The Long Road From the Far East to Scotland
Well, Curtis may have been the unknown. But Hamilton has had a solid, if somewhat unspectacular, career. He isnt the player you would pick for a major, but he isnt nearly the surprise Curtis was.
Curtis was 396th in the world when he won. Hamilton was 56th. Hamilton is 38 years old, Curtis was just 26. Hamilton has been a pro for 17 years, won 11 times in the Far East, and earlier this year ' his first on the PGA Tour after eight trips to Q-School ' he won at the Honda Classic. Curtis had been a pro for just three years and had compiled quite an amateur record in the U.S., but he was virtually unknown outside the borders.
Hamilton may have been unknown to golf fans, but his name certainly is well known to international players. Ernie Els knew him quite well long before this year.
Whenever our paths crossed, wherever we were in the world, we always had a nice chat, Els said. I always asked him how he was. I always knew he was a good player.
On the one hand, Curtis made a much more dramatic splash because absolutely no one could see it coming. But Hamilton, though a longshot, was at least on the radar screen, whether the average fan knew him or not.
His story is really quite interesting. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma and turned professional in 1987. Then he started on a long ordeal of trying to get his tour card, failing, and then going to the Asian Tour. In 1992 he was the leading money winner in the Far East, was able then to play fulltime in Japan, and for 10 years didnt go to the PGA Tour Q-School any longer.
There were the good times in Japan, as well as the bad times. Always, however, he kept his primary residence in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas. He would go to Japan and stay in a Tokyo hotel, then return to the States for a couple of weeks, making the journey perhaps five times a year. This had been ongoing since 1987.
He returned to Q-School in 2001 and 2002 - and missed. Then in 2003 he won four times on the Japanese Tour, and in the fall when he returned to the U.S., he finally got that seemingly impossible tour card.
For me to qualify for the PGA Tour and get my tour card was like winning the (British) Open Championship and allowed me a place to play, a place that I've always dreamt of playing, he said.
Hamilton had no idea what to expect. He knew he was good enough to win repeatedly in Japan. But how would that translate to the American courses? He had no idea.
I knew I worked hard, said Hamilton. Sometimes I think what kept me back - two things, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and a lot of times I felt like tournaments like this, if I happened to get into them, I didn't really feel that I belonged.
Those days in Japan are still so vivid in his memory. The days spent on the golf course and sometimes the days spent just being there, having missed a cut.
I remember a stretch, oh, I think it was two or three years ago, I went over for six weeks and missed every cut, said Hamilton. It was probably the longest month and a half I've ever had playing golf. It was so boring.
I did have a DVD machine, portable DVD machine that I took over, but you can only watch 15 movies so many times.
But I think it forced you to play well. If you didn't play well, you knew you were going to be in for a long Saturday, a long Sunday, a long Monday, Tuesday was going to be a practice round and I wasn't getting in the Pro Ams on Wednesday, so I had five long days to wait to get a chance for the next round.
He came perilously close to being forced out of tournament golf and into a club-pro job. The two men who were sponsoring him had just about decided to pull the plug before the 92 season. But they decided to hang in one more year. And that was a big year for Hamilton with the money title victory.
The British Open win, though, was a victory for all the players in Asia, in Japan, in Canada, in Australia and South Africa who are dismissed out of hand as potential major-tour champions. These guys are indeed good, as much as the ads say the PGA Tour players are good.
I've always felt that if you go through the trials and tribulations throughout a four-day tournament and win a golf tournament, that can only benefit you in the long run, he said. He mentioned Zach Johnson as a guy who won multiple times on the Nationwide Tour, then won this year when he got to the big time.
So I hope our victories we've had can spur guys, whether they're rookies on the PGA Tour, guys on the Canadian Tour, guys on the Hooters Tour or the Challenge Tour here in Europe. If they look at us and see, if that guy can do it, who's that guy, I should be able to do that. I think that's good for the game of golf.
And if Hamilton can do it, so can a lot of those no-names, he was saying. Many are like him, playing in a foreign country where the culture is different but the golf is the same.
I enjoy playing golf, he said, sometimes to a fault But it beats working, that's for sure.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.