As Mark Wiebe stood in a hallway at Congressional Country Club Monday after registering to play in this week’s U.S. Open, veteran Bob Gilder walked by, then stopped for a moment to pat him on the back. “Good playing, bud,” he said.
Wiebe was the heartbreak loser of the Kemper Open on Sunday night when he missed two short putts for pars on his last two holes, allowing 24-year-old Texan Justin Leonard to win the tournament by a shot.
On the verge of winning his first tournament in 11 years, Wiebe fell apart, and many people who saw it were sharing his pain Monday.
“Everybody felt sorry for the old guy,” Wiebe, 39, said before going out to play a practice round for the Open. “No one really knows what to say. They get on the telephone and say, ‘Wow.’ Everyone is trying to be so nice. People have just been wonderful.”
When he got back to his hotel, Wiebe said a desk clerk told him how sorry he was about Wiebe’s finish. There were a half dozen telephone calls, one from his wife, Cathy, back home in Denver, another from his father, Mack, in Portland, Ore.
When he checked into a new hotel Monday, the man behind him in line told him how badly he felt for him.
“The girl bringing up my luggage said something,” Wiebe said, smiling broadly. “And then I get on the elevator and there’s a husband and wife and she says to me, ‘I watched for the last two days, and my heart is bleeding.’ It was very kind.”
And his family, of course, held him up and built him up.
“My dad went over every shot with me,” Wiebe said. “He just kept pumping at me. He said, ‘I never saw you three-putt that many greens.’ But he also kept telling me to remember the good shots. He kept saying, ‘The drive at 18, your second shot at 16.’ Mom and Dad are coming all the way here on Friday. My wife and kids will be here tomorrow. For Cathy, it’s probably harder to watch, sometimes, than [for Wiebe to] play. I don’t know what she said other than, ‘I’m so sorry.’ ”
Wiebe’s fellow professionals were also sympathetic. Almost every player who was asked said they’d all been there and done that, and wouldn’t wish that on their worst enemy. Wiebe said when he saw Paul Stankowski, “He hugged me. I saw Nick Faldo, and he said, ‘Tough luck.’ ”
“It’s happened to all of us,” said Curtis Strange. “Hey, that’s golf. It’s how you score for 72 holes. He had a four-shot lead, and we’ve all had four-shot leads and lost. I’m sure he’s hurting today and will hurt for a while.”
When Strange was told that Wiebe said he was getting over it and would “bury it in a couple of days,” he had a one-word response.
“Bull,” said Strange. “That’s B-U-L-L.”
Added Fred Funk: “You hate to see it from anyone. He was playing so good. All I saw was the last two holes. I was rooting for him. You couldn’t not root for him. And to do it the way he did it. There are better ways to lose a golf tournament. He played good all week. He’s got to focus on how well he played and not those last two (holes). But that’s going to be hard to do.”
Wiebe said Monday he’s trying.
“You replay the stuff in your mind,” he said. “I don’t repeat 17 and 18 as much as I do number 8 and 9.” Wiebe bogeyed both those holes, too, missing putts of three and 3 1/2 feet.
Wiebe also said he had to laugh about the crowd at the 18th trying to tell him which way his 22-foot, right-to-left birdie putt was going to break as he lined it up.
“I heard ‘em,” Wiebe said. “I got a kick out of it. I wanted to turn around and say ‘Oh, really? Did you think it was going to break to the right?’ ”
Sunday was not without it’s lighter side for Wiebe, however. As he and playing partner Mike Springer were waiting on the sixth tee to hit their drives, a car drove by behind them and someone yelled, “I hate golf!”
“I hate bowling!” Wiebe yelled back. Then he birdied the hole.