Of Small Towns Japan and Claret Jugs

By Rich LernerJuly 21, 2004, 4:00 pm
The Golf Channel's Rich Lerner spoke to British Open champion Todd Hamilton Tuesday. Hamilton had arrived in New York City and on very little sleep embarked on a whirlwind tour that included numerous talk shows, and appearances on David Letterman and at Shea Stadium, where he threw out the first pitch at the Marlins/Mets game.
RL: Todd, congratulations. Youre an overnight sensation after 20 years! Im curious, whats the most unusual thing youve done so far with the claret jug?
TH: By the time I had a chance to have any dinner on Sunday night it was 11:30. My caddie and I befriended the owner of an Italian restaurant in Troon during the week. After Saturdays round I was doing quite well. He gave us a table that we probably shouldnt have gotten'it was a pretty crowded spot. I took him some hats. He said, If you win, come back with the trophy and the drinks are on the house. So on Sunday it was probably 11:30 or midnight by the time we got there and the doors were locked. But luckily the shades were pulled up. I peered in and got the guys attention. The staff was still there cleaning up. He came and unlocked the door. I asked if he remembered me. And he said, Of course, come in. So we went in'my caddie, my wife and a friend of mine'and we just sat in there. We didnt drink anything out of the jug yet, but he provided us with some pizzas and some cold beverages and we had a good time for about three hours.
RL: Todd, youre going to be a guest on the David Letterman Show and do the Top 10 List. Give me your top three reasons why you won The Open Championship.
TH: Well, my short game for sure. For the most part I stayed out of the bunkers. I think I was only in two the whole week. Probably the No. 1 reason was belief. I believed in what I was doing. I had a game plan, stuck with it and I was very comfortable with what I was doing and just hung on to the very end.
RL: What were the three memorable shots without which you wouldnt have won the claret jug?
TH: The final round, the tee shot at the 11th hole. Its a very difficult hole, 490 yards, and it set up nicely for me. I had a little fade shot off the tee, and I used the hybrid club Ive been carrying for two to three months now. Its kind of like a 1-iron. I then hit a good 8-iron that led to a birdie. Also, I chipped in for birdie on 14. I hit a decent iron shot into the green. It just trickled off the back and then I knocked it in. That gave me a little cushion. Then the most difficult shot I ever faced was chip-and-run on 18 in the playoff. I had probably 15 yards to the front of the green, then another 20 yards to the hole. Again, I used the little utility club that served me immensely well the whole week. Its a very versatile club. I chipped it to two feet and the rest is history.
RL: Much has been made of your career in Japan. What led you to Asia in the first place?
TH: I struggled right out of college. I tried tour school my first year out of college in 1987 and I didnt get through it. I heard about the Asian Tour, which was a three-month jaunt over to Southeast Asia consisting of 10 to 11 tournaments. I started playing there in the spring of 1988. For five years I continually tried to get my tour card in the States. When I failed, I turned around and headed over to Asia. I did that for about five years. In 1992, I won the Order of Merit there. That allowed me to play for a year in Japan. I capitalized on that early on and ended up playing 12 years of golf in Japan, which is something as a kid I never dreamt I would end up doing. I always knew they had a tour over there, but I didnt realize how lucrative it was.
RL: Do you speak the language fluently?
TH: No. Most of the words I know probably shouldnt be repeated. I know enough to get around. Ive learned to read some of the writing and most importantly, Im a good pointer! I can point things out very well.
RL: Traveling long nights and many months through places like Kuala Lumpur in Asia, how difficult was it keeping your family together?
TH: It wasnt so bad early on. My wife and I didnt have kids until quite a ways into my career. She traveled a little bit on the Asian Tour and once in Japan. She traveled for six or seven years. Once we had children, it got difficult. Obviously, its very hard to travel around in a foreign country with one kid, let along three - which we have now. It was kind of nice to get away the first week to concentrate on golf. That might sound selfish, but golf is something I grew up playing and its been a way of life. But after that first week, knowing I had a small child at home and as of last year three small kids plus a very beautiful wife, it was very difficult at times. And if I wasnt playing golf well, it made it even more demanding.
RL: How widely known are you in Japan and will you go back at all to try to perhaps capitalize financially?
TH: In Japan, its what have you done for me lately. If youre doing well, the media hounds you. If youre not playing they tend to leave you alone. Fortunately, the last year I did very well. I won four times in probably 20 events and I was getting hounded quite a bit. Its almost like they were pushing me, Hey are you going to try tour school in the States? Almost like they were trying to get me out of there. But playing in Japan was a great opportunity for me. It allowed me to hone my skills. It allowed me to learn patience. I saw a lot of different conditions as well as different course set-ups and I think it really helped me in my career. I hope to eventually go back there. Id like to go back in November for a couple events. But with this win at Troon I dont know if that will be feasible. But I hope someday to go back there and see friends of mine that are playing on the tour and the people I met through my many years over there.
RL: Youre 15th now on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list. What are your thoughts about Oakland Hills?

TH: If I were to qualify, Id like to do it on merit. I think since Ive only played for less than a year, it might be a little unfair for players that have played consistently for over two years. But as I said, if I did it based on merit, I would gladly accept the invitation. I think if I were to not make it on points alone and got picked by Captain Sutton, I would feel a little uneasy knowing that I had just played well for only seven months. But hopefully, Im going to play three events before the Ryder Cup team is selected. Im going to try my hardest and I think it would be a great opportunity and Im going to relish the challenge to play for the U.S.
RL: Did you see the picture of your father watching the tournament on TV back in Illinois?
TH: Sure did. I saw two papers. One paper just showed his head. The other paper in Scotland had his whole living room. Obviously he didnt call the maid service I told him to call! I think he was more excited than I was. I know hes helped me quite a lot in my career. Both my parents did a fine job raising me. I hope that doesnt sound too conceited, but I think they did a very good job. I hope someday my children can be as successful as I have been. It would mean the world to me. It would make everything Ive done so far moot.
RL: There was a circus elephant named Norma Jean that was struck by lightning years ago in your hometown and then ultimately buried and memorialized there. Im wondering if theyll erect a statue of Todd Hamilton?
TH: I hope they dont. Im not one that likes to draw attention to myself. Its nice that people support you and back you, but just a handshake or a pat on the back, thats fine for me.
RL: Finally, did you envision being a major champion or were you just plodding along in your career trying to scratch out a living and then this just sort of happened?
TH: I think a little of both, but more so the latter. Ive always dreamt it would happen. My major golf tournament was the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last December. That was my eighth time trying over 17 years of professional golf and it was almost to the point that I thought, you need to do start doing something. Sure youve played golf in Japan and had some success, but if you really want to further your career, you probably need to get on the PGA Tour where the best golf is played and see how your abilities stack up to their abilities.
RL: Todd, thank you and congratulations. It was a marvelous performance.
TH: Thank you very much.
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