All the noise is gone now. No entourage, no hustle and bustle. Instead of having fun with David Letterman as he did 20 years ago this month, Ben Curtis spent his morning teaching southeast of Cleveland, preparing for the nearly 750-mile drive to South Carolina on a family vacation. is tightening.
This sort of understated Friday morning is a lot like Curtis loving his life 20 years after making his major tournament debut and winning the Open Championship. His victory at Royal St George’s became an international sensation. He went from being ranked 396th in the world, who spent part of his tournament week sightseeing in London with his fiancée, to becoming the first golfer to win the Royal St. George’s in 90 years. He won a major title in his first challenge.
He never caught another. Sporadic success followed, including a tie for second in the PGA and Players Championships, a spot on the Ryder Cup winning team, and a few other PGA Tour wins, but a major victory. was never blessed with the magic of He last competed in a tour event in 2017, when his lifetime earnings exceeded $13.7 million.
Today, he coaches his son’s golf team at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio, and teaches at his namesake golf academy. The opening begins at Royal Liverpool on Thursday. He could play there, but he doesn’t want to.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with 2003. After the first round, you were 5 strokes ahead of him. Three after the second one. Two after the third. When did you start thinking you could win?
I remember struggling through the first nine holes on Saturday, but then something happened – whether it was just calming down or thinking it was over – I don’t know. He hit 3-under on the back nine, which gave me confidence. When I went to bed that night, I thought, “This will win.” I mentioned it to Candace and she went quiet until the next day.
Sunday’s back nine wasn’t as smooth as Saturday’s. Was it the course or was it the pressure?
Probably more pressure than anything else.
For the first nine, I continued the work I was doing on Saturday. In any tournament, especially the majors, it’s hard for him to play really consistently for 27 holes without having some kind of problem. In a corner of my mind, I was telling myself, “It’s hard for everyone.”
Have you seen the rounds?
Twice in 20 years?
We were at a friend’s house and woke up to find he had the Golf Channel on because it was open week. So we sat there watching it for a bit and the kids slowly came down and we saw it. So, it was decided that “the children are grown up, so let’s take it easy.”
I never wanted to see him because I was stubborn and wanted to focus on the future while playing. But when I look at it now, I think, “What were we wearing?”
A few days after winning you told the times: “It doesn’t change me. It doesn’t change who I am.”
I’m sure it was. But when I think about my personality and things like that, I hope that doesn’t happen.
Has your approach to golf changed?
I wasn’t used to the limelight, so it was difficult to go to practice or find a quiet place to work. If you’re trying to schedule your day and trying to keep it within minutes, but you’re trying to do a two- or three-hour practice session and it ends up being six hours, you’re only practicing two hours. not, it wears on you.
I find myself distracted by people coming up to me, and I don’t mean it in a mean way, but I find myself spending less and less time practicing. It was difficult, and just going out to eat made me realize that I never wanted to be like that, I never wanted to be in Tiger Woods’ shoes.
We want to get under the radar. Of course I wanted to win every week. everyone does
I heard you felt pressure to prove that the Open was not a fluke.
absolutely. Especially when you’re young and you win early, I think there’s pressure to do it again to prove your worth.
Where does that pressure come from? from within yourself? media? gallery?
It’s all a combination. Luckily, social media wasn’t a big deal back then. But I felt it in my heart. When I was practicing and preparing at the end of 2005, I remember my college coach saying, Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Because you are trying to imitate what the top players in the world are doing. it may not be for you.
It was probably the first time I had heard the word in years.
Just go back to Ben Curtis?
just get back to me It gave me a little more focus. It appeared in the play that year, and I think I won two wins.
You are currently tutoring high school students. What do you tell them about the pressure?
Their concern isn’t about winning majors, it’s about breaking 80 or 90. But for them, it’s a big deal. I remember the first time I broke 80, the first time I broke 70 and how big it was. That’s their major.
I always tell them I can’t force them. that’s exactly what will happen. No matter how hard you work, you will eventually fail.
You can only try to control yourself and your emotions and try to treat every shot like the first. And 99.9 percent of his rounds don’t go the way he wants. Because it usually derails on the first shot or inside the hole.
Brooks Koepka says he thinks he can win 10 majors. Have you ever had such a concrete number in your head?
No, but I’ve always dreamed of winning one more and I’ve had a few chances.
When you win a major, you go down in history. Would your career have been easier if you hadn’t won so early?
Maybe so, but it wouldn’t be such a cool story. For example, what if he won two other events, won a major, and then disappeared?
Is it ever too early to win a major?
