British Open Champ to Join European Tour

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2003, 5:00 pm
Ben Curtis is full of surprises.
First, he stunned the golf world by winning the British Open in his first major. Ranked 396th in the world, he beat an intimidating collection of stars, including Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
A month later, Curtis refused to let a $6 million World Golf Championship get in the way of his wedding, so he got married between the third and final rounds.
Next up for Curtis might be the most unusual step of all: The 26-year-old from Ohio is joining the European tour.
'Why?' Tiger Woods wondered when told of the decision.
Curtis can expect that kind of reaction.
Winning the British Open put a silver claret jug in his trophy case, $1.1 million in the bank and a five-year PGA Tour exemption in his pocket.
That means he can play his choice of $5 million tournaments on perfectly manicured courses, with the best practice facilities, and compete against the best players in the world.
Why play anywhere else?
'I just feel like it's something I should do as the Open champion,' Curtis said. 'It's such a worldwide event, not to say the other ones aren't. But this is more of one because of the history. I have a right to travel around and play in other parts of the world.'
For most guys in his position, that PGA Tour exemption is the best perk that comes with winning a major.
But the triumph at Royal St. George's opened Curtis' eyes to a world Curtis never really knew existed.
He went to Monte Carlo for a brief honeymoon in September before playing at the Lancome Trophy in France, and a month later he returned to England for the World Match Play Championship. Hearing himself introduced as the Open champion - and the ovations he received - gave him a sense of obligation.
That's when he sat down with his agent, Peter Malik, and tossed out the idea of holding dual memberships on the PGA and European tours.
'It surprised me that he was thinking about it,' Malik said. 'He said, 'What would be the consequences of joining the European tour? Is that something I could do?' He feels the responsibility of an Open champion is supporting that tour.'
Curtis is not abandoning the PGA Tour; he still plans to play 18-20 events.
Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke and Sergio Garcia are among those who are members of both tours, although the list contains precious few Americans - John Daly last year, and now Curtis.
Sometimes, Americans take up European tour membership when their game's not yet good enough for the PGA Tour. Bob May, Gary Nicklaus and Glen Day are among those who started in Europe.
But rarely does a guy who's exempt for five years even bother with anything but the PGA Tour.
'I think it's fantastic,' Clarke said. 'I think it will be good for his game. All you've got to do is look at Tiger. He plays around the world - Ernie, too. Europe has a lot to offer.'
British Open champions receive a 10-year exemption on the European tour, where membership requires $160 in dues and a minimum of 11 tournaments. The four majors and World Golf Championships count toward that number (Curtis is exempt only for the Accenture Match Play Championship).
It sounds as if Curtis will see more of Els than Woods the first part of the year.
He will start his season with two PGA Tour events in Hawaii, then head to Thailand for the Johnnie Walker Classic. Another tournament in Australia or South Africa is a possibility.
He probably will play six or seven regular European tour events, bunching them together to limit the number of flights over the ocean.
It might not make sense to most people, but it does to Curtis.
He is newly married with no children, an opportune time to see the world with his wife, Candace. He also believes it will help his game, not only testing himself under a variety of conditions, but perhaps getting into contention more often against fields that aren't nearly as strong top-to-bottom as they are in the United States.
Plus, he's treated like a major champion overseas, and not a one-hit wonder that some suspect he is.
'He doesn't get the respect he deserves,' Clarke said. 'He's the Open champion.'
Still, it's a decision that will raise eyebrows.
Global travel, especially coming off a major championship, smacks of appearance money.
That isn't the case with Curtis.
While his European schedule has not been released, three of the tournaments on his itinerary don't pay for playing. And even those that do won't be giving him anywhere near what Els or Garcia might command.
Including the British Open, Woods has scheduled at least three overseas trips each year since 1997. While he was curious about Curtis' decision, he believes it will make him a better player.
'You have to deal with different weather conditions, grasses, different environments,' Woods said. 'I love playing around the world. You learn so much about yourself and your game.'
Getty Images

Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

Getty Images

Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

Getty Images

DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

Getty Images

Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.