An Unknown No More

By Golf Channel NewsroomAugust 10, 2003, 4:00 pm
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) -- The phone calls started pouring into his Arkansas home not long after a 500-1 long shot named Ben Curtis won the British Open.
 
Jack Fleck understood the reason for the sudden attention.
 
He pulled off a shocker of his own in the 1955 U.S. Open, making two birdies on the final four holes at The Olympic Club to tie the great Ben Hogan, then beating him the next day in a playoff for his first professional victory.
 
Jack Fleck, meet Ben Curtis.
 
'He came out of nowhere to win. I came out of nowhere to win,' said Fleck, his voice vibrant and his memory clear at age 81. 'The only difference is, he didn't play Tiger Woods in an 18-hole playoff.'
 
But just like Fleck, no one gave the 26-year-old Curtis a chance at Royal St. George's.
 
A rookie playing in his first major, he outplayed Woods, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia and Kenny Perry, and posted his 69 about the time Thomas Bjorn self-destructed in a pot bunker.
 
He became the first player since Francis Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open to win a major in his first try.
 
'Sometimes innocence is bliss,' Woods said. 'He didn't really understand the whole situation. He was just going out there playing, nothing to lose, and he had everything to gain. Sometimes that's a lethal combination.
 
'I think it's a fantastic story.'
 
There are plenty just like it in golf history.
 
Curtis and Fleck are among a collection of improbable winners in the majors, a list that runs from Ouimet to Sam Parks Jr. in the 1935 U.S. Open, from John Daly in the '91 PGA Championship to Rich Beem last year at Hazeltine.
 
Surprising winners, yes.
 
But a fluke?
 
Fleck still bristles at the notion.
 
'I didn't really appreciate hearing that at the time,' he said.
 
The 1955 U.S. Open was Fleck's only victory in the 1950s. Still, he went on to win the Phoenix Open and Bakersfield Open, lost two other PGA Tour events in a playoff and tied for third behind Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in the 1960 U.S. Open.
 
'I thought I should have won more than I did,' Fleck said.
 
Ouimet went on to greater things. He won two U.S. Amateur titles -- at the time considered majors -- played on nine consecutive Walker Cup teams and was the first American to be captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
 
The 1979 Masters was the second victory for Fuzzy Zoeller, and he was the first player in the modern era to win at Augusta National in his first appearance. He later won a U.S. Open and seven other titles in a successful career.
 
Jeff Sluman made his first victory the 1988 PGA Championship, and has won five more times and earned more than $12 million in a steady career.
 
For others, it's too early to tell.
 
Daly, who captivated golf with his behemoth tee shots at Crooked Stick, has four PGA Tour victories. Two of them are majors -- he followed up his '91 PGA by winning at hallowed St. Andrews in the 1995 British Open.
 
'To see my name on two major trophies probably makes up for not winning 17 times,' Daly once said.
 
Beem was only surprising because of his pedigree.
 
He wasn't a junior golf prodigy like Phil Mickelson or David Duval. Beem once worked as an assistant pro, walked off the Dakotas Tour to sell car stereos in Seattle, then finally returned to the tour. He had won twice -- including his previous start at the International -- before holding off Woods to win the PGA Championship.

Beem hasn't won since then, and his career on the course might be like Daly's. Both are streaky, and unstoppable when the stars are aligned.
 
'A lot of people call my win a fluke,' Beem said. 'I'm going to give you the honest answer, because I've been thinking about it for a while. Yes, my career has been a fluke. It would be like a guy who works at a printing press for a couple of years, and about five years later he writes a Pulitzer prize-winning novel.
 
'I've gone from making $15,000 as a very bad assistant golf professional to winning the ultimate,' he said. 'I'm very streaky, but when I'm good, I'm very good. When I'm not playing so well, I'm just as bad as everybody else.'
 
Where does that leave Curtis?
 
He was a three-time Ohio Amateur champion, winning one year by 17 strokes, and he reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in 1999. Golfweek magazine ranked him No. 1 among amateurs before he turned pro.
 
Unknown, yes, but not without talent.
 
'I figured once I got there, I had the game for this level,' Curtis said. 'It was just a matter of time.'
 
In some respects, the pressure is off. He has a major (unlike Mickelson or Sergio Garcia), and his PGA Tour card is locked up for the next five years.
 
Then again, expectations are higher than ever for the British Open champion.
 
They will start this week at Oak Hill, Curtis' second major but first as a major champion. Expectations probably will follow him the rest of his career.
 
Fluke?
 
Or star in the making?
 
'I want to go out and prove to everybody that I belong out here, and that the win was no fluke,' Curtis said. 'Time will tell. It should not just be based on this week or the next few weeks. It should be based on between now and next summer. I'm going to take it one day at a time and try to keep getting better.'
 
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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

    @tommyfleetwood_1

    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

    The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

    It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

    "It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

    Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

    "This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."