Rather than a premature victory, Koepka’s style probably won him many more within a few years. Now, all of a sudden, I feel like I have to win every week.
And the hardest part, which I fell into, was getting ready for the majors. What is the difference between doing it alone, not playing well for the match, and lacking confidence? Confidence is the biggest.
Talking to Max Houma recently, he said he realized he wasn’t ready for the majors even though he’d been preparing for other things, and maybe he should have laughed more and laughed more. rice field.
That’s true. When I won the British Open, I got to the venue early to adjust to the time change. After playing Saturday and Sunday, Candace and I went to London on Monday as American tourists.
Then I came back and played 18 games on Tuesday and 9 on Wednesday. But you can overdo it, and I think what Max is saying is that if you treat it like any other event, you’ll be fine.
It is very difficult. But every time I won or got close, I got the feeling, “Let’s go golf.” you are free to play.
Windham Clarke heads to Royal Liverpool as first major champion. What is your advice to him?
Enjoy the moment and don’t be afraid to say no. Try to stick to your routine. And the biggest thing is just expectations. don’t expect to win. Just go outside and enjoy the moment. As Max said, laugh and have fun. If you make the cut and have a chance to win, that’s great. If not, you’re still the US Open champion, and no one can take it away from you.
You have played two open games for Royal Liverpool. what do you think about that?
A really good golf course. I can’t say it was my favorite.
Is Royal St George’s your favourite?
It’s there, but I love Birkdale, just for the look and feel of the place. And obviously St Andrews is special, but everywhere is great. The first time I hated Troon was simply because I played it poorly.
The British Open can be played until the age of 60. Want to play?
The first is that I don’t want to spend time at work. And he’s not going to show up just to shoot the second, 78s and his 79s. For others it is unfair. Basically, you’re taking a spot away from a qualifier kid or a kid trying to play for the first time.
I know what it takes to play well. It’s okay to go out and play here. But when you play 10 times a year, it’s completely different.
His last appearance at a tour event was in 2017. Was it hard to leave or was it liberating?
A little bit of both. Frankly, I could have just hung around and played like shit a few years earlier. I tried it once and it was great.
When was the last time you thought you didn’t want that chaotic touring life anymore?
when the children are of school age. When they were younger you could take them in, it was great. Then they go to school, have a limited schedule, travel, and participate in tournaments, and you are alone.
I never played a great deal, but I was used to having them attend about 20, 22 events a year, and suddenly it was only 6 or 7, and now I have 20, 20 You will be participating in 22 events. It gets tough. It doesn’t matter how nice your resort is. Every hotel room, whether it’s the Ritz-Carlton or the Courtyard Marriott, is a rectangular room with a bathroom inside. And it’s hard because my family at home also wants me to go home.
Beach towns in Florida are home to many retired golfers. You chose Ohio. why?
If you are on Jupiter, you are one of them. Here we are alone. People are nice and down-to-earth and we wanted that for our kids too. It’s just who we are and where we are. this is home
Did you want to coach high school students when you left the tour?
Ever wanted to run an academy?
it took time. As I was wondering what I wanted to do for the rest of 2017, the Academy was born. Ohio has a rich history of golf, and all the great players seem to have passed through here at some point in their careers. Jack Nicklaus grew up in Ohio and Arnold Palmer lived in Cleveland for a while.
I just started looking back at how I grew up and I thought, ‘Who around here is going to help these kids navigate the dreams I had? ’ I had to rely on my parents, but luckily I ended up in a college that my coach was very passionate about.
When I teach, it’s not always important to hit X’s, O’s, this place, swing planes, etc. I have good kids and they want to swing like Koepka. I said, “Listen, swing like you. Your swing is different now than it was when you were 25.”
What inspired you to coach a high school team?
My son was also on the team, but the coach decided to retire. I got a call from the athletic director and I was like, ‘So who do you have in mind? And they were like, ‘You’re done with it.
I asked them to spend a few days looking for someone. I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on his son, but he was like, ‘Coach, dad, coach.
What are the errors that didn’t matter before? learn to play?
Children are more concerned about swing technique and appearance than swing performance. It doesn’t matter how you shoot 72 as long as you shoot 72 on your scorecard. That’s a good score. just worry about it.
Twenty years ago you said that if you hadn’t attended the Open Championship you would “probably” be watching the tournament on TV. will you watch it again?
Funny thing is, I’ve been playing for 7 years now and I just woke up to realize it’s coming to an end. You’ve completely forgotten. You wake up and start running your errands, it’s 2:00 and you think you know what golf is like, and that’s it.
The first three years were like that, and I was completely nostalgic. Now watch it, enjoy it.