Saturday, July 31

Ben Curtis: 500-1 Open winner who was happy to quit golfing | The opening


TOAs the 149th Open Championship draws to a close on Sunday, Ben Curtis will host a benefit brunch in a quiet corner of Ohio. Sixty guests will learn what it’s like to win a Royal St George’s Open from the man who did it in 2003. However, it seems a stark reality that Curtis was able to get off the ropes in Kent this week without most of the gallery members knowing. who he was. The 44-year-old American stopped playing competitively in 2017.

“I’m at peace with that,” he says. “I still look at it from time to time. There were many things, but I was tired of being away from my family. When they are little they can travel, but that becomes very difficult as they enter school.

“It helps the decision when you are playing badly. You can get away with it a bit more when you play it right. I remember talking to Charles Howell, who was going through the same feelings as me, but still playing well. Everyone goes through it to some degree. Playing for 15 years on the Tour and so much traveling exhausted me. “

Curtis’s triumph of 18 years ago was extraordinary on countless levels. He was a 500-1 outsider who had never encountered British or Irish ties. Curtis hadn’t tasted victory on a major professional tour. Thomas Bjørn, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Davis Love and Nick Faldo were among those who couldn’t match Curtis’ one-under total.

Letters of praise from Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer followed. “It’s great when you have these guys writing to you,” says Curtis. “I was on my way back to the airport with Tiger’s agent. I was on the phone with Tiger. He said, ‘Tiger would like to talk to you.’ Then he congratulated me during a conversation. These things are really special memories. “

So how did Curtis do it? “I don’t know, other than being extremely confident,” he says. “The four events I played before that, I made the cut and got better every week. He had the right attitude and mindset, he was like, ‘I want to come here and have fun. I may never come back here.

“He was so relaxed. Every time I won it was similar in that sense, nothing bothered me. When you don’t play your best, you just want everything to go well. You go out to dinner and the meal takes an additional 15-20 minutes, then you let it bother you and bleed into other things.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, what stage you are in; when you’re 150 yards away, it’s a 150 yard shot. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. “

This greatly understates the scale of Curtis’s accomplishments. “I had never seen that kind of course before, it was new, so it was like being a kid again. Here, you miss a green and just grab your wedge. There, you had so many options. I loved that. It brought me back to being a little kid playing, splintering with a six iron. “

Ben Curtis says his main goal at the 2003 Open was to have fun.
Ben Curtis says his main goal at the 2003 Open was to have fun. Photograph: Gerry Penny / EPA

Curtis sat two behind the leader after 54 holes. He told his fiancee, Candace, on Saturday night that he was going to win. “She looked at me a little weird,” he says.

“Were you nervous on the first tee? Of course, but he was extremely focused. I was more nervous on that tee on Thursday because by Sunday you are playing well, you are in competition. On Thursday morning, I saw on TV how Tiger loses his ball on day 1 and bad images fill your head. By Sunday, I could tell myself that if I hit that street I was going to win. Once I did that, I really relaxed.

“I played extremely well in the last nine on Saturday. That was a turning point. I struggled a bit at the front, which was easier to get. I got it below average on the day of the last nine and my confidence flooded again. I knew that by doing that in the last nine years, there was a chance that I could do it. “

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Curtis is modest and charming. When you shrug off the broader perception that it was a shock, or even unsatisfactory, a big winner, there is no act. “Okay, people can take it however they want,” he says. “I know in my heart that only 300 people have won a Major, against the number who have played for a living. Anyone can tell me that I am nobody, but I am one of that group of 300 people.

“I can see where it is [public attitudes] It could affect people, but I was always brought up to be myself. He was never going to try to be someone he wasn’t. “

Curtis won three other events on the PGA Tour and played for the US in the 2008 Ryder Cup. Today, he is immersed in his training academy that prioritizes career options for aspiring players as much as points. technicians. “I still love golf and nothing beats trying to help young children pursue what I wanted to do when I was their age. It’s great to see people progress and it brings back memories. It is rewarding, for sure.

“You only live once, so you have to be happy. I did a lot of golf. If you had told me at 15 that I was going to win an Open Championship and three other events, that I would play in a Ryder Cup, I would have signed up in no time. I would have signed up for a win. “

Curtis won’t completely rule out a comeback from the Open one day – as a former champion, he remains eligible until age 60, but a flight to the UK is not scheduled. “All my friends keep harassing me for it. I would probably need a new caddy for each shot due to the number of offers I have received. For now there is no plan but things may change because, five years before I stopped playing golf, I would have told you that you were crazy if you had told me that I would not compete anymore.

“If I am going to go, it would not be for two days and to greet the five people who follow me. If I go back, I need to feel like I have a chance to be competitive and make the cut. Nor do I want to take a place away from someone who is trying to make a living. If I do, I need to feel ready to compete. “

Royal St George’s in 2003 showed Curtis what can be achieved even with the most modest aspirations.


www.theguardian.com

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