One Year Later Curtis Victory Hard to Fathom

By Associated PressJuly 12, 2004, 4:00 pm
OSTRANDER, Ohio -- Bob Curtis showed up at sunrise, like he does every day, to mow the greens on a public golf course that his father-in-law built with a tractor and his son made famous with a claret jug.
Mill Creek Golf Club does not look like a course where British Open champions are bred.
It is hidden away in the heart of Ohio, down a two-lane road that winds past grain elevators and two-story houses, painted white with black shutters, American flags hanging from the balcony. Basketball rims (no nets) are hammered onto the sides of red barns with patches of dirt beneath them.
This Sunday morning was different.
Turning past a row of stately trees, the first thing Curtis noticed was a mobile television tower in the parking lot at Mill Creek. Sure, he was aware his son, Ben Curtis, was two shots out of the lead going into the final round of the British Open. But while folks in rural Ohio are strengthened by hope, they are grounded in reality.
Curtis trailed proven players like Thomas Bjorn and Davis Love III. He was tied with heavyweights Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. He was ranked No. 396 in the world, a PGA Tour rookie in his first major championship. Not many people gave him much of a chance.
Not even his dad.
``A television crew was out there and I said to them, 'You're optimistic. There's a long day ahead of him,'' Bob Curtis recalled. ``He had never won a PGA Tour event. He had never won a major. Shoot, he had never even played in a major. I thought, 'You've got too much time on your hands.'''
Before long, there were more people watching TV in the pro shop than playing on the golf course. When Curtis took the lead with six birdies on his first 11 holes, the marshal at Mill Creek stuck his head in the door and said, ``We've only got four groups on the course. Do I really need to be out there?''
They all settled in to watch one of the biggest upsets in golf history.
Curtis, who grew up next door to Mill Creek and as a 5-year-old practiced putting at night in his pajamas, made a 10-foot par putt on the final hole for a 2-under 69 on the diabolical links of Royal St. George's.
He was still two shots behind, and everyone figured his score would be good enough for second. But when Bjorn took three shots from a pot bunker and failed to make birdie on the final hole, the claret jug belonged to a 26-year-old rookie hardly anyone knew.
``I was comfortably sitting on my sofa at home watching the last few holes unfold,'' said Darren Clarke, who finished his final round earlier that Sunday. ``To be perfectly honest, I didn't know Ben at all. I didn't know who he was.''
A year later, it is still hard to fathom.
Not since Francis Ouimet's victory at the 1913 U.S. Open had a player won a major championship on his first try. Even then, Ouimet grew up across the street from The Country Club, so he wasn't a total unknown.
Curtis showed up in Sandwich, England, the weekend before the British Open and asked for a local caddie, and the first thing Andy Sutton said was, ``Ben who?''
A year later, Curtis goes to Royal Troon to defend more than his claret jug.
He is introduced around the world as the British Open champion, but hears whispers of ``fluke'' wherever he goes. Not long after his shocking victory, it seemed every question began, ``If you never win another tournament ... ``
``I still have to prove myself,'' Curtis said. ``But that claret jug will never go away. Look at the leaderboard. Everyone in the top 30 was there. Bjorn. Vijay. Tiger. Kenny Perry. Sergio. Davis. All those other guys were coming there to win.''
Curtis might have been the only guy who thought he had a chance.
``I remember sitting in bed about 11 o'clock, and I could tell (wife) Candace was nervous,'' he said. ``She rolled over and said, 'How do you feel about tomorrow?' I looked at her and said, 'I think I'm going to win.'''
Reality started to sink in with birdies on the seventh, ninth, 10th and 11th holes to take the lead.
And then there was the clock.
A week earlier, on a quiet Sunday afternoon before the stars arrived in Sandwich, Curtis and his caddie were finishing a practice round when the clock on the 18th tee showed it was 4:55 p.m.
``How great would it be if we were playing this hole at 5 'til 5 next Sunday?'' Sutton asked him.
Curtis made his third bogey in four holes at the 17th, and his hopes were fading fast. While he did struggle down the stretch, he was in the top five.
``When I got to the 18th tee, I looked at that clock and it was 5 'til 5,'' Curtis said. ``I said to Andy, 'Do you notice anything about the clock?' It made me put it all in perspective.''
What followed was a script that reads like fiction.
After making a gritty par on the 18th, a Royal & Ancient official told Curtis he was tied for the lead because Bjorn made double bogey on the 16th. By the time Curtis got to the range to prepare for a playoff, Bjorn bogeyed the 17th to fall one shot behind.
``That's when it hit me,'' Curtis said. ``My mind started racing a little bit. 'Is this really happening?'''
Standing on the far end of the practice range, Curtis heard a groan from the grandstand. Sutton walked out of the equipment trailer where he had been watching on TV and said, ``Ben, you're the Open champion.''
Back at Mill Creek, the clubhouse was rocking.
The TV stations never left, and Bob Curtis was giving interviews into the night. He finally got back to his house after midnight, so deliriously tired that he couldn't climb the stairs and slept on the couch.
The R&A toasted Curtis at a private reception, and more interviews followed. He finally got back to the IMG house in Sandwich and spent the rest of the night eating pizza and drinking champagne from the claret jug.
The flight home gave him time to reflect on a week that changed his life, and a putt that made him perhaps the most unlikely Open champion of them all.
``I pictured the last putt in my head for a couple of days,'' Curtis said. ``I remember the ball seemed like it was barely moving. Every athlete will tell you about times when things are in slow motion.''
Bob Curtis showed up at Mill Creek at sunrise last month during the Memorial Tournament, where his son recorded his first top-10 finish since the British Open.
Business was brisk as ever. Green fees are still in the $18-$39 range. The only difference is the notation at the bottom of the scorecard -- ``Where British Open champion Ben Curtis grew up.'' The pro shop sells shirts and caps to commemorate his victory at Royal St. George's. There are framed newspapers of the day Curtis shocked the world.
``If they get a good photo, they'll ask Ben if it can go on the wall,'' his father said. ``But he doesn't want this to become a shrine.''
It is still a public golf course in rural America that just happened to produce a British Open champion.
Fancy that.
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    Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

    The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

    “I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

    Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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    As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

    “I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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    Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

    Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

    “I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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    Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

    “[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

    Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

    “He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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    This week, let the games(manship) begin

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

    What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

    During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

    “Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

    Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

    “There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

    Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

    Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

    “Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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    Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

    “I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

    While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

    But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

    “It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

    It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

    McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

    It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

    “Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

    Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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    Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

    By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

    While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

    The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

    "I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

    Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

    According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

    "I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

    Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

    Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

    "I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

    Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.