allen's career is that a guy can improve. Actually, the same is true for young Webb.
Allen played 369 Tour events before turning 50 in January 2009. No wins. Then came his first senior event, the '09 Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury. He won it. This year, at the PGA Tour stop in Mexico, he had a top 10 finish. Last week he shot rounds of 71, 73, 77 and 73, finished 56th and earned $21,995. He is better now than he has ever been.
He finished ahead of Rory McIlory (MC), Phil Mickelson (65th) and 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley (68th), with whom he played on Sunday. They did not compare their PGA trophies or any other notes, really. Allen likes a conversation, but you know these kids. On 17, Allen, a husband and father of two girls, lit a Cuban Father's Day cigar given to him by Miguel-Angel Jimenez.
Allen understood the national championship shots he and his 71 Sunday competitors were playing better than Johnny Miller. Allen was worried about McDowell's final tee shot while it was still in the foggy evening air. "That hurts," Allen said when the shot landed on the fairway but settled in the first cut of rough. "You can't stop it off that lie."
From that fluffy launching pad, McDowell hit a beautiful approach that finished 25 feet above the hole. "From the fairway, that shot would have been 10 feet closer," Allen said. A nine-iron off Olympic's well-barbered fairways will spin like Bill Walton at a Grateful Dead concert, and Tour players will make 15-footers. Lots of them. But a 25-footer to force a U.S. Open playoff? Now you're waiting for a miracle. Simpson won from the house.
On Sunday afternoon Allen probably should have been in the NBC booth with Johnny, who was also a junior golfer at Olympic way back when. But instead Allen was in a crowded grill room, sitting at a round table with the leader in the clubhouse, 27-year-old Michael Thompson, who had finished at two over par.
"Don't get too comfortable," Allen told him.
"The playoff is on Monday," said somebody at the table.
"In that case, get a cocktail," Allen said. The table laughed. U.S. Open golf is tense.