A New Life for British Open Champ


2003 PGA ChampionshipROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) -- In Ben Curtis' former life, he would have been thrilled just to be playing in the PGA Championship.
That was only a month ago, but his life as a struggling rookie now seems so far away.
Curtis is not only at Oak Hill Country Club this week, but he's come with expectations -- the kind that winners of major championships often carry.
Funny how a silver claret jug can change everything.
'Obviously when you come off a major win and this is the next major you're going to be asked to play well,' Curtis said. 'I try not to worry about it.'
Worrying is not something that occupies a lot of Curtis' time.
He didn't worry when Tiger Woods and Davis Love III chased him down the back nine at Royal St. George's last month, only to lose when they couldn't make a few simple pars on the closing holes.
He's not worried about the sudden demands on his life and time that come with the British Open title.
He doesn't even worry about making his wedding, which is set for the same day he will play the third round of the NEC Invitational next week just down the road from his home in Ohio.
'Just hop in the car and be home in 20, 30 minutes,' Curtis said of his wedding plans.
Ordinary life goes on for the taciturn 26-year-old, who has tried to remain largely unaffected by the pressures and challenges of sudden fame.
His life has been anything but ordinary, though, since winning his first major championship in the only major championship he's ever played.
Consider just his last few weeks.
Curtis had gone to the David Letterman show before, but this time he was a guest instead of in the audience. He even managed to put Letterman in convulsions by misspeaking and saying Woods had an 'aroma' about him when he meant an 'aura.'
Curtis had been to a Cleveland Indians' game, but in the cheap seats. This time, he threw out the first ball, and put it right down the middle.
Oh, yeah, and there's that 25-minute meeting he had with President Bush in the Oval Office.
'That was pretty cool,' Curtis said.
Not much hasn't been cool since Curtis made a crucial par putt on the final hole, then waited it out while Thomas Bjorn collapsed and the chances of Woods and Love faded away on a warm Sunday last month on the English coast.
Curtis had been ecstatic just to get into the British, his first major.
Winning? Well, that certainly was a nice bonus.
'I knew I could win majors; I just didn't think it would happen this soon,' Curtis said. 'I thought maybe as soon as I got 10 or 12 under my belt, that maybe once I got in contention a couple of times I would. I was surprised to win, but at the same time, I wasn't.'
No more surprised than some of his fellow pros, none of whom knew who Curtis was.
'Obviously, Ben came out of the blue,' Padraig Harrington said. 'I wasn't familiar with his game.'
Neither was Woods, who was bitterly disappointed after two bogeys in the final four holes ruined his chances. Woods chatted with Curtis on the phone the day after his win, and again a few weeks later at the Buick Open.
Woods, who has some experience dealing with expectations, said Curtis will have to adjust to his new celebrity and the demands it places on him. Instead of sneaking into the PGA championship without notice like he did at the British Open, Curtis was followed by autograph seekers Tuesday and then had to spend some time in the media room doing interviews.
'One of the biggest things is to try to delegate his time so that he doesn't lose his focus and his preparation and his intensity for competing,' Woods said. 'He's got so much more responsibilities and attention than he ever has, it's going to be tough to try and delegate everything and get to where it feels comfortable.'
Curtis has played only once since winning the British Open, finishing 61st in the Buick Open. He was scheduled to play more, but pulled out so he could adjust to his newfound fame.
Curtis said he's not hitting the ball that well, but his short game is sharp and he's eager to test himself again.
'My goal is just to go out there and hit a lot of fairways and greens and try to keep it around the red numbers,' he said.
Could he win again? Probably not.
After all, 12 of the last 15 PGA Championships have gone to guys who haven't won major championships.
Ben Curtis doesn't fall into that category anymore.
Related Links:
  • TheGolfChannel.com Bio: Ben Curtis
  • 2003 PGA Championship Home
  • More News from the 2003 PGA Championship
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