The Long Road From the Far East to Scotland


So, Todd Hamilton is a clone of Ben Curtis, we are told. You know, major league surprise and all that. For the second time in two years, they say, we have a British Open winner who was a nobody.
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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