In the latest installment of “Where are they now?”, we look at two players who somehow managed to win golf’s oldest major in a time where that tournament was dominated by Tiger and other future hall of fame golfers. From the year 2000-2009, the British Open was won by Tiger three times, Padraig Harrington twice, David Duval and Ernie Els once each. I would wager a substantial amount of money most readers could not remember who the other two winners during that time frame was. Without hopping on the ol google machine, of course. But don’t worry, we have you covered.
First up is the 2003 Open Championship winner…………….Ben Curtis. I know most of you are saying to yourself “WHO?”. But, Ben Curtis is a pretty fascinating story. He was a highly touted amateur golfer who seemed to be heading towards a career of irrelevancy. It took him 3 years to earn his PGA tour card but he accomplished it at the end of the 2002 season. But even to start the 2003 season he struggled. Being more of a field filler than a legitimate threat to win. Until a T13 finish at the Western Open which qualified him for the British open two weeks later.
And. That’s. when. It. All. Changed. Curtis was a 300-1 longshot to win the British Open that week, but everyone loves an underdog story, right? Curtis shot a final round 69 to hold off Thomas Bjorn, Vijay Singh, DL3 and some guy named Tiger woods. With the win Curtis became one of 3 people ever to win a major in their first attempt.
This win also vaulted Curtis from 396th in the world to 35th. The biggest jump ever since they started recording the rankings. He was named 2003 PGA tour rookie of the year for his troubles.
So, then what happened? If I had not done any research, I would have said this is where Curtis faded into oblivion and lost his card but apparently not. He had three more wins on tour (2006 Booz Allen Classic, 2006 84 Lumber Classic, 2012 Valero Texas Open) and was a part of the 2008 Ryder cup team, which was a band of misfits that somehow defeated the heavily favored European team 16.5-11.5. Curtis went 1-1-1 during that event.
After the win in 2012 the wheels started to fall off for Ben Curtis. I guess I was only off by a decade when I figured he started to decline. From everything I have read it seems like the grind of traveling took its toll on Curtis. Leaving his family every week started making him hate the game to the point where he was not cashing cheques and if he wasn’t cashing cheques why leave the family.
So Ben Curtis quit playing golf competitively and decided to set up an academy to teach golf. Not just the fundamentals of the golf swing but to teach young players about how to be a professional golfer and what to expect if they make golf a career. From PGA rookie of the year to leaving the game on his terms to do something he loves. I wouldn’t feel too bad for Ben Curtis if I was you.
Next up is the 2004 Open Championship winner……………..Todd Hamilton. Once again, a resounding “WHO?” is heard. Todd Hamilton turned pro in 1987 but could not qualify for the PGA tour. So, instead of grinding on the mini tours and make little to no money, he went overseas and played on a variety of international tours. He spent most of his time on the Japanese tour and fun fact: he ranks 2nd in all-time money earned for a non-Japanese player on that tour. Although this is impressive it is not why Hamilton makes the list.
For whatever reason in 2003 Todd Hamilton tried for an 8th time to qualify for the PGA Tour and guess what? The 8th time is a charm. After qualifying Hamilton won his first tournament on the PGA tour the 2004 Honda Classic. A fairly notable tournament win for sure, but let’s get to the reason he made this article. Todd Hamilton beat Ernie Els in a 4-hole playoff to win the 2004 British Open. Let that sink in. Els had just won the British 2 years earlier and was playing some of his best golf. The first page of that leaderboard also had FIGJAM (Phil), Westwood, DL3, Goosen, Mike Fuggin Weir, and Tiger woods on it. So, Hamilton didn’t knock off a bunch of scrubs to capture the Claret Jug.
Fun Fact #2: Hamilton has gone on record saying he is aware of 5 people who bet on him to win that week. I wonder what that pay day was? The two wins on tour in 2004 resulted in Todd Hamilton being named PGA Tour rookie of the year, just like Ben Curtis was the year before.
That is where the similarities between Hamilton and Curtis end. Curtis went on to carve a modest career. Hamilton played in 187 more PGA Tour events and missed the cut in 111 of them. Resulting in Hamilton losing his exempt status on the PGA Tour in 2010. Some might think Hamilton’s career was over before it really even got started. Let’s not forget he was 38 when he won that British open and had been playing professionally for 16 years. Others would say it was the perfect ending to a career of plugging away and doing everything he could to make a living playing golf. Hamilton became eligible to play on the Champions tour in 2015 and is still competing at the ripe old age of 53. The real question is will this guy ever stop playing golf.
This crosses off a couple more guys that HAD to be a part of this series. Sooner or later we are going to find some guys who went from moderately successful PGA tour player to gas station attendant. As always if any reader has a guy that comes to mind that should be showcased in this series do not hesitate to reach out to the DTG boys via social media.